Andy Beshear emphasizes that he is his own man, but family ties have been an enormous boon to the Democratic nominee for attorney general.
"My Dad is not on the ballot. I am," said Beshear, the son of popular Gov. Steve Beshear, who leaves the state Capitol at year's end.
Andy Beshear, a 37-year-old Louisville lawyer making his first run for office, grew up around Lexington in the 1980s while his father served as Kentucky's attorney general and lieutenant governor. As a young lawyer in 2005, he was hired at Stites & Harbison, the large firm where his father — taking a break from politics — was a managing partner.
And he has kept a high profile in Frankfort since voters elected his father governor eight years ago, sometimes blurring the line between "first son" and corporate attorney. He was master of ceremonies at Steve Beshear's second inauguration. He purchased dozens of Kentucky Oaks seats on Churchill Downs' Millionaires Row for his firm and clients from the governor's allotment. He helps companies win state tax breaks and other assistance from the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet, run by his father's friend and appointee, Larry Hayes.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Two years ago, when Andy Beshear decided to run for attorney general, his father's old job, he was able to tap into Steve Beshear's powerful fundraising network.
Unable to give more money to the elder Beshear, who is limited by law to two terms, scores of Beshear administration appointees, state contractors, Frankfort lobbyists and executives from state-regulated corporations poured a fortune into Andy Beshear's campaign.
By Oct. 2, Andy Beshear had raised nearly $2.7 million, a record-breaking sum for a Kentucky attorney general's race. By comparison, the Republican nominee, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, had raised $151,032.
Steve Beshear's longtime supporters say they're happy to pass down their loyalty to the next generation.
McKinnley Morgan is a London lawyer who represents Workers' Compensation applicants. In February, the governor — for whom Morgan has given $11,666 in political donations since 2007 — appointed him to the state board that helps pick the administrative law judges who hear Workers' Compensation cases. For Andy Beshear's campaign, Morgan has given the maximum allowable $2,000 and hosted an event that brought in $17,625.
"I've seen Andy grow up. I really believe that this young man has a future in public service," Morgan said. "He's very bright. Articulate. He has a good understanding of Kentucky's challenges."
Andy Beshear said he's a nationally respected attorney with experience handling the sort of complex litigation involving governments and businesses that an attorney general can expect to oversee.
In 2013, after Beshear helped a truck-driver training school win an $11.4 million judgment against the city of Hillview in Bullitt County, over a disputed property purchase, Lawyer Monthly magazine named him its Consumer Lawyer of the Year. Hillview filed for bankruptcy in August, partly because of the court judgment.
"What voters ought to consider is whether the clear priorities that I've had out there for more than two years are the priorities they want to see in an attorney general," Beshear said. "I'm running to address child abuse, our epidemic levels of child abuse on a statewide basis. I'm running to address drug abuse and to try to provide more drug treatment. And I'm finally running to better protect our seniors against scams."
Despite the younger Beshear's stated independence, some critics say he enjoys an unearned advantage because of who his father is.
Thousands of Central Kentuckians petitioned Steve Beshear in 2013 to intervene against a controversial natural gas liquids pipeline that was proposed to cut across private land. The governor's office told them it would monitor the issue.
Then residents learned the Bluegrass Pipeline's backers had hired Andy Beshear to represent the project before the state Public Service Commission, whose members are appointed by his father. After heated debate and a Franklin Circuit Court ruling against the pipeline, plans were suspended last year.
Although they ultimately prevailed, pipeline opponents still shake their heads over the Beshear family connection.
"We were disgusted that Andy Beshear was the one who showed the pipeline people around Frankfort to meet with state officials," said Chris Schimmoeller of Franklin County. "The fact is that Stites & Harbison has, what, 100 attorneys, 200 attorneys? And they just happen to choose the governor's son for this particular assignment? That was a little too convenient."
On his campaign website, Andy Beshear proposes addressing the state's heroin problem by funding more treatment beds — he doesn't say where the money would come from — and encouraging the legislature to toughen penalties for drug dealers, beyond what lawmakers did in last winter's heroin bill. He says he would reorganize the attorney general's office to create new divisions focused on protecting children and the elderly from abuse and scams.
"This is a job that I know you can do an incredible amount of good in, and that's why this is a job I wanted," he said.
Bob Connolly, chairman of Stites & Harbison, praised Andy Beshear as a talented lawyer who "hit the ground running" when he joined the firm a decade ago. With remarkably little supervision from the firm's partners, Connolly said, Beshear performed impressively on research, writing, taking depositions and otherwise preparing for trial.
"We worked on several cases with smart, accomplished lawyers on the other side, and Andy came up with very creative strategies that succeeded. It was very gratifying to work with him," Connolly said.
Andy Beshear declined to identify clients he has represented in Frankfort before his father's administration or the office of Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, whom he hopes to succeed. "Attorney General defense" is one of his practice areas, according to his professional biography on the Stites & Harbison website.
Franklin Circuit Court records name at least one of Beshear's clients before the attorney general: HomeServe USA, an out-of-state "home repair" company that agreed to pay $7,500 in fines and costs in 2010 after it was accused of deceptive marketing to Kentucky homeowners.
HomeServe USA contributed $25,000 this year to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, which independently supports Beshear's election bid. But it gave an equal amount to the Republican Attorneys General Association around the same time, making it one of many corporate donors to hedge its bets.
Beshear said none of his clients or campaign donors would get favors from him as attorney general.
Apart from his father's political network, Andy Beshear has collected large sums from executives and political action committees tied to corporations that have been sued or prosecuted by Kentucky's attorney general. This list includes highway contractor Mountain Enterprises, cigarette maker Philip Morris and private, for-profit Daymar College, as well as utility companies for whom the attorney general is supposed to be the adversary in proposed rate increases.
"No contribution that we've received, no matter how big or small, will result in any favoritism, in any special treatment whatsoever, period," he said. "That's the job, and those were the type of values that I was raised on and that I'm raising my kids with, of honesty and integrity. Listen, when you are the attorney general, you are the people's lawyer. Your one and only client are the people of Kentucky, and every single decision we make is gonna be based on the law and what's best for Kentucky families."