Gov. Andy Beshear shakes a supporter’s hand during the annual Marshall County Democratic Party bean dinner, Aug. 4, 2023 at Kentucky Dam Convention Center. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Austin Anthony)
FRANKFORT — Democrat Andy Beshear said he’s hopeful his relationship with the Republican-dominated legislature will improve now that he’s unable to run again for governor and lawmakers no longer have to worry about giving wins to a political rival.
“With me being term-limited, hopefully people don’t worry about a win or a loss for me,” Beshear said of the General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 2.
“So this can be a chance for the supermajority, for things that maybe they’ve wanted to do, but worried that it would be a positive for me, to do it now so that they’re not in that place with somebody else in the future.”
In an end-of-year interview with the Kentucky Lantern, Beshear also highlighted that he has signed more than 600 bills, such as legalizing medical marijuana and sports betting, that had bipartisan support.
Also in the interview, Beshear said showing empathy for others, such as Hadley Duvall, a survivor of childhood sexual assault, was a core part of his reelection bid. Beshear mistakenly said that London Mayor Randall Weddle had self-reported making excessive donations to Beshear’s campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party.
The governor also said the Kentucky Democratic Party’s future is “strong” and predicted it will pick up some House seats next year.
Beshear won November’s general election by about 5 percentage points over Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Beshear’s campaign focused on economic development and support for public education. A crucial moment was a Beshear ad featuring Hadley Duvall, a young woman who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather as a child and became pregnant. Duvall later miscarried, but began sharing her story after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.
Duvall criticized Cameron’s support for Kentucky’s abortion ban, which has no exceptions for victims of rape.
When the Lantern asserted that opposition to the abortion ban had been key to his campaign, Beshear said what resonated with voters was empathy, especially for individuals like Duvall. Kentucky’s current abortion law prohibits abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy and includes exceptions for the life of the mother. The law does not have exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
“I believe that when we can start talking about something from a place of empathy — whether that is victims of rape and incest, couples with non-viable pregnancy — we can break through some of the old lines that existed. I think a whole lot of people that used to say that they were pro-life look at Hadley’s situation and say wait, ‘Of course a victim of rape or incest, especially a child, deserves options.’”
The governor added that he hopes some of that empathy extends to conversations about the auction of murder weapons. A friend of Beshear’s, Tommy Elliot, was one of the victims in the Old National Bank mass shooting in Louisville earlier this year.
Since the tragedy, Beshear has been among those calling for a change to state law, which allows weapons used in homicides, like the one used in the shooting, to be sold for police funding and returned to civilian hands. Part of an anti-crime bill sponsored by Louisville Republicans for the upcoming session would allow auctioned weapons to be destroyed, if the bidder chooses.
“Starting at those places, asking people to be, first of all, a decent human being in the way that we think about things and the way they impact other people, hopefully gives us a chance to have bigger conversations,” Beshear said.
Kentucky Lantern in April first reported contributors to Beshear’s campaign and the Kentucky Democratic Party with connections to London Mayor Weddle. Campaign finance reports showed that Weddle’s family, employees and close business associates comprised a group of 19 donors who had given more money than any other group to boost the reelection hopes of Beshear — at least $305,500 in contributions to the Beshear campaign and Kentucky Democratic Party. None of these donors, the Lantern reported, had ever before made a large political donation.
In June, the Beshear campaign announced that it and the Democratic Party returned $202,000 in donations that had been placed on a credit card belonging to Weddle and his wife. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance launched an investigation into Weddle’s excess contributions in November.
When asked if was concerned Weddle would be charged with a campaign finance violation, Beshear noted that Weddle self-reported the issue to the election registry.
“Whether something is a mistake or an oversight, if someone steps forward and says, ‘Wait a minute, I need to fix this,’ and goes to the regulatory agency, hopefully we handle that the right way and in a way that encourages other people to do it in the future because things happen on every campaign. It’s just a question of how transparent you are about them.”
However, Weddle did not report his excess contributions to the KREF. They were reported by the Beshear campaign and Kentucky Democratic Party, according to John Steffen, the executive director of KREF.
Steffen wrote in an email after this article was published that Weddle “has yet to self-report anything to the Registry.” KREF learned of issues with the contributions from the Beshear campaign and the party, both of which “properly sought guidance from the Registry regarding how to handle the contributions, and took prompt steps to remedy the problem,” Steffen added.
“Weddle, on the other hand, did nothing, other than to ask the Registry for more time in which to file a response to the complaint the Registry has pending against him,” Steffen said.
Change is needed in election finance laws, Beshear said in the interview. He added the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission “was a wrong decision that has harmed our politics.” The 2009 decision found that the government may not prevent corporations or unions from spending money to support or oppose political candidates.
“I believe we need to take big money out of politics,” Beshear said. “But this is the system, and in order to win and to be able to make positive change — to move the economy forward, to expand access to health care — you got to run under the rules that exist.”
Kentucky Democratic Party
Kentucky politics has moved to the right over the past couple of decades. Republicans gained control of the Senate in 2000 and the House in 2016. Registered Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters for the first time in 2022. Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman have been the only two statewide elected Democrats in Kentucky since their first terms in 2019.
Nevertheless, the Kentucky Democratic Party has “a future and a strong future,” Beshear said.
“To be truly successful, I think the Democratic Party or the Republican Party needs to focus on where people are, not be chasing the issue of the day in Washington, D.C., but to be looking at jobs and infrastructure, public education, public safety and working together.”
In his second inaugural address, Beshear said politics have become “poisonous and toxic.” He made a similar comment in his Tuesday interview, saying his reelection shows that people “are really tired of the back and forth of the team red or the team blue.”
“The candidates from a party that can actually convince people that they care, and they’re going to focus on the thing to make their lives better, those are the candidates that’ll win,” Beshear said.
Navigating the budget session
Beshear said he’s had recent meetings with House and Senate leadership and hopes to schedule regular meetings with lawmakers. He unveiled his next two-year budget proposal in a televised address Monday night on KET. In it, he called for a $136.6 billion spending plan that included an 11% raise for public school employees, investment in water and wastewater infrastructure and fully funding Kentucky’s expanded Medicaid program.
Breaking with tradition, he made his proposal public before lawmakers return in January for a 60-day budget session. In 2022, House Republicans broke with tradition by filing their budget bill ahead of the governor’s.
Releasing his budget early could mean that some of his priorities end up in the House version, Beshear said, and give his administration more time to work with the Senate after the House passes its verison. Budget bills originate in the House.
“The end product is so important that this approach, first, I think, kind of lowers the temperature on what’s going to happen the first couple of days of the session, and also gives a chance for that first House version to hopefully not leave important things out.”
In response to Beshear’s budget address, Republican House Speaker David Osborne said while lawmakers were “not aware of any of the governor’s requests, we welcome his early submission and are hopeful that it includes information that we have asked for over the past several months.”
Beshear said he plans to give an in-person State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly. He noted that both the budget address and the State of the Commonwealth have been combined into the same speech in the past and added that his upcoming State of the Commonwealth will likely highlight some of his budget priorities.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that London Mayor Randall Weddle did not report potential campaign finance violations to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance as Gov. Andy Beshear told the Lantern during a year-end interview.
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