Attorney General Andy Beshear says he’s the Democrat who can beat Gov. Matt Bevin on Election Day in November because he’s beaten him in the courtroom.
Beshear has sued Bevin several times since they took office after the 2015 elections — most famously, he challenged the pension bill Bevin signed into law last year. The Kentucky Supreme Court ended up striking the measure down, saying the Republican-led legislature had violated the state constitution by rushing it into law.
On policy issues, Beshear says he wants to legalize casino gambling to generate revenue for Kentucky’s ailing pension systems and shares many views with his Democratic opponents. He says he would rescind Bevin’s proposed Medicaid work requirement, keep charter schools from opening up and push to legalize medical marijuana.
Beshear is one of four Democrats running for Kentucky governor this year. He’s former Gov. Steve Beshear’s son and the most well-known candidate in the primary, with polling showing him consistently ahead of the pack.
Beshear sat for a half hour-long interview with WFPL reporters in May; because his interview was shorter due to his scheduling constraints, we weren’t able to ask him as many questions as the other candidates. You can listen to his full interview here, or read highlights on some of the big issues facing Kentucky today. Transcripts have been condensed for clarity.
Pensions And Revenue
Question: On the pension issue, Governor Bevin’s proposal for dealing with it has been putting lots of money into the pension systems and then going forward, basically having less generous retirement benefits. What do you think of that proposal? And what would your proposal be?
Answer: “What we’ve got to do is to create new revenue that doesn’t raise taxes on anybody. And I’m the only candidate that will give you four separate steps that I think we ought to take. First, it’s time for expanded gaming. We lose $550 million dollars in tax revenue every year — that’s just what other states take off what Kentuckians bet. We have never tied a proposal for expanded gaming 100 percent to pensions. If we do, it will pass. Number two — medicinal marijuana. I believe that we ultimately have to be able to provide pain relief that doesn’t stop people’s medicine cabinets with something that is grossly addictive.”
Question: Do you think [medical marijuana is] a revenue raising measure?
Answer: “Well, the groups that pushed that bill that was going through the House believe that it would, in the form that it was initially proposed in, raise about $50 million. I think that ought to go to the pension system and I also think that’ll help get it passed. Now the third thing we ought to do is get rid of some really unfair tax loopholes like private jets or luxury houseboats. If you can afford to buy either of those, you can afford to pay the tax. But the final one is we give too many tax incentives to companies that do not pay a living wage. I’m all for incentivizing a company that’s going to bring jobs in the future, that you can raise a family on here in Kentucky, but I’m done giving corporations our tax dollars if they’re not going to pay enough for somebody to get by. All four of those create revenue that goes into the pension system. We immediately decrease the burden on our cities and counties, our bond rating will go up, our costs will go down. And we’ll be on the path to solvency.”
Question: What’s your stance on the abortion laws passed recently by the Kentucky General Assembly?
Answer: “Well, we need to talk about specific ones, but they’ve been unconstitutional. I mean, I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade. And as opposed to just talk about it, I’ve taken action. In 2017, when the legislature passed an unconstitutional bill (SB 5, the ban on abortions during or after the 20th week of pregnancy), I refused to defend it. And they attacked me for it, but it was still unconstitutional. In 2019, when they were passing unconstitutional bills, I’d even wrote them the letter, went on the record saying it was unconstitutional and it was going to cost the state tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then I submitted an amicus brief supporting reproductive freedom in front of the Sixth Circuit recently.”
Question: So would you withdraw the defense that Bevin is currently putting forward with all the different lawsuits he’s involved in?
Answer: “Yes, the bills are unconstitutional. And if the legislature wanted to get their own counsel to defend it, that’s fine. But we shouldn’t be putting state dollars behind it.”
Question: Medicaid expansion — would you keep the proposed rollback, that may or may not happen?
Answer: “On day one, if not hour one, I would rescind Matt Bevin’s Medicaid waiver. I believe health care is a basic human right. And under a Beshear-Coleman administration, we want to sign everyone in Kentucky up for some form of coverage. It’s not just the moral thing to do, but the health of our people is also one of our major strategic weaknesses in Kentucky. So we rescind that Medicaid waiver because it’s just paperwork. People on expanded Medicaid are already working. But to make them prove that they’re working, to create paperwork to do it, this administration hopes they won’t get it in and they can kick them off. Same thing with co-pays. It’s meant if somebody misses it by a day, they kick them off for six months.
