Gov. Beshear dismisses politics in economic strategies, but hard to avoid election-year narratives

01/14/2015 07:01 PM

A week after declaring the state “back with a vengeance” in his State of the Commonwealth address, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear on Wednesday downplayed Republican efforts at passing right-to-work legislation and tax reform in this year’s legislative session.

Moments after cutting the ribbon on a new facility for Teleperformance in Louisville, which is expected to create some 750 new jobs and generate $13.2 million in new investments, Beshear defended the state’s economic development strategy, saying Kentucky will perform better in that category compared to neighboring states “about every single day.”

“We don’t have to apologize to anybody for where we are with our economy and how business friendly we are because every day you see companies like this, like Toyota bringing the Lexus, like Ford investing over $1 billion in these plants here,” the Democratic governor told reporters. “They don’t do that when you don’t have a business-friendly climate.”

He continued: “You’ve got a lot of political issues that people like to blow up and say that they cause so much of a difference in other states. Most of that stuff is politics.”

Republican politicians have argued Kentucky’s economic progress could be more profound with a right-to-work law, which would limit unions from collecting representation fees from non members. The GOP-led Senate passed such legislation 24-12 Thursday, largely along party lines, with Democrats dismissing the bill as an attempt to weaken labor unions.

Some counties have passed local right-to-work ordinances, which could eventually come before the Kentucky Supreme Court, and two of the state’s GOP gubernatorial candidates — Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner — favor right-to-work legislation.

But the prospects of Kentucky becoming the 25th right-to-work state will be murky at best if a Democrat wins this year’s gubernatorial election. Attorney General Jack Conway remains the only prominent Democrat in the race less than two weeks from the Jan. 27 filing deadline.

Beshear, who can’t seek re-election after serving his second consecutive term in office, has stayed on the gubernatorial sidelines with the potential of a primary, but that will change if Conway eludes a high-profile opponent in the May 19 election.

Conway’s only competition for the Democratic nomination thus far is Geoff Young of Lexington, who has lost bids for Congress and state House.

“If nobody else is in the race then the attorney general will be our nominee, and I would expect all Democrats to get behind him,” Beshear said. “But we may well end up with a primary, and I don’t plan on getting involved in primaries with one exception — I will invoke the father exemption because I’m going to be in that primary for Andy Beshear.”

Andy Beshear, the governor’s son, has positioned himself as the only declared Democratic candidate for attorney general. Republicans Whitney Westerfield, a state senator from Hopkinsville, and Michael Hogan, Lawrence County attorney, are vying for the GOP nomination for the office.

But the younger Beshear, who has raised nearly $1.6 million for his campaign, could still face a challenge from within the Democratic Party. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has not said which constitutional office, if any, she’ll seek this year, and some had pegged her as a candidate for attorney general before she mounted an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Gov. Steve Beshear said he had not spoken with Grimes about the race, but the decision is ultimately hers.

“I’m just confident that Andy Beshear’s going to do very well in the Democratic primary, and I think he’s going to be our next attorney general,” Beshear said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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