Ex-lieutenant governor seeks to revive political career
By Alex Saunders, School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky, April 2007
Steve Beshear, one of the seven Democratic candidates for governor, says Kentucky needs a chief executive who can provide “competent, experienced, honest leadership for a change.”
Beshear, former lieutenant governor and attorney general, is no stranger to public service. He cites his many years of political experience as the reason Democrats should vote for him in the May 22 primary.
“We have had four years of amateur hour in Frankfort,” he said during the first Democratic debate on KET, referring to the administration of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
His political experience stretches all the way back to his days as a young man growing up in the small Western Kentucky town of Dawson Springs.
Beshear, middle child of five, was born to Russell and Mary Elizabeth Beshear on Sept. 21, 1944.
“My dad was a Baptist minister and an undertaker. He and my mom worked real hard to put food on the table and a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs,” he said in an interview. “Those clothes were usually blue jeans and T-shirts.”
Beshear is not the only member of his family to serve Kentuckians in public office. Fred Beshear, his uncle, was a state representative in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
Fred Beshear, who served three nonconsecutive terms in the state House, was often accompanied by his nephew during his campaigns. Beshear helped spread his uncle’s message by distributing campaign materials. Beshear, still a young man, had gotten his first taste of Kentucky politics.
Jenny Beshear Sewell, Beshear’s first cousin, told Jim Adams of The Courier-Journal that children in the family were told “they were going to go to school, they were going to do well for their families and they were going to help others.”
Beshear, who was valedictorian of his class at Dawson Springs High School, continued his political aspirations at the University of Kentucky, serveing as president of the student government for one year. After receiving his degree in 1966, he went to UK law school, graduating two years later in 1968. “By the grace of God and another mortgage on dad and mom’s house and me working part time, I got through college and I got through law school,” he said.
After graduating from law school, Beshear took his education and headed north to work on Wall Street. While in New York, he worked for an international law firm named White and Case. Not content with life in the big city, he returned to Lexington in 1971 and officially entered the public sector two years later. Beshear, who was 29 when he first took office, spent six years in the state House before he became attorney general in 1979. As attorney general, he tackled some controversial issues.
He said the Ten Commandments should be removed from Kentucky classrooms after a state law requiring that they be posted was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1980. While Beshear was a state representative when the law was passed, he did not participate in the vote.
Beshear also took on the state police after a state trooper killed Clyde Daniel Graham, a man suspected of killing state trooper Eddie Harris in 1979. The investigation resulted in state police Commissioner Kenneth Brandenburg resigning from his post.
Beshear continued his climb up the state political ladder when he became lieutenant governor under Martha Layne Collins in 1983. As lieutenant governor, he created the Kentucky Tomorrow Commission, which helped identify current and future problems in the state. This was during a time when lieutenant governors had few duties, were elected separately from governors – who could not succeed themselves -- and spent most of their time running for governor.
State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone of Lexington, praised the creation of the Kentucky Tomorrow Commission during his endorsement of Beshear on April 3. “That was a first for Kentucky. That is, looking at the problems of Kentucky in a systematic way,” Scorsone said. “Not only make the right decision for today, but make the right decision for 10, 20, 40 years from now.”
In 1987, Beshear threw his name into the race for governor. He lost to Wallace Wilkinson, who won due in part to his support of the state lottery. As a millionaire, Wilkinson was able to finance his own campaign. Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. also sought the Democratic nomination that year.
After his term as attorney general ended, Beshear began working for Stites and Harbison, a law firm that represents primarily business clients.
Nine years later, Beshear lost a bid for the U.S. Senate when he was defeated by the incumbent, Republican Mitch McConnell. He has spent the past 11 years in the private sector working as a lawyer and managing partner of the Lexington office of Stites and Harbison.
The 2007 Kentucky gubernatorial race marks Beshear’s return to the public sector.
Throughout his campaign, Beshear has said he would support a constitutional amendment to allow “limited expanded gaming” in Kentucky. He said there should be casinos at “some of the tracks and a few freestanding locations along the borders” of the state.
However, Beshear said he is waiting to provide exact locations for the casinos until he meets with “all the stakeholders that are involved to write the legislation.” He said he did not anticipate anymore than two to four freestanding casinos.
Beshear has said he will do everything he can to get the amendment on the ballot in November 2008 and will “actively campaign to pass it.”
If a constitutional amendment to allow expanded gaming were to appear on the ballot, it would first have to be approved by the legislature. Senate President David Williams, a Republican, has openly expressed his opposition to such an amendment.
“Right now, Kentuckians by the thousands are going across our borders and spending over a billion dollars a year on expanded gaming in other states,” Beshear said during the KET debate. “We are educating Indiana’s kids, we are paving roads in Illinois, and we are lowering health care costs in West Virginia. I say it is time to bring that Kentucky money back home.”
