Gov. Steve Beshear has provided steady, scandal-free leadership during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The crash forced him to cut more than $1 billion in spending and limited his agenda to a modest one. What he has done is commendable, starting with strengthening the executive branch ethics code and cleaning up the Transportation Cabinet, making road-building decisions more rational and cost-conscious.
Beshear also made it possible for 60,000 more children to receive regular health care and avoided slashing the base funding for public schools. The jury's still out on his move to managed-care Medicaid, but at least he's taken a decisive step to reel in costs, a move that largely eluded his predecessors.
His Republican challenger, Senate President David Williams, says the bad economy is no excuse for what he sees as Beshear's meager policy initiatives, lack of ideas and failure to engage the legislature.
Yet nothing in Williams' record or the ideas he's voicing in this campaign suggests he'd be any better at getting things done. Just the opposite.
Under Williams' autocratic leadership, the Senate quit holding hearings on the budget, shutting out the public in favor of 11th-hour wrangling behind closed doors. Lawmakers have returned for eight special sessions since he became Senate president in 2000, sometimes because Senate-House impasses kept them from enacting a state budget.
After the House approved the signature plank in Beshear's winning campaign platform, expanded gambling at racetracks, Williams refused to give it a Senate vote.
Williams attributes his weak showing in public opinion polls to unfair vilification by this editorial page and its counterpart in Louisville.
But he's selling Kentuckians short. They see for themselves that his leadership style is not the type that inspires cooperation, shared vision or a willingness to sacrifice. All of that will be required — of the legislature and public — to make the kinds of changes Kentucky needs.
Williams rightly identifies growing the economy as Kentucky's greatest challenge. His big idea for doing this is wiping out corporate and personal income taxes and replacing them with, well, he's not saying. He'd leave that decision to a panel of economic experts.
It's a lot easier to propose eliminating 40 percent of the state's revenue if you don't spell out from whose pocket it would have to be made up.
We'd like to see a more ambitious Beshear in his second term. He should quit avoiding tax reform, raise his sights above trading tax breaks for any low-paying jobs, get more aggressive about energy diversification and rebuild Kentucky's environmental protection agency. The mountains desperately need an economic strategy beyond coal.
Independent Gatewood Galbraith, self-described "explorer for the truth in a jungle of political overgrowth," is the only one of the three who's shown any willingness to challenge the coal industry's environmental destruction. The personal traits that have netted Galbraith piles of tax liens might interfere with his attending to the governorship, however.
In this field, Beshear is solidly the best choice.