“So we want to sign everybody up. But that’s not all we want to do. I have a plan where we’re going to put the most important protections under federal law into state law. Protections I’m fighting for right now, like mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions, ensuring that companies can’t discriminate against women and charge them more than men for the same policy, and no lifetime caps. Because a child with diabetes or Crohn’s disease would be out of money and out of luck by the time they reach adulthood. And we can’t let that happen.
“The second thing we got to do is lower everybody’s costs. And a lot of that is going after or truly addressing the cost of generic drugs, and drug pricing. Like no more EpiPen, where we see 200 percent increases overnight. And the other thing we can do on the state side is what New York did. So they woke up — it was about a year and a half ago — and realized they’re one of the largest purchasers of pharmaceuticals in the country. And so what they said is if you increase your prices more than inflation plus three or four percent, we’re not going to buy from you. They saved a billion dollars in their first year. We can do the same.”
School Choice And Charter Schools
Question: What’s your position on “school choice?” And what funding model would you like to see for charter schools?
Answer: “I’m a proud product of Kentucky’s public schools. I graduated from Fayette County Public Schools and I owe my teachers so much for being here or for being the person that I am. But we all have to look back and see how much our teachers invested in us. And that part of not just our success, but who we are is because of those teachers.
“I believe that every child deserves a world class education. But we get there by fully funding public schools. I’m against charter schools. You see too many examples out there, like in Florida, where people are merely moved to a charter school that doesn’t try to help them at all. I’m against any attempts to defund public schools and all that tax break [sic] for private schools is a way to defund public schools. If you want to send your kids to private school, that’s your right. That’s a choice that many people make and should be able to make, but you shouldn’t get out of helping to support public schools for everybody else.”
Question: What priority will your administration place on climate change? And what will your administration do about it?
“Climate change is real. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Ask any farmer here in Kentucky, or ask the U.S. military, which is preparing for it each and every day. So what we have to do is continue to work to diversify the way that we create energy here in Kentucky, including as many renewables as possible, because we don’t know where the next breakthrough is going to go, and where it’s going to come. And we don’t want to be pigeonholed in all of that. At the same time, we’ve got to do it in a responsible way, so that we don’t price the poorest of the poor out of their electricity.
“As attorney general, I’ve had to fight every single day, to ensure that those who struggle to put food on the table or buy medicine, don’t lose their electricity. You know, we fought Kentucky power in Eastern Kentucky where they have the highest electric rates in the in the state, and some of the highest in the country, in one of the poorest areas. And it becomes very real to you when multiple families are at every event that don’t have power. I believe as attorney general that I can do both. Having understood and fought to cut more than [nearly $1.5 billion dollars] off requested rate increases. I believe we can move forward in a responsible way for the environment, and a responsible way for our families.”
Economic Transition For Coal Communities
Question: How would you improve economic development in a way that provides a just transition for these communities, while keeping in mind renewable energy and this transition to make ourselves more resilient against climate change?
Answer: “We have to create jobs in areas outside of Lexington and Louisville and Northern Kentucky. And this governor, you’ve seen very little effort at that. And we’ve got to create good jobs in as many fields as possible, and they ought to be of the future. So when I talk about agri-tech, it’s that we live in a world of climate change and changing weather patterns, yet we have a growing world population and we have to feed them. That means that this will never be more important.
“Those are jobs that we can create across Western Kentucky, for instance, that’s seen plummeting coal jobs. They’re jobs we can create in many parts of Eastern Kentucky. I believe that jobs in health care — we’ve seen once we expanded Medicaid, and created Kynect, we saw healthcare take off in rural Kentucky.
“Especially in Eastern Kentucky, we’ve got to invest in infrastructure. And in this race, you hear people talk about broadband, and that’s important. But it’s not the only thing. Too many areas of Eastern Kentucky don’t have the water and sewer that they desperately need if we’re going to attract business, not just industry, but business.”
About this series: WFPL invited all eight Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates to sit down for an hour-long interview with a panel of our reporters on a variety of policy issues. Five responded in some way. We’ll be rolling out profiles of those five candidates in the coming days, along with a profile of Gov. Matt Bevin; while he wouldn’t sit for an interview, in his first term as governor he’s established a policy record from which voters can draw. You can read other profiles as they’re published here.