LEXINGTON, Ky. — Sporting a brace on his left wrist, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) suggested Thursday night that his broken bone came from pounding the heads of stubborn Democrats since he took office one month ago.
In reality, the injury resulted from a Thanksgiving game of “freeze tag in the dark” with his kids, Bevin told the crowd of about 1,500 people at the 21st annual Kentucky Chamber Day dinner.
Bevin’s challenges as he begins his tenure as Kentucky’s chief executive are a combination of both exercises.
Armed with a mandate from voters, Bevin and his fellow Republicans are pounding away at the slim Democratic majority in the House, where two Democrats have switched parties since November’s election and more intrigue is in the air.
Meanwhile, like a game of tag in the dark, Bevin is setting targets for his first term, even while continuing to assemble his team and his agenda.
His appearance in Lexington marked the first major speech for Bevin since his inauguration one month ago. Greeted by a standing ovation from the movers and shakers in the audience, Bevin called for bipartisanship even while encouraging the business-oriented crowd to work to send more Republicans to Frankfort.
In a preview of his combined budget address and State of the Commonwealth set for January 26, Bevin said he would present an “austere” budget, rejecting more than $2 billion in funding increases requested by state agencies since he took office.
“News flash. It’s not coming,” Bevin said, describing his proposed budget as “honest and responsible.”
Echoing the remarks of Kentucky Chamber President Dave Adkisson, Bevin paired his budget priorities with the need to address chronic shortfalls in Kentucky’s public pension systems.
[pullquote cite=”Speaker Pro Tempore Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green)” type=”right”]”Kentucky cannot truly get ahead if we leave a portion of our citizens behind.”[/pullquote]
Like the four elected leaders who spoke before him, Bevin jabbed at House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), who—in a break from tradition —did not attend the gathering at the Lexington Convention Center.
Remarks by the top Republican in the House, Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover (R-Jamestown), stirred the most intrigue. After asking for prayers, Hoover hinted that the drama of party-switches and the weakened Democratic majority in the House, may yet have another chapter before the General Assembly gets down to business.
“It’s going to be an interesting weekend coming up,” Hoover smiled. “And next Monday could be an historic day in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Democrats hold a 50-46 advantage in the House, with special elections scheduled for March 8, more than one month before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn.
Amid the partisan barbs, legislative leaders called for cooperation, especially for the benefit of areas in eastern and western Kentucky not sharing in the economic uptick of the “Golden Triangle,” the area outlined by Lexington, Louisville, and northern Kentucky.
“Kentucky cannot truly get ahead if we leave a portion of our citizens behind,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Jody Richards (D-Bowling Green).
“People are suffering,” said Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones (D-Pikeville), recalling the struggle of an unemployed former coal worker in eastern Kentucky, desperate to make a $250 car payment so he would not lose transportation for his wife’s cancer treatments. Jones pledged to seek common ground.
Recently honored as one of America’s “Top Public Officials of the Year” by Governing Magazine, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) urged lawmakers of both parties to follow his example and stand behind Bevin as “our governor,” just as Stivers had partnered with former Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat.
“Let us reach across the aisle, let us reach across the hall,” Stivers said.
Among the Bevin appointees in the audience was new Energy and Environment Secretary Charles Snavely, a key player in another of Bevin’s first major decisions, how Kentucky will manage the impending deadlines and related consequences of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan while the state continues to contest the legality of the regulations.
Bevin said his requirements of the people appointed in his administration are that they are capable, of “unimpeachable character,” and committed to serve.
Joe Arnold, KAEC Vice-President of Strategic Communications