This is one of three analyses of the top Democratic candidates for Kentucky governor. For more about the four criteria we used in each analysis, please read the introductory article.
Vision for the State
Just like Adkins and Edelen, Andy Beshear’s vision statements tick all the standard Democratic boxes: public education, affordable health care, good-paying jobs, transparency. And like Adkins and Edelen, you get more meat on the bone when you dig into the campaign site.
For example, the Beshear campaign has put out a detailed plan to improve health care across the state. It is specific, documented, and would be a significant achievement if it were put in place.
Another unexpected and detailed plan is their proposal around equal pay for women. It starts with a wage-and-responsibility audit of state jobs, to make sure state government is leading by example, then moves to require companies doing business with the state to document their own wage equality policies.
I was surprised to find both of these proposals on the site, as I hadn’t heard them discussed much by Beshear. Perhaps he should focus more on what he wants to do and less on what he has done.
Policies and Legislation
Unlike Rocky Adkins, Andy Beshear doesn’t have a voting record, so any analysis of his policies and legislative priorities has to come from his campaign site and his answers to questions, as well as his work as attorney general.
One of Beshear’s strong suits is his support of women and diversity. His staff in the AG’s office is 60% women or people of color. He supports marriage equality, equal pay (as noted above), and promises that his administration will be diverse as well. And, he has made it clear that he is pro-choice, including warning the legislature that the bills they are passing are unconstitutional and will lose in court.
His team has turned around the rape-kit backlog, an effort for which he is justifiably proud. And, they have worked hard on the issue of sex trafficking.
He is a union supporter, and says he will introduce a bill to overturn right-to-work and reinstate the prevailing wage law, and will introduce it every year until it passes. Most significantly, he has promised that his labor secretary will be a card-carrying union member.
He also says that he will restore felon voting rights via executive order the first week he is in office. And, he supports legalizing medical marijuana.
One area where Beshear runs to the middle is energy and climate change (in contrast, for example, to Edelen). Beshear touts an “all of the above” approach, including “clean coal technology.” He doesn’t go beyond that one sentence, though, and instead talks about keeping electricity rates low.
Viability as a Candidate
A political operative once told me that to win a political race, you had to have at least one of these three: name, money, or story. (He also told me I didn’t have any of the three. << g >>)
Beshear started out with name recognition, due to being the son of a former governor AND an in-the-news attorney general. On the one hand, that gave him a significant head start in the race. On the other hand, it certainly leaves him open to being called the “dynasty candidate.” (And Edelen has been glad to do just that.)
The other thing Beshear has going for him is money. He started raising money last year, even while candidates for the legislature were also raising money, earning him the ire of party faithful who were trying to hold the House. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Beshear has raised a large amount of money.
As for story – well, Beshear has a stump speech, and he delivers it. He is not the most dynamic speaker out there, and pales in comparison to Adkins and Edelen. He can work a room, but perhaps not as well as others. And frankly, one wonders if he can find a debate gear that is strong enough without being mean (or even worse, fake-mean).
The biggest liability for Andy Beshear in the general election is going to be what Bevin and McConnell and the Repub dark money are going to throw at him. They will talk incessantly about the Tim Longmeyer bribery scandal, since Longmeyer worked for Beshear at one point. (It won’t matter that the prosecutors noted that Beshear knew nothing about it.) They will talk about supposed scandals from his father’s terms as governor.
And, they will talk about Beshear’s time as a lawyer. Just this week, he was questioned about the fact that he defended the Boy Scouts organization in a lawsuit brought by men who claimed they were victimized as boys in the Scouts. Beshear is clear that he defended the organization itself, and not the men who victimized the boys … but again, that will be one nuance too many for most people.
Beshear can counter with his record as AG, including the work on the rape kit backlog and the many times his lawsuits have stopped the worst actions of the Bevin administration. But the attack commercials are going to write themselves.
Effectiveness as Governor
Andy Beshear has not been a friend to the Republicans in the legislature. He has successfully shot down more than one of their plans, and has made it plain that he will do it again whenever needed. Just this week, when the Bevin administration refused to pull the subpoenas for teacher absence records during the sickouts, Beshear was blunt: “See you in court.”
So, how does he go from that stance to working with a Republican-led legislature? Will it be a continuing adversarial relationship? Or will he be enough of a leader to overcome the past and build for the future?
If Beshear were older, and perhaps had led other teams (public or private) through similar transitions, one could see a grudging coalition happening over time. But it is hard to visualize that happening as long as the Repubs control the legislature. Instead, Beshear’s main legacy could turn out to be “I stopped most of the damage.”
Resources for further research
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