Why I’m very worried about a Gov. Cameron 

September 13, 2023 5:50 am

Gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cameron speaks during the 143rd Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)

In Alabama, the governor earlier this year forced out the state’s early childhood education director, who is a Black woman, over the use of a teacher training book that the governor deemed “woke.” In Arkansas, the state’s education department, led by appointees of the governor, recently announced students could not get credit towards graduation by taking Advanced Placement African American Studies, an attempt to effectively ban the class. 

In Florida, the governor has removed two popularly-elected Democratic county attorneys from their posts and also created an election fraud unit that has wound up arresting people, sometimes at gun point, on illegal voting charges that were later dismissed. His education appointees have banned the AP African American Studies course, mandated students in the state be taught that Black people learned valuable skills while they were enslaved and forced out much of the faculty at one of the state’s colleges.

In Texas, appointees of the governor have taken over Houston’s school system and started turning school libraries into disciplinary centers

The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Texas are all Republicans. 

These developments in other states are why I’m so worried about Kentucky’s future if Attorney General Daniel Cameron is elected governor this November. Because Republicans dominate Kentucky’s General Assembly, the first few months of each year feature tax cuts for businesses, limits on abortion and trangender rights and other terrible policies that conservatives are adopting in red states across the country. But once the legislature is done meeting, Gov. Andy Beshear does much of the policymaking in Kentucky. 

If Cameron wins though, Kentucky would likely have a governor looking to implement a Trumpian, “own the libs” right-wing agenda 12 months a year. And based on what happens in other states with Republican governors, a Cameron administration would negatively impact Democratic-leaning cities, teachers and professors and people of color in particular. 

I know that on the campaign trail Cameron isn’t proposing to ban history classes or fire officials on flimsy pretexts. In fact, some of his ideas seem reasonable, such as raising teacher pay and offering extra funding for tutoring to make up for classroom time missed during the pandemic. 

He might even do some of those good things. But I suspect that he would take lots of right-wing actions in office that he is not campaigning on now. That’s been the pattern of recently-elected GOP governors such as Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin. Republican politicians are aware that an anti-teacher, anti-Black agenda isn’t particularly popular — so they don’t campaign on these policies. 

There are at least four reasons in particular to expect Cameron to mirror the pattern of other Republican governors and be a very right-wing figure. 

First of all, Cameron is very tied to not only former President Donald Trump (who has enthusiastically endorsed Cameron) but the broader Trumpism movement across the country.

As attorney general, Cameron has regularly joined lawsuits, many of which have little to do with Kentucky, that have been filed by a coalition of state Republican attorneys general against the Biden administration and other left-leaning entities. He and a dozen other Republican attorneys general are currently threatening to sue Fortune 100 companies if conservatives think those companies are trying too hard to increase their racial diversity. 

Cameron has already hinted that as governor he would align with his Republican colleagues across the country. 

We need a governor that is going to stand aside Youngkin and (Ron) DeSantis and build an alliance of governors,” Cameron said last year

Republican Daniel Cameron talks about his public safety plan in Louisville, July 11, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Secondly, Cameron has already floated some moves similar to his GOP colleagues in other states. For example, he is proposing to increase the role of the Kentucky State Police, which reports to the governor, in Louisville. That could be a benign proposal. But this could set up an infrastructure for state police officers under Cameron’s direction and not accountable to Louisville voters or officials to use aggressive tactics and ignore some of the reforms that happened in Louisville after the killing of Breonna Taylor.

Cameron was a very strong critic of former Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass, who resigned in late July, citing his frustration with the increasingly anti-education posture of the state’s Republicans. If he is elected, I would expect Cameron to stack the state’s board of education with conservatives who would appoint a commissioner who will be hostile to education officials in Louisville and Lexington in particular. 

Beshear had used his executive power to restore voting rights to people who committed nonviolent crimes but have served their sentences, a policy that disproportionately benefits Black Kentuckians. Cameron has repeatedly refused to say if he would keep that policy in place if elected, suggesting he is open to ending it. 

Third, the last Kentucky Republican governor constantly used his power to antagonize the city of Louisville and left-leaning causes. Cameron has tried to distance himself from Matt Bevin. But Cameron’s gubernatorial staff is likely to be full of Bevin administration veterans — those are the conservatives in Kentucky with high-level government experience. So expect some Bevin-like tactics to be part of Cameron’s playbook. 

As governor, Bevin’s education commissioner, Wayne Lewis, didn’t fully take over Louisville’s schools but required major decisions to go through him. Bevin also reversed his predecessor Steve Beshear’s restoration of voting rights to some nonviolent offenders who had served their sentences. 

Fourth, there’s Cameron’s political ambitions. If he wins, Cameron would be the first Black Republican ever popularly-elected governor of a state. As a 38-year-old governor, he would be immediately touted by the media as a potential president. His trajectory would be clear — win re-election in Kentucky in 2027, which he would be a heavy favorite to do, and then run for president when the timing was right. His incentives would not be to just ignore the needs of people in left-leaning Louisville and Lexington, but to attack them in ways that would get him on Fox News and excite Republican voters in early presidential primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Perhaps some particular provisions in Kentucky law or the court system here will prevent Cameron from taking the exact same actions as say, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas. But if Cameron wins, I fully expect the policies of DeSantis, Youngkin, Sanders and Greg Abbott (Texas) to arrive in Kentucky. And they are terrible. Andy Beshear can’t make Kentucky some progressive panacea. But him being in office has prevented some of the worst policies from being adopted here. Things could be a lot worse here quickly if Cameron replaced him. 

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Perry Bacon Jr.

Perry Bacon Jr. has been covering government and elections for more than 20 years. He is currently a columnist at the Washington Post. He has previously been a writer at Time Magazine, the Grio, and FiveThirtyEight, as well as a television analyst at MSNBC. He grew up in Louisville and lives there now.