Analysis: Beshear's challenge is for his sequel not to become a rerun

12/13/2011 11:19 PM

Gov. Steve Beshear officially opened his second term with a patchwork quilt of a speech that stitched together some of the key goals, pledges and wishes he has outlined in the past.

  • The Democratic governor made his case for allowing expanded gambling and funding early childhood education – hallmarks of his 2007 campaign.
  • He pledged to take steps to improve education and health issues, including raising the student drop out age and curbing obesity and smoking. Tackling those issues incrementally over the next generation harkened back to his Kentucky Tomorrow Commission that he commissioned in the 1980s while serving as lieutenant governor.
  • Even his call for greater availability of health care for children builds off of one of the few programs Beshear was able to expand in his first term. In 2008, he opened the KCHIP program to more low-income families to cover 35,000 more children.

Most of the items Beshear listed on his second term to-do list are hold overs from his first-term thanks to a combination of partisan gridlock, lack of resources and strategic misfires by Beshear’s administration (i.e. presuming gambling revenue in his budget proposal in 2010.)

For success in a second term, it’s a matter of whether Beshear and his administration has a better strategy for laying the groundwork with legislators – and whether lawmakers and the governor will make good on all their talk about being able to work together.

Beshear insisted that he has been meeting and talking with lawmakers of both parties already and that together they can pass some meaningful reforms even without an abundance of cash.

Numerous legislators who attended Tuesday’s inauguration said they are confident they can do it, starting with the next two-year budget.

“We need to be coming together at this time,” said Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Brownsville. “We’ve got some tough situations coming in this next session with the budget, with redistricting and we need to come together as a state and work for the people of Kentucky.”

Democratic Sen. Dorsey Ridley of Henderson said he is forever an optimist even as the shadow of the recession still lingers.

“I think as we continue to march to the future, economically, things will become brighter,” Ridley said.

And for his part, Beshear seemed to say it was money that would make all the difference in how bold he could be.

Beshear already had said he didn’t plan to run for another office again. This last race was it. So when asked Tuesday if that freed him up politically to be bolder, this was his answer:

The boldest thread Beshear offered in his inaugural address was a hint about revamping the tax code.

He said that should be on leaders’ agenda. But he quickly added his familiar caveat: tackling that “as we come out of this recession.”

But earlier in the speech he made the point that the biggest impediment Kentucky faces isn’t the tax code or tax credits and incentives for companies to relocate here. It’s a skilled, educated workforce that makes companies want to relocate here.

“Tax incentives, while helpful, aren’t enough. Good roads and low energy costs, though also important, aren’t enough either,” Beshear said. “What companies desire most are talented employees – highly skilled, educated, trained and motivated. And this is where Kentucky must improve.”

Forbes Magazine recently reinforced that with its annual list of most business friendly states. Kentucky ranked 25th. But in the subcategories, Kentucky was the 12th best state for having low business costs, such as taxes and energy prices.

It ranked 45th in prepared labor force.

To start improving that will test one of Beshear’s favorite lines that he used in 2007, during the 2011 campaign and again on the first day of his second term.

“Real leadership isn’t about making easy decisions,” he said. “It’s about making the right decisions.”


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