Kentuckians set up Bevin vs. Beshear gubernatorial showdown

Posted at 8:22 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 13:00:59-04

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — In Kentucky political circles, Beshear vs. Bevin has become shorthand for the bitter feud between the state's governor and attorney general over legal issues with sweeping implications for the future.

The drama between Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has been spiced by subplots — some involving Beshear's family. Now all Kentucky voters will get a chance to take sides at the ballot box on a rivalry that has clearly gotten personal.

As their parties' nominees after Tuesday's primary election for governor, they'll face off in November in a grudge match that will have national political experts watching for vulnerabilities among Republican incumbents closely aligned with President Donald Trump.

Beshear outlasted two prominent rivals — Rocky Adkins and Adam Edelen — to win the Democratic nomination. Bevin fended off a strong challenge from state Rep. Robert Goforth, who garnered nearly 40% of the Republican vote.

The main event could become the most vitriolic campaign Kentuckians have seen in years.

"The whole background of the relationship means it's going to be a grudge match," longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said. "There is no precedent, at least in modern Kentucky political history, for a governor's race with this kind of personal rancor."

Democratic strategist Mark Riddle predicted it will turn into a "political brawl."

Bevin fired an opening shot Tuesday night, ridiculing how Beshear campaigned on his legal challenges of the Bevin administration.

"It's a lot of empty talk, but this is what we've been getting from Beshears," Bevin said Tuesday night. "And now the people will have this choice — if they want four more years of empty Beshear. ... I don't think they do."

Beshear, in turn, scolded Bevin for his "nasty attacks" and what he calls the governor's bullying of teachers and other critics.

"We were raised better than this," the Democratic nominee said in his victory speech.

Wielding his authority as the state's top lawyer, Beshear challenged Bevin's executive actions to make wholesale changes to boards and commissions, and sought to block Bevin-backed pension and education initiatives. In the highest-profile case, it was Beshear's lawsuit that led Kentucky's Supreme Court to strike down a Bevin-supported pension law on procedural grounds last year.

Bevin's quarrels with Beshear haven't been limited to the attorney general. Andy Beshear's father, Steve, was a popular two-term governor who preceded Bevin in office and has been the target of the Republican governor's attacks. Even Beshear's mother hasn't been immune from Bevin's executive actions.

Early in his term, Bevin removed Andy Beshear's mother, former first lady Jane Beshear, from the Kentucky Horse Park Commission while overhauling the commission. Steve Beshear had appointed his wife to the unpaid position shortly before leaving office. At the time, a Bevin spokeswoman called the appointment an "embarrassment."

As his time in office wound down, Steve Beshear also named an education center for his wife, who had been active on education issues, on the state Capitol's grounds in Frankfort. Bevin later renamed the center to honor Kentucky Gold Star families.

Last year, Bevin's administration extended a contract with an Indiana law firm to investigate alleged corruption in Steve Beshear's administration. The potential cost to Kentucky taxpayers at the time doubled to reach $1 million, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Steve Beshear referred to the investigation as a waste of taxpayers' money based on Bevin's "political vendetta" against him.

Meanwhile, a legacy-building decision by Steve Beshear sparked a key policy dispute between Bevin and Andy Beshear.

As governor, Steve Beshear expanded Kentucky's Medicaid program to include coverage for able-bodied adults, increasing the rolls by more than 400,000 people. It was an option given to states by former President Barack Obama's signature health-care law.

Bevin says the expansion is too expensive to continue. The governor has aggressively tried to impose new rules to require "able-bodied" adult recipients to get a job, go to school or volunteer. A group of Kentucky residents sued to block those rules, with the help of advocacy groups. A federal judge blocked the rules and Bevin's administration appealed.

Andy Beshear has denounced Bevin's plan as "callous" and said it would hurt rural health care and strip health coverage for thousands of Kentuckians.

"It's fair to conclude from all their public pronouncements that these guys really don't like each other," Cross said.

The two candidates have plenty of other things to talk about if they simply stick to matters of policy.

Bevin supports charter schools as part of a school-choice agenda. Beshear opposes them, saying they'll divert money from public schools. Bevin is an outspoken abortion opponent. Beshear supports abortion rights.

The Democratic challenger supports expanded gambling as a way to generate revenue for underfunded public pension systems. Bevin calls expanded gambling a "sucker's bet."

In other statewide races:

  • Heather French Henry, a former Miss America and Kentucky veterans affairs commissioner, won the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State. She will face Republican Michael Adams in November. Incumbent Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes can't run again due to term limits.
  • Daniel Cameron, a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell, won the Republican nomination for Attorney General. Cameron will face former Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo, who held the office from 2004 to 2008. Stumbo was unopposed in the Democratic primary.
  • Banker Michael Bowman of Louisville won the Democratic nomination for Treasurer. Bowman will face incumbent Republican Allison Ball.
  • Sheri Donahue won the Democratic nomination for Auditor and will face incumbent Republican Mike Harmon.
  • Scott County farmer Robert Conway won the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner. He will oppose incumbent Republican Ryan Quarles.

"The race ought not to be as personal as their relationship has been, because there are plenty of issues on which they can have legitimate disagreement without getting personal," Cross said.