Attorney General Andy Beshear announced Monday that he will run for governor of Kentucky in 2019, becoming the first candidate in what is expected to be a heated Democratic primary for Kentucky's top job.
"Instead of leadership, we see name calling and bullying. Instead of working together, our government says 'it’s my way or the highway.' Instead of building our Kentucky families up, Frankfort is tearing them down," Beshear said Monday morning at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. "Kentucky deserves better. So I stand here today with my wife Britainy, and our children Will and Lila, to announce our campaign for governor."
Beshear, who was elected attorney general in 2015, has been the political foil of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin for nearly three years. With Beshear's announcement Monday, their feud could now become a brawl for Kentucky's highest political office.
Bevin, though, has not yet said whether he'll seek re-election.
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Bevin did not respond to a request for comment from the Herald-Leader, but he posted on Twitter a link to a story about Tim Longmeyer, Beshear's former top deputy who pleaded guilty to accepting political bribes as secretary of the Personnel Cabinet during the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear, who is Andy Beshear's father.
"For those Kentuckians who did not get enough corruption, self-dealing, embezzlement and bribery during the 8 corrupt years of Governor Steve Beshear, his son, Andy, is now offering a chance for 4 more years of the same..." Bevin tweeted.
Beshear, in turn, offered his own thinly veiled criticism of Bevin's administration, pledging to return "decency" to the governor's office.
Bevin is known for speaking his mind and has sparked controversy by insulting people he sees as his political opponents. The latest example came during debate over overhauling Kentucky's ailing public pension systems, when Bevin said he guaranteed that children were sexually assaulted because schools were closed to accommodate teachers protesting in Frankfort.
"We will restore honesty, decency and transparency to state government," Beshear said.
Beshear chose Jacqueline Coleman, an assistant principal at Nelson County High School and political recruiter, as his running mate for lieutenant governor.
Coleman’s presence on the ticket is a nod to Kentucky's ongoing battle over pension benefits for teachers and other public workers, an issue Beshear has been vocal about.
“Make no mistake, public education is under an all-out assault," Coleman said. "We have been insulted, disrespected, devalued and even called names by our current governor. All of Kentucky’s public servants have been attacked personally, professionally and so have our families.”
When asked how he would deal with the ailing pension systems, which have an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion, Beshear said he would fully fund them by pushing for tax reform and legalization of gambling in Kentucky, a political goal his father was never able to accomplish.
"People are ready," Beshear said. "They see where $1.2 billion goes to Indiana and Pennsylvania and other bordering states that they can use for their pension system. It's time to keep those dollars at home."
Beshear, 40, also pledged to reduce the number of people who are addicted to opioids and to provide more money for treatment. He said he did not support Bevin's proposed changes to Medicaid, which would create monthly premiums for some recipients and require them to work or volunteer in order to keep their benefits.
Beshear touted his work as attorney general, including efforts to eliminate the state's backlog of untested sexual assault kits, filing lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies he blames for fueling the state's opioid abuse epidemic, and aggressively prosecuting child pornographers.
Beshear also promised transparency, pledging to release his tax returns every year, something Bevin has never done.
Beshear and Bevin have fought bitterly the last three years. Beshear has filed multiple lawsuits challenging the legality of actions taken by Bevin, including funding cuts to state universities, his ability to reorganize the governing boards of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and several other agencies, and the pension overhaul bill pushed through the Republican-led legislature earlier this year.
Republicans have accused Beshear of running a scandal-plagued office.
"I’m glad Andy Beshear has announced his candidacy so early," said Tres Watson, the communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky. "It will allow us to remind Kentuckians voting both this fall and next of the sort of corrupt, pay-to-play, scandal-ridden government they can expect if Democrats are returned to power in Frankfort."
When he took office in January 2016, Beshear hired Tim Longmeyer as his top deputy, but Longmeyer abruptly resigned months later and pleaded guilty to accepting political bribes in his previous job leading the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet.
Longmeyer is serving a 70-month sentence in federal prison.
Beshear said the scandal shows the public how he would deal with ethical dilemmas as governor.
"Unfortunately, people sometimes go astray," Beshear said. "What’s important is how you respond. We responded with accountability and transparency.”
Beshear has pledged to give campaign donations he received from Longmeyer to Common Cause, a government accountability watchdog after an audit is completed of his 2015 campaign by the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Beshear is likely to face several opponents in the Democratic primary for governor. Other high-profile potential candidates include Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of Lexington, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins of Sandy Hook, former State Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington, and state Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville.
In August 2017, Bevin told a Louisville radio audience that he would relish the chance to run against Beshear.
"To me, that would be fantastic," Bevin told Terry Meiners on WHAS. "He's not even competent as attorney general. The idea of him running for a job with greater responsibility would be interesting to watch him try to make that case."