FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Preparing for his first encounters with an overwhelmingly Republican legislature as Kentucky’s next chief executive, Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear is looking for ways to bridge the partisan divide.
Combating drug-abuse problems should be achievable because “it’s a matter of life and death,” Beshear said. Strengthening child welfare protections also should be ripe for bipartisanship, he said.
Aiming even higher, he’s hoping to find agreement on the big things he campaigned on — public education, health care, pension protection and better jobs. Some of those issues stoked contentious debates in the past, but Beshear said they don’t have to be partisan.
“The problems that we have in front of us are not partisan,” he said in a Friday interview with The Associated Press. “And when ... partisanship is applied to them, it makes it harder to accomplish what our families need.”
Politicians from both parties share many common goals, he said.
“Everyone wants a strong system of public education,” Beshear said. “We all want more affordable health care and ... access in some way for everyone. We all want to make sure that we fund pensions in a way that makes sure that no one’s promises are broken. And we want to see better wages and better jobs.”
A top Republican lawmaker, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, said there’s “good potential” for cooperation with the new Democratic governor. He mentioned the battle with opioid addiction and efforts to strengthen adoption and foster care systems. But he also said the GOP legislature is going to send bills to the new governor that “he may not like.”
For example, Thayer said in a phone interview, lawmakers have prepared bills dealing with sanctuary cities, abortion and gun rights.
“We’re going to continue to pass the conservative issues that our constituencies elected us on,” Thayer said.
With supermajorities in both chambers, Republican lawmakers will have plenty to say about the legislative agenda — and enough votes to override Beshear vetoes.
Beshear has been reaching out to Republican lawmakers to build relationships that were frayed at times during his term as attorney general. As the state’s top lawyer, Beshear filed the lawsuit that led Kentucky's Supreme Court to strike down a pension law the legislature passed.
Beshear, who defeated Republican incumbent Matt Bevin in a close election, takes office Dec. 10. Lawmakers will convene in early January. Topping the agenda will be crafting a new two-year state budget.
The governor-elect said he’s in the early stages of preparing a budget to submit to lawmakers. Beshear guaranteed that the $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers he campaigned on will be in his spending blueprint. It’s an incentive he says is needed to resolve a statewide teacher shortage. He also hopes to make smaller class sizes possible, fulfilling another campaign goal.
“My approach is that a budget is a values document,” Beshear said. “That there is never enough money for everything that we care about. So we have to fund those things that we value the most. And for me, that will be public education, pensions, health care and jobs.”
Beshear said he’s also been talking to lawmakers about his push to legalize casino gambling — another promise from the campaign trail, where he recommended that all the revenue go to shore up public pension systems. Beshear said he has gotten a mixed response.
“I’ve had some initial meetings and understand that some are for and some are against it,” he said.
During the campaign, Thayer and Senate President Robert Stivers declared that Beshear's casino gambling plan would be "dead on arrival" in the Senate.
Beshear also supports legalizing sports betting, and he said prospects “look promising” in the upcoming legislative session. A sports betting bill died this year.
“Sports wagering is something that is not only going on in states around us, creates needed revenue, but it also brings something that people are already doing into a regulated setting,” the governor-elect said.
Thayer also supports legal sports betting and said he welcomes Beshear’s support for it.
At the end of the day, Beshear said he expects to be graded on his performance as governor based on how he affects the lives of Kentuckians.
“I’m going to judge myself not by any poll numbers but on working to reduce the cost of health care and on our wages,” he said. “Yes, the unemployment rate is important but if that unemployment rate is based on jobs that don’t pay a living wage to our families, we’re not doing what we need to do.
“So if I could look back over my time as governor, are our families earning more? Can they afford to send their kids to college or a trade school? Those are the types of things that I want to make sure I make an impact on.”