Former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear denounces “hypocrites in office” without mentioning names, voices his evolved support for same-sex marriage and joins Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, though with a warning, on a call for tax reform in his new book, “People Over Politics.”
The 361-page book, which is scheduled for release Friday, also offers Beshear’s take on his handling of health care, which drew national attention and a shout-out from then-President Barack Obama; his let’s-not-panic stance on the state’s troubled public pension systems; and his sour relationship with political nemesis David Williams of Burkesville, the former Republican president of the Senate whom Beshear appointed to a judgeship.
Beshear also heaps praise on several Republican leaders for their bipartisanship, including Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, before offering a path for Democrats to recover from the drubbing they received in the 2016 elections.
Beshear only mentions Bevin, with whom he has butted heads with several times, only once by name in the book. He often refers to Bevin simply as “the new governor” or his “successor.”
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“The book is not aimed at any one individual or administration,” Beshear said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a discussion on how to make government work again. Government on the national level is dysfunctional, full of gridlock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We made a decision to work for the people because we put people over politics.”
Beshear, who is a senior member of the Lexington law firm of Stites & Harbison, wrote the book with freelance writer Dan Hassert of Covington, a former newspaper reporter and editor who wrote speeches for Beshear during his two terms as governor from 2007 to 2015.
Beshear, the son of a Baptist preacher, takes aim in the book at unnamed politicians who “have understood the influence that religion has on people and have used that knowledge to gain political control.”
“Religious hypocrisy abounds in America’s political world and has become one of the primary tools utilized by some office seekers to get elected and then to stay in office,” he wrote.
“These modern-day Pharisees wrap themselves tightly in the shroud of faith, knowing if they shout ‘Judeo-Christian values’ long enough and often enough people will vote for them — no matter how much their policies and positions fail to back up those Christian beliefs ... It’s time for voters to wake up and quit being played for suckers.”
Beshear said the most controversial issue in his eight years as governor was the legalization of same-sex marriage. He uses 15 pages — the longest chapter in the book — to talk about the issue and explain that his views on the subject have “greatly evolved over time.”
He said he appealed a federal judge’s decision to legalize same sex marriage to “bring clarity and finality to this issue.”
As governor, Beshear said, he shares the blame for confusion on the issue because he declined to answer questions from the media about his personal view on same-sex marriage and people misunderstood his motivation for taking it to the Supreme Court.
“The bottom line is that today, same-sex couples across Kentucky can finally both marry and have their out-of-state marriages recognized in this state,” wrote Beshear. “Love wins.”
Beshear said he remains passionate about his efforts to bring affordable health care to all Kentuckians and will continue to fight Republicans’ efforts to dismantle the federal Affordable Care Act.
On the state’s pension problems, Beshear said the solution is not “dumping a lot of money into them that sucks up funding for other vital programs.”
“But let me say to retirees and state workers as forcefully as I can: The sky isn’t falling, and doomsday is not around the bend,” Beshear wrote. “Your pensions are safe. You earned those pensions, and state government can and will honor them.”
Beshear said he is not minimizing the problem because the unfunded liability for the pension systems “is a big number and cause for concern.”
But he said his administration handled the problems properly in 2013, when it won legislative approval to ensure the state makes the full required contributions to the systems beginning in fiscal year 2015.
“If we stick to our guns by making the proper contribution each year, we will be fine,” he said.
Beshear agrees with Bevin that Kentucky needs tax reform, although they likely differ on the details. Bevin has said he will call a special legislative session later this year to make changes in the state’s tax code and pension systems.
Beshear commissioned a task force to modernize the state’s tax system but he did not publicly push the legislature to consider its recommendations.
“If the General Assembly tackles tax reform again, as some leaders are discussing,” wrote Beshear, “one of the primary goals of that effort has to be to raise additional revenue — not by raising taxes, but by making sure everyone pays their fair share.”
Beshear said that means a progressive income tax, closing tax loopholes, ending unnecessary tax credits and expanding the base of the sales tax.
Beshear said he is concerned that the current administration apparently is getting its tax advice from “the same supply-side economists who advised President Reagan and Gov. Brownback of Kansas” to cut everybody’s taxes.
“Sounds great, right?” wrote Beshear. “The only problem is it doesn’t work.”
Former Gov. Steve Beshear is to hold signings of his book at 11 a.m. Friday at Carmichael’s bookstore on Frankfort Avenue in Louisville and at 4 p.m. Friday at Joseph Beth in Lexington. The book costs $29.95 and can be bought at most major book retailers and at www.astrongerkentucky.com.
Beshear’s book is produced and published by funds donated to A Stronger Kentucky, Inc., a non-profit formed in early 2016. Proceeds from the book are to go to charitable and educational causes that have not yet been identified.