FRANKFORT - Democrat Steve Beshear of Lexington entered the fray for governor yesterday, saying he intends to restore "mature judgment" to the Capitol.
Beshear, a Lexington attorney who served as attorney general and lieutenant governor more than 20 years ago, made the morning announcement in front of about 60 supporters at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
He and running mate Daniel Mongiardo, a surgeon and state senator from Hazard, filed their campaign papers with the secretary of state's office later in the day.
Beshear, 62, said Kentuckians are desperate for "mature, honest leadership with integrity."
"It's been sorely missing for some time," he said, referring to a recently concluded investigation of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher's hiring practices.
The state will not tolerate "an administration jammed with political cronies" or a governor who undermines laws designed to protect rank-and-file workers from politics, Beshear said.
He and Mongiardo, 46, join a primary race that already includes State Treasurer Jonathan Miller and running mate Irv Maze, the Jefferson County attorney. Otis Hensley of Harlan is running a limited campaign. Other candidates are expected to enter the race before the Jan. 30 filing deadline.
So far, excitement for the Beshear/Mongiardo slate has been hard to spot, said Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe.
"The feedback I'm getting is that there's been no big reaction to Steve Beshear," Briscoe said. "That doesn't mean that he can't catch fire."
Beshear and Mongiardo both lost bids for the U.S. Senate to incumbent Republicans within the past decade. Sen. Mitch McConnell defeated Beshear in 1996, and Mongiardo narrowly lost to Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004. Beshear also lost the 1987 Democratic primary for governor.
Beshear acknowledged his previous defeats, but said they "made me a better man."
A popular politician in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Beshear has a long record of controversial votes and actions that more conservative opponents may try to exploit, Briscoe said.
As attorney general from 1979 to 1983, Beshear issued advisory opinions that removed copies of the Ten Commandments in public-school classrooms and declared unconstitutional a 1982 law that placed restrictions on abortions. At the time, Beshear said he personally supported the Ten Commandments and regretted abortion, but had to follow guidelines provided by the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Such stances may turn off a large number of registered Democrats, especially in Western Kentucky, Briscoe said.
"When Beshear ran for governor in 1987, things were totally different in this state," he said. "The Democrats in Western Kentucky are more Republican today than the Republicans were in 1987."
Yesterday, Beshear promised to "offer a bold vision" to voters, but he declined to discuss specific proposals, saying those will come after Christmas.
"We cannot continue to condone the same old approaches to our growing problems -- approaches that have failed," he said.
Supporters at the rally talked of Beshear's wisdom and honesty, noting that he is leaving behind a lucrative law practice to run and won't be seeking any office higher than governor.
"He's here to make Kentucky a better place to call home and then he's going to go home," said Joe Graviss, who owns a number of McDonald's restaurants in Lexington, Versailles and Frankfort.
The campaign will wait until after Christmas to begin significant fund-raising, but Beshear acknowledged that time is short before the May 22 primary.
"We're in a sprint here," he said. "I can tell you this: We are going to raise a sufficient amount of money to win this race."
Beshear also addressed an investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission into Mongiardo's associations with a federal political action committee called DANPAC, saying he was aware of the issue before asking Mongiardo to run.
Mongiardo said he was only a "peripheral adviser" to DANPAC, a committee aimed at helping Democratic candidates. State lawmakers are barred from forming committees beyond their campaign funds.
On Friday, Mongiardo said he would accept any punishment from the commission if it finds he acted improperly. He added that he'd even make public a private reprimand.
Beshear said he was impressed with Mongiardo's honesty regarding the PAC and pleased that Mongiardo didn't try to hide anything. "It's my understanding that that issue will be resolved very shortly," he said.