Combative to the end, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin unleashed a spree of attacks against his successor just days before handing over power, displaying the abrasive side of a personality that at times overshadowed his one term in office and contributed to his downfall.
In rapid-fire succession this week, Bevin claimed without proof that an appointee of Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear had to pay with campaign contributions to get the job, claimed that abortion clinics will be “popping up” once he’s unable to block them and blamed his defeat on Democratic “harvesting” of votes in cities.
He declared in an interview that Beshear has no chance of turning his campaign priorities into reality, pointing to a grim budget outlook. At the same time, Bevin’s budget director was circulating a memo estimating that Beshear will inherit a budget shortfall that could exceed $1 billion over the next two years.
Then came an executive order Thursday as Bevin maneuvered to prevent longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins from eventually collecting a higher state pension due to the senior position he will assume in Beshear’s office. Bevin challenged Beshear to prevent such “pension spiking” in his administration. Beshear could rescind Bevin’s executive order once he takes office next Tuesday.
The words and actions shattered a truce that had seemingly settled in after Bevin’s gracious concession to Beshear last month, when he wished his rival success. Both sides pointed to strong communications between their staffs during the transition.
Since his election, Beshear has stressed the need for civility among Kentucky’s leaders and common purpose cutting across partisan lines to tackle the state’s problems. But Bevin’s outbursts went too far for cheek-turning, bringing a barbed response from Beshear’s side.
“The recent comments out of the governor’s office show why a change of both tone and leadership is desperately needed,” Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said in a statement Friday.
The resumption of Bevin’s broadsides continued a pattern of behavior that contributed to his downfall, said state Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat.
“The entire four years he’s been governor, his style has been combative and mean,” McGarvey said. “And I’m not surprised that he’s continuing in that way now. And that’s what voters rejected from state government” in last month’s election.
A prominent Republican, state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, sidestepped questions about Bevin’s biting remarks, saying: “I’m focusing on the future and the challenges that face us as a commonwealth.”
Beshear defeated Bevin, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump, by a few thousand votes. While Republicans easily won all the down-ballot races for statewide offices, Bevin’s defeat showed that even the GOP’s dominance in the bluegrass state has limits.
Despite a strong economy and his conservative credentials in a right-leaning state, Bevin couldn’t overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds — highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s underfunded public pension systems. During the campaign, Beshear effectively branded Bevin as a bully.
Bevin criticized teachers who used sick days to rally at Kentucky’s Capitol against proposals he supported. Some days, so many teachers rallied that some schools closed. In 2018, Bevin asserted without evidence that an unidentified child who had been left home alone somewhere in the state had been sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings as teachers rallied. He apologized but then doubled down earlier this year, connecting a girl’s shooting in Louisville with another round of school closings caused by teacher protests.
Many of Bevin’s latest attacks came during a series of radio interviews. It was a forum Bevin preferred during his time as governor but one that led him to often become ensnared in more controversy.
Bevin offered his own rationale for his election defeat, saying the lesson for conservatives was that Democrats are “increasingly good at harvesting votes” in cities — and implying that the voters themselves didn’t know what they were doing.
“They’re able to go into urban areas, on college campuses, in public housing projects, wherever people are densely populated in our cities and turning out votes in ways that conservatives are not able to do,” he said. “And it’s not always a very thoughtful or well-informed vote, but there’s still a vote. And they come out and they vote in volumes.”
Beshear’s dominance in the state’s two largest cities — Louisville and Lexington — were key factors in helping him overcome Bevin’s strength in many rural areas.
Some critics saw Bevin’s remarks as a not-so-veiled reference to minority voters.
McGarvey said it was an “unfounded accusation seeking to wrongly undermine a fair election.”
In the days after the Nov. 5 election, Bevin made references to voting irregularities but never offered any proof before conceding.
The incoming and outgoing governors will have a chance to patch things up. Both are scheduled to attend the state Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Saturday and will be together for Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony, which Bevin has said he will attend.