Beshear would use the projected $500 million in new revenue to fund many of his initiatives. He expressed his confidence in the validity of that projection, but said he thinks that number is “a conservative figure” and could be higher.
Regardless of the fate of the expanded gaming issue, Beshear said he plans to conduct an efficiency study of the state government, which would free existing revenue for the state. He said this could “equate to about $150 to $180 million” in new money.
Beshear said raising taxes is another way to generate revenue, but that he would not resort to that. “At this point, we do not need to raise any taxes. Kentuckians are taxed too much right now,” he said. “I am not proposing any tax increases.”
Beshear plans to use the revenue from expanded gaming to pay for his education initiatives. He has said he wants to start pre-school as early as age three and wants to create the “Kentucky First Scholarship.”
This loan, which would provide money for tuition, would afford students with a unique way to repay their loan. Students could repay their debt by staying in Kentucky to work after graduation. The idea is that the loan is “forgiven” after a certain amount of time. One year of work in Kentucky would equate to one year of free college education. Thus, a loan could be fully repaid if a graduate works in Kentucky for four years.
Beshear’s health plan would focus on insuring more Kentuckians and controlling health costs. He said he would use the revenue from expanded gaming to make sure all children in Kentucky have health insurance. According to Beshear, there are 81,000 uninsured children in the state and it would cost $28 to $57 million a year to provide them with health insurance.
In an e-mail sent to potential voters, Beshear said his plan would look to prevent health costs from rising by “investing in preventative care, controlling pharmaceutical spending and cracking down on Medicaid fraud and abuse.”
His economic plan, which he refers to as “Kentucky First,” would focus on expanding existing businesses in Kentucky and would reduce the number of incentives given to out-of-state corporations. “We tend to focus on trying to attract an out-of-state corporation into the state by giving them tax incentives and tax breaks,” he said. “More often than not, in five or six years they have moved to Mexico or some place else and we are left holding the bag; we do not have any jobs and they have taken our tax breaks.”
Beshear said he will continue to recruit out-of-state companies to Kentucky, but wants to make sure those companies make good on their promises. He said he will require any company that does not live up to its promises to return the incentives they received from the state. The same is true of businesses that decide to leave the state.
Beshear has also said he would create an Office of Small Business Development and provide money to entrepreneurs in the state. The purpose of these initiatives would be to start and expand businesses in Kentucky.
Beshear has also said, on his Web site, that the revenue from expanded gaming would pay for energy independence initiatives that would include the creation of “a $60 million dollar Kentucky Energy Fund to help jump-start the development of alternative fuels and new clean coal technology industries.”
“We can create thousands of jobs in this state and we can create energy independence in this country if we will continue to push clean-coal technologies and alternative fuels,” he said.
The Lexington Herald-Leader has reported that the Beshear campaign borrowed some language from the energy plan of Chet Culver, a candidate in Iowa. Robert Kellar, communications director for the Beshear campaign, said some of the language is the same, but insisted that the campaign did not borrow anything.
He said Eric Schnurer was brought in to help the Beshear campaign write its energy policy. Schnurer, who works for a company named Brainstorm, also helped write Culver’s energy platform. “Candidates do not write their own platform,” Kellar said. “Anyone who says they do is probably pulling your leg.” He said Beshear never read Culver’s energy plan and would have changed the words had he known the language was the same.
So, why does a 62-year-old lawyer who has it made want to get back into politics, suffer the tribulations of a campaign and take on the challenges of being governor?
Beshear, who has been married to his wife Jane for nearly 38 years and has two children and one grandchild, said he has “realized the American Dream.” “What I want as governor of this state is to make sure every man, woman, boy and girl in this state also has that opportunity,” he said. “The opportunity to realize that American Dream.”
Horse breeder and expanded-gaming advocate Brereton Jones, who was governor from 1991 to 1995, endorsed the Beshear campaign on April 17. “I know they are in it for the right reasons,” he said of Beshear and his running mate, state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard.
While Beshear has his share of political supporters, some prominent Kentuckians oppose the idea of an expanded gaming amendment.
John-Mark Hack, a Democrat and former head of the Office of Agricultural Policy under Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, said Beshear showed early support for such an amendment because he wanted “to position himself to maximize campaign contributions from supporters of the expanded-gaming agenda.”
“He is creating a smoke screen of false promises to get elected governor,” Hack said. He said Kentuckians would have to spend $1.5 billion at the casinos to produce $500 million in taxes levied on the casinos.
“He is talking about sending $1.5 billion out of the state to get $500 million for the state government,” Hack said. “That is one billion less dollars being spent on groceries, on investments and on cars and homes.” Hack said casinos would be an “economic transfer,” not an “economic development.” This is because they would “take wealth from a community and transfer it somewhere else.”
“There is no such thing as easy money,” he said. “The only people that want you to believe that are lawyers and politicians. Beshear happens to be both.”
