Friday, January 3, 2020

Kentuckian of the Year: Andy Beshear

We haven't done one of these posts in a while, so we should start by catching up over the last few years.

In 2016, the Kentuckian of the Year was Sen. Mitch McConnell.  The big story in Kentucky that year was the political uprising that led to the election of Donald Trump as President.  McConnell held together the Kentucky GOP at a time when many other state parties were struggling, and won a huge victory as a result.

In 2017, the Kentuckian of the Year was golfer Justin Thomas.  Thomas won five tournaments in 2017, including the PGA Championship -- thereby becoming the first male Kentuckian to win a golf major since Gay Brewer won the 1967 Masters.  Thomas also won the FedEx Cup that year.

In 2018, the Kentuckian of the Year was Stephanie Winkler, the President of the Kentucky Education Association.  The biggest story of the year in the Commonwealth was the massive teachers' strike that came to dominate the history of the Bevin Administration.

So that brings us to 2019.  This year the biggest story in Kentucky was the governor's race.  Four years ago, when we named Matt Bevin as Kentuckian of the Year, we questioned whether the Commonwealth was ready for his brand of pro-business conservatism.  Over the last two years, we learned that it is not.  Although Republicans won most of the state-wide races in 2019 -- and still control both houses of the General Assembly -- Bevin lost his bid for re-election.

But you can't beat something with nothing, and it would be a mistake to assume that Bevin's actions alone decided the governor's race.  Our Kentuckian of the Year is Andrew Beshear, the new governor, who managed to hold off an aggressive effort by the Republican Party -- including President Trump -- to keep the Governor's Mansion.  Of course, it helped that his father -- Steve Beshear -- was a very popular governor from 2007 to 2015.  On the other hand, it's dangerous to ask Kentuckians to vote for you solely because of your last name.  Andy Beshear had to hold together a tricky coalition of progressives, angry teachers, Northern Kentuckians worried about bridge tolls, and blue collar workers.  And he did so.

Andy Beshear grew up in Kentucky, where he attended Henry Clay H.S. in Lexington.  He went to Vanderbilt for his undergraduate education, and then attended law school at the University of Virginia.  From 2015 to 2019 he served as Kentucky's attorney general -- where he spent much of his time successfully challenging Governor Bevin's actions.  Now he will have four years as governor, facing a General Assembly that remains under GOP control.  In the House, the Republicans have 61 of 100 seats.  In the State Senate, the GOP has an overwhelming majority of 29 to 9.  On top of everything else, the Commonwealth will be roiled by two very controversial elections this year.  President Trump and Senator McConnell are both running for re-election, and emotions will run very hot throughout the Commonwealth over these two figures.

Governor Bevin failed because he could not find the right balance between his faith in private enterprise and the longstanding skepticism toward business felt by many Kentuckians.  Now Governor Beshear gets his chance on the tightrope.  As the leading Democrat in Kentucky, he will come under enormous pressure to speak out in favor of progressive causes.  On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that Kentuckians feel any friendlier toward the National Democratic Party than they did in 2016 -- when they gave President Trump 62.5 percent of their vote.  President Trump carried 118 of 120 Kentucky counties in 2016 -- a performance that exceeds even that of President Reagan in 1984.

Governor Beshear's father managed to walk this tightrope very successfully -- and that success was critical to the outcome of the 2019 election.  Now Governor Beshear will get his chance.  But his success so far -- winning statewide races in 2015 and 2019 despite strong trends in favor of the GOP -- makes him our Kentuckian of the Year.

Here is the list of all Kentuckians of the Year since the HP began:

2010:  Rand Paul (Bowling Green)
2011:  John Calipari (Lexington)
2012:  Darius Miller (Maysville)
2013:  Jennifer Lawrence (Louisville)
2014:  Mitch McConnell (Louisville)
2015:  Matt Bevin (Louisville)
2016:  Mitch McConnell (Louisville)
2017:  Justin Thomas (Louisville)
2018:  Stephanie Winkler (Richmond)
2019:  Andy Beshear (Louisville)

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