A Republican state legislator rebuked Gov. Matt Bevin as arrogant and in the bag for corporate interests as he announced a run for governor Tuesday, setting up a contested primary if Bevin makes good on his pledge to seek reelection.
Rep. Robert Goforth, of Laurel County, said Bevin has insulted Kentuckians.
“We need a governor who leads more than he lambasts,” Goforth said. “People are tired of being ridiculed, maligned and just talked down to.”
Bevin at times has strongly criticized those who don’t agree with him, saying at one point, for instance, that somewhere in Kentucky a child was sexually assaulted after being left home alone while teachers were in Frankfort to protest changes in their pension system.
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Bevin later apologized for that slap at teachers, but on another occasion used the words “selfish” and “ignorant” in talking about opponents of the pension changes.
Goforth said Tuesday that Bevin doesn’t have Kentucky roots, referring to Bevin’s upbringing in the Northeast.
“I am not a New England transplant using the people of Kentucky to feed my ego or audition for another job,” Goforth said. “I believe Kentucky deserves a governor who is one of us.”
Goforth also charged that Bevin has pursued a “corporate first agenda” while not doing enough to help Kentuckians who are lower on the income ladder.
“We cannot ignore the plight of people who need our help,” he said.
Lawrence County Attorney Mike Hogan will run with Goforth for lieutenant governor.
The two became the first GOP ticket to formally announce in the race for governor this year. Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer said he would seek the GOP nomination for governor if Bevin does not run.
Bevin has said he will run but has not yet formally entered the race.
Hogan said he and Goforth are committed to the race even if Bevin gets in.
“We are in the race to win this,” Hogan said. “We have no trepidation at all.”
Three Democratic candidates have announced their candidacies and running mates — Attorney General Andy Beshear with educator Jacqueline Coleman, House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins with former Jefferson County school board member Stephanie Horne, and former state Auditor Adam Edelen with Louisville developer Gill Holland.
Goforth, 42 and a veteran of the U.S. Army, lives at East Bernstadt and has a cattle farm.
He is a licensed pharmacist, though he no longer actively practices after selling several pharmacies, and has been active in a project to provide substance abuse prevention education in schools.
Goforth won a special election in February 2018 to fill an unexpired term representing the 89th House District after Rep. Marie Rader resigned for health reasons. The district includes all of Jackson County and parts of Laurel and Madison counties.
He won a full two-year term in November, funding his three elections in 2018 with nearly $250,000 of his own money, according to campaign-finance reports.
Supporters at Tuesday’s kickoff in London acknowledged the challenges of running against an incumbent if Bevin gets in the race. Incumbents normally have an advantage in recognition by voters, and holding statewide office aids in raising money.
The last Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, turned back a hard-fought primary challenge in 2007 from former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup despite Fletcher’s wounds from charges of hiring violations in his administration.
Fletcher took 50 percent of the vote in the primary against Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper before losing to Democrat Steve Beshear by a wide margin in the 2007 general election.
When asked why he thinks Goforth can win, supporter Tim Isaac of Nicholasville, who attended the kickoff, said it was simple.
“Twenty-eight percent approval,” he said of Bevin.
For his part, Goforth pointed to obstacles he’s overcome — growing up poor and dropping out of school at age 16 before getting his GED, then ultimately going to the University of Kentucky and pharmacy school with encouragement from a doctor in Somerset.
“I’ve been fighting and defying odds my entire life,” Goforth said.
Goforth bucked his party in voting against the controversial change to state pensions last year that angered teachers.
The GOP-controlled legislature approved the measure, but the state Supreme Court struck it down last month, ruling that Republican leaders ran afoul of the Kentucky Constitution by not giving the bill the required number of public readings.
Goforth pre-filed several bills to be considered in the 2019 legislative session, including one that would remove some restrictions on where Kentuckians could carry concealed guns with a license, and another that would ban legal abortion after a fetus’ heartbeat could be detected, except in medical emergencies. The rule would have severely restrict abortions.
Goforth said Tuesday he also opposes expanded gambling in Kentucky; is strongly against taking money from public schools to fund charter schools; and supports fully funding public-employee pensions and keeping a system of defined benefits for teachers.
He described himself as a Christian whose faith is central to his life.
Hogan, 50, has been county attorney in Lawrence County since 2002.
Hogan lost a bid for state attorney general in the 2015 Republican primary against state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville; Westerfield went on to lose to Attorney General Andy Beshear in the general election.
Hogan said he was considering running again this year for attorney general but decided not to after talking with Goforth.
Hogan said the two will have enough money to run their campaign. Goforth will “make a substantial contribution,” Hogan said, but did not elaborate.
Asked if he and Goforth will stay in the race if Bevin gets in, Hogan said, “We don’t know the governor’s intentions. But we will be in all the way through. We are in the race to win this. We have no trepidation at all.”
Hogan said he and Goforth have discussed what his role would be as lieutenant governor and that he is “strongly interested in Kentucky state parks.”
Hogan has a law degree from Northern Kentucky University and a bachelor’s degree in police administration from Eastern Kentucky University. He has served in the U.S. Army Reserve.