Kellar said Hack’s comments “show how out of touch he is with the issues.” Based on information from the Legislative Research Commission, Kellar said at least $1 billion leaves the state every year because Kentuckians are going elsewhere to gamble. “We are paying the social costs of gaming without getting any of the benefits,” he said.
The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, said she opposes gambling as a way to generate revenue.
“It is a predatory enterprise,” she said. “It takes money from one part of the economy and puts it into another.” Kemper said participation in casino gambling doubles when casinos are “less than 50 miles from someone’s backyard.”
According to Kemper, 33 percent of Louisville and Northern Kentucky residents participate in casino gambling as opposed to 8 percent in Lexington. These statistics define participation in casino gambling as visiting a casino at least four times in a year.
The populations of Louisville and Northern Kentucky are closer to the full-scale casinos in Indiana and the slot machines at racetracks in West Virginia. However, West Virginia could upgrade to full-scale casinos if voters in the four counties with racetracks approve a measure to allow them at the tracks.
If an expanded-gaming amendment were to pass in Kentucky, Kemper said the statewide average of people who participate in casino gambling, currently 16 percent, would climb to 32 percent.
She said this would take money away from small businesses in the state.
“It is not new money,” she said. “It is taken from hardware stores, dentists and doctors. It takes away from products that have a real benefit.”
Kemper said those individuals that have proposed numerous initiatives based on expanded gaming revenue are “whistling Dixie,” because the amendment will never get past the state Senate.
Interest groups play key role in gubernatorial primaries
By Jessica Rouse, School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky, April 2007
Lobbying groups are making waves in the race for governor, but so far their choices may have had more impact on candidates who were not endorsed than those who were.
The state’s leading anti-abortion group, the Kentucky Right to Life Association, last week endorsed both Gov. Ernie Fletcher and his leading challenger in the Republican primary, former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, but declined to repeat the Democratic primary endorsement it gave House Speaker Jody Richards in 2003.
A group of labor unions is campaigning against Democratic candidate Bruce Lunsford and running mate Greg Stumbo, in a decision also tied to the 2003 race. Lunsford pulled out of the primary four days before the election, and in the general election threw his support to Fletcher, who as governor endorsed legislation that unions oppose – mainly a “right to work” law which prohibits union contracts from making membership or membership dues a condition of employment.
The anti-abortion group’s endorsement is closely watched in Republican primaries, because there is more opposition to abortion among Republicans. But its dual endorsement of Northup and Fletcher, coupled with its lack of endorsement of Richards, means it might have a bigger impact in the Democratic primary this time.
When Right to Life endorsed Richards in 2003, it cited his pro-life voting record. But his failure to aggressively push pro-life legislation led the group’s political action committee to not endorse him this year, Assistant Director Michael Janocik said.
The group wants a law requiring women seeking an abortion to get face-to-face counseling. The legislation failed to get to the House floor for a vote this year.
The lack of endorsement could cost Richards, the only Democratic candidate who opposes abortion rights, support from anti-abortion Democrats.
Richards spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said the speaker’s position on abortion makes him stand out from the other Democratic candidates, regardless of the endorsement. “We have a lot of supporters that already know that,” she said.
Janocik said Right to Life endorsed Fletcher and Northup because they both have “pro-life” voting records and scored 100 percent on the group’s questionnaire.
The other Republican candidate, Paducah businessman Billy Harper, did not get an endorsement because he didn’t clearly answer all the questions, does not oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest, and has no voting record, Janocik said.
In Democratic primaries, unions are potentially strong players, because 225,000 workers in Kentucky are union members and Democrats traditionally side with unions on issues.
However, to get an endorsement from either of the two federations of unions in Kentucky, blocking competing endorsements by member unions, a candidate must get two-thirds of the vote among those unions. With seven candidates in the Democratic primary, it is unlikely that either federation will endorse a candidate in the primary.
The federations are the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Kentucky Coalition, which was created in 2005 by unions that were once a part of the AFL-CIO. Some labor groups are not affiliated with one of the federations, the major one being the 37,000-member Kentucky Education Association.
Change to Win and a new group called the Labor Coalition for Kentucky Working Families, have come out against the Lunsford-Stumbo slate.
The Labor Coalition was formed by a group of unions for the sole purpose of speaking out against Lunsford, after some Change to Win unions declined to participate in an anti-Lunsford campaign.
The coalition has about 100,000 active and retired members and comprises the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the Service Employees International Union, which are part of Change to Win; and the United Mine Workers, Communications Workers Local 3372, the Kentucky Association of State Employees and the Jefferson County Teachers Association, which is KEA’s largest local affiliate.
(KEA, an organization for teachers and other school employees, has decided not to endorse in the primary and has scheduled an endorsing convention for June 8. If no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote in the May 22 primary, as seems likely in the Democratic race, a runoff election between the two top vote-getters will be held June 26.)
