Beshear looks to ‘higher ground’ for rebuilding after devastating floods in Eastern Kentucky

Governor says legislature should legalize medical marijuana, support universal pre-K and raise pay for school employees, leave merit system alone

By: - December 7, 2022 10:40 pm

Gov. Andy Beshear speaks to the media on July 31 in Whitesburg after deadly flooding spread over much of the region. Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — Gov. Andy Beshear says homes being built to replace those lost to devastating floods in Eastern Kentucky cannot go back into  flood plains.

“Right now, we’re in active negotiations to acquire land on higher ground where we are going to rebuild towns that coal companies may have built a hundred years ago,” the governor said. “And in doing so we have a chance to reimagine what they’d look like and maybe give certain access to Eastern Kentuckians that they’ve not had before.” 

Beshear spoke with the Kentucky Lantern Wednesday in a year-end interview in which he expressed opposition to excluding new hires at the Kentucky Horse Park from the state merit system, vowed to push for legalization of medical marijuana, and said that AppHarvest’s greenhouses have a future even if the struggling company may not.

Since becoming governor in 2019, Beshear has led the state through a pandemic and deadly natural disasters in the east and west.

He said that besides the dangers, rebuilding in flood plains would jeopardize future assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spoke of building schools or senior living complexes on higher ground. 

In Western Kentucky, recovery efforts also are still underway from last December’s tornado. Beshear said he will “never be satisfied until the job is done” but rebuilding is coming along in those regions. He noted that it is more complicated for the state  to help with rebuilding rental units because they are a for-profit business. 

“I was just in Dawson (Springs) and I’m seeing houses in Dawson that I’ve never seen, new. The town is going to look entirely different but I’m really excited for its residents.”


Earlier this week, the Kentucky Lantern reported that the Kentucky Horse Park is requesting that state lawmakers approve legislation that would exclude its new hires from the state merit system designed to protect employees from political influence.

When asked what he thought about the possible legislation, Beshear called it “wrong.” He said the classification system of merit and non-merit employees is needed. Without merit system protections, “every new next director of any different agency could wipe everybody out.”

The legislation could also mean less ability to step in when something isn’t working, Beshear said. 

“If they are misusing money, if they are mistreating people, you want to have a responsive government and that requires ensuring that there is only one executive branch.”

In other items to watch when the Kentucky General Assembly returns to Frankfort next month, Beshear highlighted his Education First plan. Announced last month, the plan seeks to remedy student learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic through a variety of measures, including a 5% pay raise for school staff members and funding universal pre-K. 

Beshear also plans to push legislation on medical marijuana. He signed an executive order last month that would allow Kentuckians with certain medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana. 

“It’s time we joined the 30-plus other states that have a system in place.”

... think about it, we've had individuals as young as nine, victims of rape, that need this option and this General Assembly has given rapists more rights than their victims.

– Gov. Andy Beshear, on Kentucky's abortion ban which has no excpetions for rape or incest

Kentucky lawmakers passed a trigger law in 2019 that would ban abortions in the state with the repeal of Roe v. Wade and, in 2022, added more restrictions to that law. 

When asked if he thought lawmakers should amend the trigger law to include exceptions for incest and rape, the governor said that victims in those situations “should absolutely have options.”

“I believe that Roe had it right in that it was a safe and legal procedure but with some reasonable restrictions. For instance, restrictions against late-term abortions. But what we have right now is the most extremist law in the country. And think about it, we’ve had individuals as young as nine, victims of rape, that need this option and this General Assembly has given rapists more rights than their victims.”

Economic development

On Wednesday, the Governor’s Office announced that Double D Group, a protein producer, plans to invest $41.5 million in a Muhlenburg County production facility, and create new 200 new jobs. Beshear cited those jobs, along with 400 jobs in Graves County and the Ascend Elements facility in Hopkinsville as economic opportunities. 

Beshear announced earlier this year the return of  $15 million in state funds for a site once proposed as a plant for Unity Aluminum, formerly Braidy Industries. In the interview, the governor said he was “thrilled that we were able to recover” the funds, but they “should have never been spent on that project.” 

“To get the money back was one thing, but the property where we can do something, make real hope out of what was false hope, is already being transferred back. The vast majority of that is done.”

Beshear also gave credit to Steel Dynamics and Unity as “anything that they could transfer directly back and donate they did.” The governor added that “we’re getting a very good deal” on additional property bought connected to the former site. 

In a recent quarterly report, Morehead-based AppHarvest said its management “believes there is substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” Beshear said the company has not asked for state assistance, but said the news is “concerning for the company,” although there’s cause for optimism about the industry.

AppHarvest, a high-tech indoor food-growing operation, has locations in Morehead, Berea and Somerset.

“Certainly, I hope that AppHarvest is able to come through this and come out the other side, but I strongly believe that the facilities themselves will continue and there will be a point where they are as important for our world’s food supply as they are for Kentucky,” he said. 


Beshear filed candidacy papers on Monday to seek a second term in office. He said that he plans to spend most of every day “being governor and fighting for our families.” He highlighted the state’s economy. 

“One challenge I do see though is others that are getting in are trying to run us down to make their chances of election better,” Beshear said. “And that is wrong to do when it could cost us a serious and significant investment.”


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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.