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Beshear won reelection, but state Republicans predict little change

Two men in suit coats and slacks sit in matching chairs on a stage in front of a sign that reads "Kentucky Chamber." A woman wearing a dress, also sitting in a matching chair gestures toward them.
Sylvia Goodman
/
LPM
Moderator Kate Shanks with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce speaks with Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer and House Majority Leader Steven Rudy about their legislative priorities ahead of the 2024 legislative session.

As Republican state legislators discuss their legislative priorities for the upcoming biennial budget session, few seem daunted by the veto power of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.

State legislators and politicos gathered at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Preview Conference Monday, where business owners listened as politicians discussed what they plan to accomplish in the upcoming session. It’s an especially important year, as they work to develop a two-year budget after Beshear won a second-term.

The question remains if Beshear’s second term will be like his first — increasing tensions with the state’s Republican-led legislature and a slew of overridden vetoes at the end of each session.

The day after he announced a victory for himself and against “anger politics,” Beshear held a press briefing to announce his priorities for the upcoming session.

“We saw one of the most partisan campaigns at the top of the ticket. It was rejected,” he said. “[The] people of Kentucky wanted a governor that's going to serve everybody.”

But based on Monday’s discussions, a divide is already forming between Beshear and Republican legislators. While social issues like abortion access and transgender health care rights were not up for discussion, on issues like school choice, energy transition and tax reform many of the presenting state legislators differed from Beshear’s vision.

State Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, of Georgetown, gave his thoughts on the possibility of bipartisanship a voice.

“We're going to lead with a conservative bent. That's the mandate we have. And we feel very strongly about our position, and we're going to lead from a position of strength,” Thayer said. “If he chooses to veto it — as he's vetoed nearly 100 of our bills and resolutions — I look forward to being the one to make the motion in the Senate to override that veto.”

At a panel later that afternoon, Senate President Robert Stivers said the legislature holds ultimate power over the governor.

"The governor has powers as prescribed by law," Stivers said. "That's us."

Lawmakers have already tried to rein in the governor's powers. During the pandemic, the General Assembly passed a law, which was upheld by the Kentucky Supreme Court, to limit the governor's ability to enact emergency orders. They also unsuccessfully attempted to wrest the power to call a special session from the governor by putting it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.

Even as Beshear won with a comfortable 5-point lead over his opponent Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Republican candidates swept the down-ballot races; each of those candidates won their races by at least 185,000 votes. Scott Jennings, founder of RunSwitch Public Relations and a conservative political commentator, spoke at the event. He said the person in the governor’s office won’t necessarily get much say in what happens at the policy level.

“In some ways, I think the legislature has rendered the governor's office largely ceremonial head of state,” Jennings said. “Republican influence in the legislature has not waned, in fact, it has expanded. And so for at least this next session, I wouldn't anticipate that changing.”

Democratic Strategist Mark Riddle, who shared a stage with Jennings, said the only reason Republicans are denigrating the importance of the governorship is because it’s being occupied by a Democrat.

While he was running for reelection, Beshear said he hoped his second term would be less fraught with politically motivated division because he is term-limited and cannot run again in 2027.

“I'm hoping after this, that we can push out a lot of the noise, that people can stop yelling at one another just because of a box they may have checked when they were 18,” Beshear said when he announced his education plan.

But Thayer said that he and other members of his caucus felt slighted by Beshear during his term and said there is little to no will to work with him on his priorities. When asked if anything could change his relationship with Beshear, Thayer said he wouldn’t give any advice to the Beshear administration.

“[The relationship] is pretty far gone. The way we were treated during his first term was pretty bad,” Thayer said. “There's a lot of resentment in the legislature that he basically ran his reelection campaign on our policies.”

Beshear and state legislators have often battled over who deserves credit for various policies, with Beshear saying there’s enough credit to go around.

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Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.