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Andy Beshear, the Mel Ott of Kentucky

Andy Beshear proved that nice guys can, indeed, finish first.

4 min read

“Nice guys finish last,” Leo Durocher, manager of the first place Brooklyn Dodgers, said of player-manager Mel Ott and his last-place New York Giants in 1946.

By all accounts, Ott really was a nice guy. Durocher? His nickname was “Leo the Lip.”

In Kentucky, Nov. 7 proved that nice guys can finish first in politics.

Gov. Andy Beshear, a moderate Democrat, won a second term largely by citing his leadership during the COVID crisis and deadly and destructive natural disasters, and by pointing to a robust economy on his watch.

He eschewed the venom and vitriol that Mitch McConnell injected into Kentucky’s body politic when he was elected to the Senate in 1984. Donald Trump, the most overtly racist presidential candidate since George Wallace, keeps providing toxic booster shots nationally.

Beshear beat far-right, Trump-endorsed Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron, who never missed a chance to highlight his MAGA creds. Trump-like, he pandered, non-stop, to prejudice, notably religious bigotry and transphobia. (Cameron is Black. But he represents “white supremacy in blackface,” wrote the University of Louisville’s Dr. Ricky L. Jones, who is also Black.)

Cameron was all-MAGA all the time, figuring that was a winning strategy in Republican Red State Kentucky, which Trump carried twice in blowouts. Cameron tipped his hand at Fancy Farm. In his campaign kickoff speech, he claimed that  Beshear — a Christian Church deacon — appeased “woke radicals” and cozied “with anti-Christian hate groups.”

Beshear tipped his hand, too. “This race is the difference between vision and division,” he replied in his speech. “See, they’re trying to pit us against each other, calling everybody names that disagrees with them, telling you it’s okay to yell at, even hate your fellow Kentuckians. I’m ready to prove that’s a losing strategy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Beshear beat Cameron by five percentage points.

“Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) was the clear star of what turned out to be a winning night on Tuesday for Democrats,” The Hill’s Jared Gans wrote on election night. He quoted Kentucky Democratic strategist Matt Erwin: “I think more people are going to want to figure out what made him so special to Kentucky voters.”

Those people might include President Joe Biden and especially Democrats fretting over polls that show their guy neck-and-neck with Trump. A poll released on Nov. 3, four days before election day, had Cameron and Beshear tied.

In the end, Beshear proved convincingly that economic issues can, ahem, trump social issues, even in one of the most conservative and reddest Republican red states. (Cameron also pounded on the anti-abortion drum.)

Meanwhile, Cameron’s hero is banking on winning his grudge rematch with President Biden by firing up the almost all-white MAGA base. He’s turning up the racist, sexist, nativist, xenophobic, Christian-nationalist, authoritarian, and anti-LGBTQ wick. (Of late, Trump has been trotting out authoritarian and Nazi rhetoric to boot.)

Anyway, ‘tis the season for political roundup stories. So let’s ring in 2024 with a sampling of quotes from  Andy Beshear — Kentucky’s Mel Ott — who finished first on election day. They might just give Democratic candidates, maybe even President Biden, some helpful hints for the campaign trail next year.

There is no place for hate of any kind in Kentucky. We are one team: Team Kentucky. It is everyone’s responsibility to speak out loudly against hatred and violence, racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. All of them are wrong. -- Posting on X (formerly Twitter) Dec. 22.

  • See, one of the most difficult challenges before us is that politics – and sometimes even our governance – has become poisonous and toxic. What is supposed to be an exchange of ideas has devolved into grievances and attacks. Some appear to think it’s just a game, that no target is off limits, no lie is too hurtful.
  • We see strategies and commercials meant to make one American – one Kentuckian – an enemy of another, trying to accuse them of horrible things in order to dehumanize them, so as to somehow justify anger, even hate, turning people against their neighbors just to have one more elected official with a certain letter behind their name.
  • Together, we will not meet hate with hate, or anger with anger, or even frustration with frustration. Instead, we will continue with the same love, empathy, and compassion that has guided us through so much. For me, these values are grounded in my faith. It teaches me to love my neighbor as myself. To not judge, lest I be judged. That what I do to the least of thee, I do to He.
  • My faith teaches me that all human beings deserve true dignity and opportunity and that we can come together simply by acknowledging that our faith and values call us to be better; and for me, remembering that my savior could have been the Prince of Power, but chose to be the Prince of Peace.
  • I pledge today to continue to be a Governor who serves all our people regardless of your party or who you voted for. I will do my best every day, to stop the fighting, to push away the division, to remind us that we have more that unites us than can ever pull us apart. (Inaugural address, Dec. 12)
  • We don’t care if an idea or an individual is a Democrat or a Republican...It is not about moving to the right or to the left but about moving forward for all of our people.
  • We recognize that the American people don’t wake up every morning thinking about Trump or Biden, red or blue, Democrat or Republican. They think about the job they are going to, the road they are going to drive to get there, the public school [where] they’re dropping their kids off, the next doctor’s appointment they have for themselves or one of their family members and if we continue to focus on those things that better the lives for all of our families, regardless of their party, regardless of who they voted for, then we can move this state forward in special ways. (Speech to the Kentucky State AFL-CIO convention in Lexington, Dec. 5)
  • Yes, I’m running as a proud Democrat, but the moment we win, we take those hats off, and we serve every single Kentuckian. It’s a recognition that a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican. A new bridge isn’t red or blue. ... Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, independent, or other, there is a place for you on this campaign and in this administration. (Paducah campaign rally, Nov. 3)


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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY



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