Bill Riggs of the UFCW said Lunsford’s candidacy has created more unity in the labor movement. “Mr. Lunsford has brought us together against him,” Riggs said. “He has created union relationships that never existed before.”
Stumbo, who had a strong pro-labor record as state House floor leader, and Lunsford have said they have much support from individual union members.
With no endorsement from a federation, member unions are free to make their own endorsements.
Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry is supported by the United Auto Workers and Electronic Workers Local 761, which represents employees at General Electric Appliance Park. Henry announced his candidacy at the union hall in south Louisville.
Some Communications Workers locals have endorsed former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear. The Teamsters, with 36,360 members the second-largest Kentucky union, has endorsed Richards, as it did in 2003.
According to Richards’ campaign website, he opposed the right-to-work law and sponsored legislation that raised the state’s minimum wage. He also favors collective bargaining for public employees, a major issue for unions because their membership in the private sector is declining.
A former Republican member of the state House, Steve Nunn of Glasgow, said unions’ influence in elections appears to have been weakening while Right to Life’s influence is getting stronger.
“It’s less unified within labor unions; it’s not as unified as Right to Life,” said Nunn, a moderate who lost his seat last year to a conservative Democrat. “The (Right to Life) movement has really gained momentum.”
Student reporter finds a politics that lives and breathes
By Dariush Shafa, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications, May 2007
I never thought that upon exiting the lion’s den that is Kentucky gubernatorial politics that I would feel bad or – heaven forbid – actually miss them.
The last four months have been nerve-wracking, to say the least, and backside-numbing at most. From Louisville to Covington to Campbellsville, following candidates to different corners of the state has been an exercise in an hour or two of boredom followed by half an hour of steam-locomotive anxiety.
Not even the fact that it was a shared experience with 15 or so classmates in a course called Covering the Governor’s Race has made it any easier, but looking back on it, I have to say that I’m a little sad that it’s over, and even more sad that class finished before the primaries took place and the real fun began.
I’m not saying that it hasn’t been fun already.
At the Kentucky Press Association Forum in Louisville, I cut my teeth on running up to a candidate and hurling a barrage of questions. I thought it wouldn’t get any more interesting than that, but that illusion was quickly dispelled by Gov. Ernie Fletcher trying to make a quick escape from the press there.
The thrill of actually getting to question such a high-ranking official was quickly replaced by the rush of knowing that the security guard across the room, who has just seen you grab the governor by the arm, wants to tackle you but can’t because of the size of the crowd.
It was also very enjoyable in that I got to be the first one to hear some of the ideas of the candidates, or at the very least to hear their weirdnesses being viewed for all to see. Sometimes that was especially entertaining (in the case of Gatewood Galbraith saying he was “Ruffles with ridges”) or particularly disturbing (in the case of Otis Hensley saying he needed attractive girls to pass out his misspelled handbills).
Sometimes it wasn’t easy to determine just how important some issue or facet of a campaign was for a candidate, such as Galbraith’s state-subsidized gambling plan. In general, the whole learning experience was, for me at least, mostly about getting used to a whole lot of shenanigans and talk that make all the difference to a few million people in one state.
Before this experience, I was one of the oddities of journalism. I detest politics, a subject on which many journalists are super-opinionated because they are overloaded with all the information they need or could ever want about the campaigns and the candidates. For me, it was absolutely the opposite: I had very little background in politics and scarcely more knowledge of the candidates and their campaign issues. All of a sudden I knew more about these people then I ever wanted to know and I began to hate the whole process.
Taking a step back and looking at them person to person, particularly with Steve Henry and Renee True, the two candidates I spent the most time with, helped me to understand a little more about the nature of politics. After having spent time with them and having talked a little with each of the candidates (except Hensley), I have come to a conclusion I never would have made beforehand:
Each of the candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor in Kentucky (even an out-of-left-field person like Hensley) firmly believes that he or she can help make Kentucky a better place. They all have different reasons for wanting to do so and different plans on how they would make it happen, but they all think they can do the job, even if their driving reason might not be that it would be for the public good.
Keeping that in mind helped to keep me sane throughout this whole process, and getting to know a little more of the human side of these people, seeing the little chinks in their political armor, was a great experience. For once, they were more than just faces and slogans. These were breathing, living people with families and friends and hopes and desires. They have their strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else, and I think that before now, I simply viewed them as their own sub-type of humanity that suffered a terminal disconnect with the rest of society.
After all is said and done and this class is finished, I find myself a more rounded journalist. I have learned how to cover a whole new segment of American life and how to enjoy doing it, from time spent with the lowest underling on the campaign to time spent listening to a candidate repeat their tried-and-true lines over and over again.
And now that’s it’s all said and done… I know I’m going to miss it.