Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced in Louisville Monday morning that he is running for governor in 2019, pledging to protect public education and contrasting himself with the man who currently holds the office.
In his remarks to the media and supporters in the room, Beshear highlighted his pledge to “fund every single public school and every single public university to give real and true opportunity to every Kentucky child” but also referenced the heated war of words between Gov. Matt Bevin and public teachers this year over a bill that altered their pension benefits.
Vowing to “fight for our teachers” and make sure the state keeps its promises and gives them a seat at the table, Beshear said that the current governor resorts to “name-calling and bullying.”
“Governors have a moral responsibility to act with decency,” said Beshear, adding that “together, we will move forward, and these days of bullying, name-calling and ‘my way or the highway’ will be in the past.”
Bevin, who lobbed criticism at teachers that flooded Frankfort in protest of the pension bill, has not yet said whether or not he will run for re-election next year.
Beshear sued the governor in a challenge to that pension bill, one of many lawsuits his office has filed against the Bevin administration since it came into power in 2016. Bevin’s personal criticism toward judges, teachers’ unions and Steve Beshear — Andy’s father, who served for eight years as governor before Bevin — in his first term have perhaps only been surpassed by his criticism of the attorney general, who he has accused of filing lawsuits for political motivations and general incompetence.
Beshear introduced Jacqueline Coleman as his lieutenant governor running mate, a teacher, basketball coach and current assistant principal at Nelson County High School. In her remarks, Coleman continued this main theme of protecting public education and criticizing Bevin’s record.
“Make no mistake, public education is under an all-out assault,” said Coleman. “We have been insulted, disrespected, devalued and even called names by our current governor.”
Saying that Jefferson County Public Schools currently “faces a hostile takeover” from the state, she added that “if you think that this will stop there, you are wrong. This is the first step in the Bevin administration’s plan to dismantle public education across Kentucky.”
Beshear touted his record as attorney general in addressing the state’s large backlog of untested rape kits, as well as the six lawsuits he has filed against opioid manufacturers and distributors for the role they played in creating Kentucky’s drug epidemic.
He also said that he would push to pass term limits for state legislators — a rarity for Democratic candidates in the state — saying they should have the same limits in place as constitutional officers.
Pledging to “restore honesty and transparency in government,” Beshear said he would work to institute a stronger state ethics code and “continue to publish my tax returns every year,” again in contrast to Bevin.
Referencing his ticket’s long campaign ahead, Beshear promised that “we will set an example of decency and honesty that you will be proud to bring your kids out to see.”
In a statement reacting to Beshear’s candidacy, Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Tres Watson said he is glad the announcement came so early, as “it will allow us to remind Kentuckians voting both this fall and next of the sort of corrupt, pay-to-play, scandal ridden government they can expect if Democrats are returned to power in Frankfort.”
Republicans have already attempted to target Beshear over the 2016 conviction of his former deputy attorney general Tim Longmeyer for a bribery and kickback scheme, which took place while he was the secretary of the Personnel Cabinet in Steve Beshear’s administration.
After Beshear’s announcement Monday morning, Bevin tweeted about Longmeyer’s ties to the Beshears, adding that “for those Kentuckians who did not get enough corruption, self-dealing, embezzlement and bribery during the 8 corrupt years of Governor Steve Beshear, his son, Andy, is now offering a chance for 4 more years of the same…”
Dynasties, Medicaid, Gambling, Marijuana and Basketball
Notably absent from Beshear’s remarks were any reference to his father or his signature achievement in his two terms as governor: expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to nearly 500,000 Kentuckians.
Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion now hangs in the balance as the governor’s controversial Medicaid waiver program faces a legal challenge in federal court. A judge recently halted the implementation of Kentucky HEALTH by striking down the Trump administration’s approval of the waiver, which led to the Bevin administration stripping dental and vision benefits from the expanded population and signaling the end of the expansion altogether in the near future if the courts block the program.
Taking questions from reporters after his announcement, Beshear said he does not support the work and premium payment requirements in the Bevin’s administration’s Medicaid waiver, saying that nearly all of the expanded population already works.
“The Medicaid waiver created by the governor is intended to kick people off Medicaid because they can’t keep up with paperwork,” said Beshear, who called access to health care “a basic human right.”
Asked about those who are reluctant to elect political family “dynasties,” Beshear said that he loves and is proud of his father, “but I am my own person,” adding that he has proved himself to be a “fighter” as attorney general.
As for how he would work to fix Kentucky’s public pension crisis, Beshear said that it was a matter of properly funding the different state plans, which is why he would push for expanded gaming and casinos as an added revenue source.
Noting that some in rural parts of the state have objected to gambling on moral grounds over the past decade, Beshear said those thoughts are beginning to change, as “they believe it is a bigger moral sin to break our promises” to state workers and retirees.
Asked if he is for legalizing marijuana, Beshear said that “medical marijuana ought to be put on the ballot” as a referendum, as “the people deserve to vote, one way or the other.”
Coleman is not a household name in the state, but is not a complete newcomer to politics, as she ran for a rural seat in the state House in 2014 and lost by a wide margin. She also founded Lead Kentucky, a nonprofit that recruits and trains college women to seek positions of leadership on campus and in their professions.
She also has deep ties to Kentucky’s culture of basketball, as she was once named the state’s Coach of the Year after leading her team to the Sweet 16, and her grandfather played basketball for the University of Louisville before playing in the NBA.
Beshear and Coleman are the first Democrats to launch a run for governor but are not expected to be that last, as House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins is expected to announce his candidacy in the near future. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is also expected to announce her candidacy before the end of this year, while former state Auditor Adam Edelen and state Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville have not yet ruled out a run.
The campaign announcement video for Beshear and Coleman can be viewed below:
This story has been updated.