Kentucky Politics

Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon has announced a bid for governor in 2023, making him the first Republican to officially launch a challenge to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

Harmon is in his second term as state auditor, the office in charge of reviewing the state’s accounting and financial performance. Before that, he served in the state House of Representatives for 13 years.

Harmon said he’s joining the race because he opposes Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, citing the governor’s restrictions on gatherings and a backlog of unemployment claims.

“I felt like it was important for people to see somebody who would defend their rights—both their liberties and ability to have livelihoods,” Harmon said.

During an interview on Monday, Harmon criticized the mask mandate, restrictions on businesses during the pandemic, and Beshear’s use of Kentucky State Police troopers to monitor churches that held services despite lockdown orders.

As auditor, Harmon released several special reports criticizing the Beshear administration’s handling of a surge in unemployment claims over the last year.

The reports found Kentucky’s unemployment agency didn’t know how much money the state owed in unemployment benefits, had more than 400,000 unread emails from people seeking benefits and had at least 10 employees that improperly filed for benefits.

With more than two years until the election, Harmon says he’s launching his campaign early to get out ahead of more well-funded candidates.

“I’m not the type of individual that has the personal finances to cut a check closer to the filing date. For me, it was important to go ahead and get out and begin to put the structure in place and make sure to raise some monies,” Harmon said.

Though no other Republicans have officially launched campaigns, several have been feeling out potential runs, including second-term Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft.

Harmon said the potentially crowded field shows the Republican Party is strong in the state.

“An active primary, I believe, is good for the party and makes sure we have the strongest individual going into the fall,” Harmon said. “But we’ve got to come together, whoever comes out of the primary, we’ve got to come together.”

Harmon was first elected auditor in 2015, defeating Democratic incumbent Adam Edelen.

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