Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin made his reelection pitch to a group of Louisville business leaders on Thursday, saying that the other candidates vying for his job are making “grandiose claims and promises.”

“They’re going to get wages up, they’re going to bring jobs of the future and these things sound great, but what do they even mean?” Bevin said.

There are three Republican challengers and four Democrats vying to replace Bevin in November. Democrats held their first of four televised debates on Wednesday.

Bevin spoke for about 90 minutes, answering five questions from members of the Louisville Rotary Club.

In his opening remarks, Bevin said that he was never really “hungry” for politics, but rose to the occasion because he thought that somebody “normal” should run for office.

“I looked at this and said ‘somebody, someone like us, a normal person who pays taxes, whose employees pay taxes, who’s under the pressure of all of these regulations and rules — somebody normal needs to step up and be willing to take one for the team,” Bevin said.

Bevin touted several “pro-business” initiatives he has pushed for over the last three years — the “right to work” law that forbids companies from requiring employees to pay union dues, cutting regulations and reducing the size of state government.

The event came hours after Morning Consult released a poll showing Bevin as the least popular governor in the country in the wake of a series of inflammatory statements about teachers and others.

According to the report, just 33 percent of Kentucky voters approve of Bevin’s job performance while 52 percent disapprove.

After the event, Bevin questioned whether people who respond to polling questions even vote.

“These polls, my gracious, they’ve never been right, ever, as it relates to me in this state. So I pay them no mind whatsoever,” Bevin said.

Bevin said he had “no regrets” about how he has handled education issues since taking office in 2015. Teachers groups have protested his stance on charter schools, teacher pensions and advocacy for a takeover of Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest district in the state.

“My commitment to JCPS specifically, but frankly public education in the state, is to make this the best version of itself that it can possibly be. And we have room for improvement,” Bevin said.

Bevin also talked to the audience about pensions, arguing that the state needs to move away from “defined benefit” pensions that guarantee monthly payments to retirees until death.

“Guess how many workers we have in Kentucky for every retiree? Less than one. It’s already over, it’s inverted,” Bevin said.

Bevin has signed off on budgets that put much more money into the state’s pension systems, which are among the worst-funded in the nation.

But the state continues to struggle to make ends meet in its $11 billion annual budget and this year the legislature passed another round of tax cuts totaling about $106 million per year.

Bevin argues that the state’s financial woes are due to previous governors and legislators. He compared his role leading Kentucky to shoveling manure out of a barn.

“It’s not pleasant and it’s not fun and it’s not easy and it smells bad, but someone has to shovel out the barn. And this in some measure is where we are at this time in Kentucky,” Bevin said.

Bevin also made a controversial statement that the shooting of a child in Louisville in March was due to teachers who staged a “sick out” protest in Frankfort.

Bevin has three challengers in next month’s Republican primary election — state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods of Corinth and Ike Lawrence of Lexington.

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