Politics & Government

Beshear begins second term with a call for expanded gambling amendment

A classic fire engine from the Frankfort Fire Department approached the Capitol during the inaugural parade down Capital Avenue in Frankfort on Tuesday.
A classic fire engine from the Frankfort Fire Department approached the Capitol during the inaugural parade down Capital Avenue in Frankfort on Tuesday. HERALD-LEADER

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear used his second inaugural address Tuesday to push for tax reform and expanded gambling.

The Democrat, embarking on his second four-year term, declined to say when he would present a plan to restructure the state's tax system but told reporters he would unveil a constitutional amendment during the 2012 General Assembly to expand gambling.

Beshear said such an amendment needs to start in the Republican-controlled Senate because the Democratic-led House already has gone on record in support of expanded gambling.

Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican who failed to oust Beshear in this year's race for governor, declined to say which legislative chamber should first consider a constitutional amendment for expanded gambling. The legislative session begins in January.

Williams did say Beshear should "completely vet" any proposed amendment with the public before presenting it to the legislature.

Williams, who opposes expanded gambling, said during the campaign that he thought there now were votes in the Senate to approve it.

Beshear made expanded gambling the centerpiece of his successful 2007 campaign for governor, but he has not been able to get it approved by the legislature.

He said he would push a constitutional amendment because he thinks more legislators are comfortable with that approach than trying to expand gambling through new laws.

If the legislature approves Beshear's plan next year for a constitutional amendment, Kentucky voters would decide the issue at the polls in November.

Some Democrats have expressed concern that placing a gambling amendment on the ballot next year could attract more conservatives to the polls and hurt Democratic candidates. All 100 House seats and half of the Senate's 38 seats are up for grabs next year.

"We're going to go all-out to get expanded gaming on the ballot," Beshear told reporters after a two-hour parade down Capital Avenue and a few hours before his inaugural address.

Beshear's call for a constitutional amendment to expand gambling drew immediate criticism from the Lexington-based The Family Foundation. It warned "of more political shenanigans."

"Every time the gambling industry lures politicians into pushing its agenda, the political process is distorted," said Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation.

"The high-priced lobbyists are being hired right now, and soon we'll see a legislator or two who is opposed to expanded gambling surreptitiously disappear from the committees that will deal with the issue.

"And then we'll see the votes of legislators being bought by projects for their districts — and threatened with not getting them if they don't go along. All this has happened before at the behest of legislative leaders who have received campaign contributions from gambling interests, and Kentuckians should strap themselves in again for the corruption of our political process that always accompanies these efforts."

In his inaugural speech, Beshear said he was calling on "all of Kentucky's leaders — in government, education and business, in our churches, civic organizations and non-profits — to come together and commit to looking beyond the next election, commit to looking beyond the next crisis and commit to looking beyond the next headline.

"Together we must take transformational action whose impact will be greatest not for us but for our children and our children's children."

Beshear said the state needed more revenue, and expanded gambling could deliver that.

He said he wanted "a Kentucky where every child has access to education and development programs from the day they're born ... where full-day kindergarten is available to all ... where health problems like tooth decay and obesity never interfere with learning ... where dropping out of high school is an obsolete concept ... and where every teenager sees college or high-level job training as something that's not only achievable but necessary."

Beshear is expected to provide more details about tax reform and expanded gambling soon in two more major speeches. He is scheduled to give his State of the Commonwealth address to the legislature Jan. 4 and unveil to lawmakers his proposed two-year state budget Jan. 17.

Beshear said the major changes he was seeking would not happen overnight, especially as the state attempts to emerge from recession.

"But it can and will happen," he said.

Beshear claimed Kentuckians delivered "an explicit message" when they went to the polls Nov. 8 and re-elected him. Beshear and his running mate, former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, easily won over Williams and his running mate, state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

Kentuckians "want leaders who build bridges, not dams, who are motivated by the common good, not ideology, and who reject the politics of division and intolerance," Beshear said.

But Beshear said the campaign season was over.

"Now it's time to govern, and it's time to come together," he said.

During his second term, Beshear said, he would "continue to draw on and draw in Kentuckians from all over the state — Kentuckians of all races, creeds, income levels and political leanings."

He said his "top priority" remained creating jobs and saving existing ones.

"There is a new culture, and it's based on honesty, integrity and putting the people first," he said.

The public swearing-in ceremony with the theme "Kentucky Tomorrow" was emceed by Andy Beshear, one of the governor's two sons.

The only noticeable miscue during the ceremony on an overcast, chilly day occurred when two National Guard C-130s made an earlier-than-expected flight over the Capitol. It came during the governor's speech.

All the living former governors were present for the 59th inauguration except Democrat Brereton Jones.

Abramson pledged in his speech to be "the most active and hopefully effective" lieutenant governor in the state's modern history.

He noted that Beshear and he have been friends for more than 30 years.

"We trust each other. We listen to each other," he said.

Beshear and Abramson actually were sworn into office during a midnight ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

They attended a public worship service in the morning at the Frankfort Civic Center that attracted about 200 people and then rode in open, horse-drawn carriages in a parade up Capital Avenue.

Two events Tuesday night closed out the inaugural activities — the Grand March in the Capitol and a ball at the Frankfort Civic Center.

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