Gov. Beshear prepares for curtain call on second term in office, reflects on his administration
11/17/2015 09:43 PM
FRANKFORT — Seated at the head of the state dining room table in the Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear exchange smiles as they reminisced on the challenges they’ve faced, the work left to do, and offered their predictions for the future.
With just three weeks left in the Democratic governor’s eighth year of his second term in office, he points to areas of success for the state under his watch.
“It has been both the most challenging time of our lifetime as well as the most rewarding time of our lifetime,” Gov. Steve Beshear said. “When we look back on when we came into this office in 2007, I think we were at a place where Kentuckians had lost a lot of faith in their government and the historic recession had just hit us all in the face, and we had some tremendous struggles to go through, just like families all across Kentucky did at that time.”
“What a difference eight years makes,” he continued, pointing to the “tremendous momentum” the state has economically.
Successes in office
As the global recession tore through the commonwealth the unemployment rate jumped to nearly 11 percent in June of 2009. Since that time Kentucky’s unemployment rate has continued to rebound with 5 percent unemployment currently.
“We revised all of our business incentives in 2009, and as a result of all of those efforts last year we were chosen as the number one state in the country for job creation and economic development,” Beshear said. “We’ve set export records four years in a row. Our economy is really on a roll.”
The governor also pointed to successes in education — increasing the rate of college-ready student and raising the dropout age from 16 to 18 years old as well as financing construction projects for the the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
While there are critics of his method of using executive orders, Beshear will likely be remembered most as the health care governor. Under his watch the total number of uninsured fell in Kentucky from 20.4 percent to 9 percent.
“For the first time we can say that every single Kentuckian has access to affordable health care. That in a generation will make a huge difference in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.
As the governor establishes what he will be remembered for, he also reflected on the issues that fell short during his tenure. There were two areas, tax reform and expanded gaming, that Beshear identified as regrets upon leaving office.
“Not being able to make any meaningful progress in tax reform for the state — that’s sorely needed in Kentucky,” Beshear said.
“The other thing I regret is not being more successful in passing some kind of gaming. I still think that that would be a smart move for the state,” he said. “We were able to get historic racing into our race tracks … that has helped the race industry … but it hasn’t helped in terms of revenue for the state.”
A red election
For just the second time in the last 44 years Kentuckians elected a Republican governor in Matt Bevin, who will take the reins in Frankfort on Dec. 8.
Speaking with reporters, Beshear defended his time in Frankfort as he rebuked the idea that Bevin’s 9-point victory was a repudiation of his administration. Beshear chalked up the victory as a series of “undercurrents” for the GOP — which ranged from outsider-versus-insider messaging, President Barack Obama’s unpopularity, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and the move for religious liberty, and low turnout.
“Elections are decided on a lot of factors. Often times very little on issues,” Beshear said, pointing to an interview published by Washington Post which detailed a Pikeville voter who cast his ballot in favor of Bevin despite having been recently paired with insurance thanks to the health exchange.
It will be up to Bevin to decide the state’s role in Medicaid expansion and how to foot the bill which will soon come due. But there will be other storms for the incoming governor to weather and often outside of his control.
Weathering the storm
For Beshear, the storm was literal. In 2009 half a million Kentuckians lost power during a winter ice storm that killed 55 people and has been declared the worst natural disaster in state history.
“We had to start from scratch and try to get the state back up on its feet, and to try to make sure our people were safe. I called out the entire National Guard,” Beshear said.
Power lines and cell phone towers were downed in 110 of 120 counties in the state leaving some hospitals in outlying areas without generators in some instances. Beshear remembered calling Janet Napolitano, who had been tapped weeks before the disaster as the Head of Homeland Security, and asking her to coordinate with FEMA, Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers to find back up generators.
“This was a crisis and lives were in the balance. We got those generators, and, you know, we dug our way out of that, but that was one of the most devastating times I think of the entire eight years. And it was a crisis that I’ve never faced before in my life,” he said.
As the Beshears head back to their Clark County farm, there are some unanswered questions about the finale to the term in office. On Tuesday, Beshear said there would be an announcement soon on an action he will take on restoration of voting rights.
“The restoration of rights process right now in Kentucky is, right now, in the sole hands of the governor,” he said. “You know, a lot of states have made it automatic, and we ought to make it automatic, honestly. When you’ve served your time out and paid your restitution and all of that, and you’re trying to become a productive member of society again, part of your integration back into society is the right to vote.”
The governor did not elaborate, except to say that an announcement would be put forth soon on the “restoration of rights process.” Beshear did add that the administration has been working on trying to make restoration of voting rights “more automatic than it is right now.”
Beshear will also consider pardons in the coming weeks, he said over the last eight years his office had received nearly 5,000 requests and each one was being reviewed.
One of the last things, the governor will do before exiting the office is name the nearly completed Ohio River Bridge into downtown Louisville.
“I wouldn’t be too surprised if that bridge got named sometime between now and December the seventh,” Beshear said.
As members of his administration find new jobs, and others retire, Beshear said he’s not sure he will mosey on out to pasture just yet.
“I won’t retire in the traditional sense I don’t think, because that’s just not me,” he said. “I’m going to have to keep busy doing some things, and I’ve got a number of things I’m starting to think about now, and we’ll see where all of that goes.”
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