FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican state Sen. Max Wise, who has played a key role in shaping Kentucky education policy as a committee chairman, said Wednesday he’s strongly considering a bid for governor in 2023.
The Campbellsville lawmaker said he’d bring solid conservative credentials on social and economic issues if he enters what could become a crowded field of GOP candidates for the state’s top elected post. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has said he intends to seek a second term.
“People right now feel like their values are being trampled upon,” Wise told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I think they feel like they don’t have a voice for conservative values.”
Much of the frustration, he said, stems from mandates “being pushed down from state government, leaving out local decision-making.” He criticized the governor’s mask mandate in K-12 schools, saying those decisions should be left to local school district leaders working with health officials.
Beshear says masking up is necessary to try to prevent virus outbreaks that would close schools. Without masks, children too young to receive the vaccine would be defenseless, he said. The state school board followed up with an emergency regulation requiring masks in public schools.
Wise said he’s also heard from Kentuckians angered by the governor’s decision this summer to offer $1,500 bonuses meant to lure thousands of unemployed Kentuckians back to work as many employers struggled to hire enough workers. Wise criticized the use of a “bargaining chip” to reward people to get a job when many people kept working throughout the pandemic.
Wise, 46, is in his second Senate term and is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He played a key role in passing high-profile school safety legislation and said he’ll push for more funding for the safety efforts in the next state budget.
Though the election is two years away, considerable jockeying is underway among Republicans eyeing the governor’s race.
At the recent Fancy Farm picnic, U.S. Rep. James Comer singled out Wise and former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft as two names that Kentuckians will likely be “hearing a lot about” in 2023. Craft, whose personal family wealth would give her a built-in ability to mount a campaign, has said she’s “seriously considering” entering the governor’s race.
Wise didn’t offer a timetable for deciding whether to join the race but said he’s received considerable encouragement since Comer mentioned him at the state’s premiere political event. Wise said voters are looking for someone who is “genuine” and can connect with them.
“I think I have the ability to relate to people,” Wise said. “I’m not for sure every candidate who maybe is looking at the Kentucky governor’s race can truly be relatable to people across the state.”
Republican state Auditor Mike Harmon already announced he’s in the governor’s race, while state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and state Rep. Savannah Maddox are seen as among potential GOP gubernatorial candidates.