Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear reaffirmed his support for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives during a Black History Month celebration Thursday at the Kentucky Capitol.
Amid a flurry of anti-DEI legislation in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, Beshear told the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda that “diversity is an asset” and makes Kentucky “more welcoming” to companies that might relocate to the state.
“We talk about equity and it’s something we should all want in our heart, everyone to have true opportunity not held back by hundreds of years of unequal treatment,” the governor said. “And just think about inclusion. It’s what we teach each and every one of our kids how we’re supposed to approach this world as one people, one Team Kentucky.”
The celebration is held annually by Kentucky’s Black Legislative Caucus, this year on the first day of Black History Month. Speakers included Beshear, lawmakers from both the House and Senate and Chief Justice Laurance VanMeter.
Bills have been filed in the House and Senate that target DEI initiatives, particularly in public education. onservatives across the country are pushing similar legislation, arguing such initiatives — which often support minority groups — sow division.
Beshear, who had previously defended DEI, told the crowd that federal DEI programs support all Kentuckians, including those of various races, veterans and military spouses, people who have been affected by multi-generational poverty and those who come from rural areas. He received cheers from the room. Repeating one of his frequent themes, the governor decried politics that sow “division” and urged “politics of love, of empathy, of inclusion.”
The governor also praised legislation in recent years that supports Kentucky’s historically Black colleges and universities. Beshear’s office will also take part in honoring the anniversary of the March on Frankfort led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964 later this year, he added. Local governments in Frankfort and Franklin County will also participate.
Beshear also renewed the call for some of his state budget priorities, such as funding universal pre-kindergarten programs, 11% raises for public school employees, clean drinking water and high-speed internet. The House Republicans’ budget proposal got approval in a committee Wednesday and is expected to be voted on Thursday..
Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald Neal, of Louisville, previously told the Kentucky Lantern that the Democratic caucus was watching anti-DEI legislation this session. On Wednesday, he said during the program people should look at both the goodness and badness of the past to learn lessons moving forward.
“We’re not all of same mind,” Neal said. “We’re not all of same differences, but we do believe — all — in showing respect.”
House Speaker Pro Temp David Meade, of Stanford and one of the Republican co-sponsors of the House’s anti-DEI bill, House Bill 9, spoke of Anne Braden, a Kentucky journalist and a white ally of the American Civil Rights Movement, during the program.
“It would have been unthinkable to us to say no, because this is something we believe in. Either you live by what you believe (in) or you don’t,” Meade said, quoting Braden.
Between speeches from Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer and Meade, someone in the crowd shouted for lawmakers to vote against the anti-DEI legislation.