Politics & Government

Beshear addresses governor's race, 2011 legislative session in year-end interview

Gov. Steve Beshear
Gov. Steve Beshear

FRANKFORT — With Senate President David Williams among several challengers who want his job, Gov. Steve Beshear said Wednesday he hopes campaigning in the 2011 governor's race won't start until the annual legislative session ends in late March.

"There's plenty of time to run the governor's race after the session is over with," Beshear said. "The taxpayers are going to pay the legislature to come to town in January to do the people's work. They are not going to want to pay for just a bunch of partisan bickering."

Williams, a Republican who has been involved in feuds with Beshear, a Democrat, called Beshear's comments "convenient talk for a guy who has spent three years using every political maneuver in the book to rearrange the leadership of the General Assembly and who has already raised millions of dollars for his own political campaign."

Williams called Beshear "an irrelevant, caretaker governor" and said he and most legislators don't expect Beshear "to do anything serious in the upcoming session."

"I plan to show up in January to solve problems and propose serious reforms on a number of topics whether Steve Beshear shows up for work or not," Williams said.

Beshear commented on the 2011 governor's race and legislative session, as well as several other topics, in his annual end-of-the-year interview Wednesday with reporters in his Capitol office.

Political observers have speculated that the 2011 legislative session will not be productive because Beshear and Williams will be battling every day for the state's highest elective position. Beshear won his first four-year term as governor in 2007.

The only disparaging comment Beshear made about Williams during the interview involved Passport Health Plan.

Passport, a non-profit that has an $800 million contract with the state to manage Medicaid services for needy people in Jefferson and 15 other counties, has come under fire after a state audit said it spent too much on travel, gifts, lobbying and executive salaries

It fired its top two officers this week at Beshear's urging.

Williams has faulted the Beshear administration for not properly overseeing the state's largest contractor.

Beshear contended Wednesday that he is "not surprised that Williams is defending Passport" because Williams inserted language in the state budget that would have prohibited the governor from reducing its contract with the state.

"After all, they spent a million dollars lobbying him and his cohorts over there for the last two or three years," Beshear said of Passport. "They paid money to give him receptions. So I understand his defense of them."

In response, Williams said the Passport contract "is solely negotiated by the executive branch, not the legislative branch."

"If Gov. Beshear were any sort of leader, he would hold his own administration to the same standards of accountability as he is holding Passport when it comes to personnel changes," Williams said.

Beshear used the first part of Wednesday's media session to tout his accomplishments.

He said his administration has had to make eight budget cuts of more than $1 billion during a poor economy while several states have had to take "draconian" measures such as laying off teachers.

He also said he has been "very aggressive" in creating and preserving jobs in the state and that an "exciting" announcement will be made Thursday concerning the Ford automotive plant in Louisville.

As for the 2011 legislative session, Beshear said he expects to have a "limited" agenda and is still working on it.

He said he will push for raising the age to drop out of school from 16 to 18 and offer legislation to improve the state's Medicaid budget.

If there is any chance to expand gambling in the state, an issue he campaigned on in 2007 but has not been able to push through the Senate, Beshear said he will pursue it.

He said he will not be involved in any legislative leadership race. Former House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, reportedly is challenging Larry Clark, D-Louisville, for the position of House speaker pro tem.

Beshear called it "great news for Kentucky" that U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Somerset has been picked by a group of Republican leaders to head the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Beshear also said he will re-examine the policy of putting state workers on furloughs if state revenue picks up, and he said he thinks cockfighting should remain a misdemeanor and not a felony in Kentucky.

Asked about his health, the governor, 66, said he is in "excellent condition."

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