Kentucky Politics

Gov. Andy Beshear appeared on a panel with other Democratic governors from politically divided states during the Democratic National Convention on Thursday.

The event — called “Progress in Red and Purple States” — was an opportunity for the party to highlight Democratic politicians who have made political headway in Republican-leaning states.

Beshear is the lone Democratic constitutional officer in Frankfort (besides his running mate, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman) and has to wrangle with a legislature that has Republican supermajorities in each chamber.

Beshear said that he’s been able to get elected and govern by showing people he cares about the issues he’s advocating for.

“I think people truly want to see that you care and that’s why you’re doing it,” Beshear said. “Because no one’s going to agree with the decisions you make all the time.”

Beshear narrowly won his election last year by about 5,000 votes over incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

Then the coronavirus pandemic began about three months after he was inaugurated, radically shifting his and others’ political plans.

But partisan battle lines still exist in Kentucky, especially after conservatives soured on Beshear’s coronavirus-related orders, from the initial shutdown of non-essential businesses to the ongoing requirement that people wear masks in public to try and slow the spread of the disease.

Beshear said he thinks the political fighting has gone beyond polarization.

“I think where we are now is this really destructive us versus them mentality, where some people are deciding their view on an issue based on what someone else thinks, and if they’re for it, you’re against it and vice versa,” Beshear said.

Though Democrats still have a plurality of registered voters in the state — 48% compared to Republicans’ 43% — the number has declined.

And Kentuckians have increasingly voted for Republican politicians, especially in federal elections. The state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992 or voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Bill Clinton in 1996.

Beshear said that the coronavirus pandemic was a time for people to rise above politics.

“Decisions that I’ve got to make, that all these governors have got to make, are life or death,” he said.

The panel took place hours before Democrats officially tapped former Vice President Joe Biden to be their nominee for this year’s presidential election.

Earlier in the day, Beshear endorsed Biden.

“For me it comes down to a part of his character that resonates with me,” Beshear said during a news briefing on COVID-19.

“The story that always sticks with me is that the vice president would take the train home every night to tuck in his kids. Some of y’all know that’s a similar philosophy that I have about mine.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.