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Beshear, Adkins Use Fancy Farm as Test for 2019

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Andy Beshear says he has not decided if he will run for governor in 2019, but his tax returns tell a different story.

Kentucky's Democratic attorney general publicly released his 2016 tax returns on statewide television Saturday during the 137th annual Fancy Farm picnic. And while he challenged the state's other lawmakers to do the same, most saw it as a challenge to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has steadfastly refused to release his income tax returns despite years of precedent.

And it was the latest evidence that Beshear, son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, is preparing to challenge Bevin in 2019. The two statewide elected officers have been on a collision course since both of them took office, with Beshear suing Bevin four times over his use of executive orders to overhaul state government. Beshear told reporters Friday he has no announcement about a campaign, "and I'm not going to make any decision anytime in the near future."

But his speeches throughout the Fancy Farm weekend, a traditional testing ground for statewide candidates, focused mostly on attacking Bevin and drawing a sharp contrast between their two leadership styles, saying Bevin is more interested in making Facebook videos to criticize his opponents and the media instead of governing.

"Put simply folks, this governor is failing," Besehar told local Democrats at the Marshall County Bean Supper, the Democrats traditional Fancy Farm preview event. "You can't hide behind excuses. It's time to get off Twitter and get on the ball."

The picnic is a fundraiser for the St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, a small farming community in western Kentucky. The event is known for putting politicians from both parties on the stage before a crowd of rowdy hecklers.

For decades, the event was dominated by Democrats as they controlled most of state government. But lately, it's been Republicans who have enjoyed a larger side of the stage as Kentucky's politics have shifted to the right.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS
Kentucky House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, left, speaks with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell at the 2017 Fancy Farm picnic

Republicans now control four of the six statewide constitutional offices, plus both chambers of the state legislature and all but one of the state's federal officeholders.

"Mr. attorney general, I was going to make fun of the Kentucky Democrat Party today, but I'm afraid you'll indict me for the abuse of a corpse," Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer said.

But two of the Democratic Party's top leaders were searching for signs of life at Fancy Farm. In addition to Beshear, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins made his Fancy Farm debut and told reporters he was giving a run for governor "serious consideration."

Adkins did not mention Bevin during his speech, choosing instead to criticize Republicans for eliminating the prevailing wage and passing a law to allow charter schools in the state for the first time.

"We're getting a lot of encouragement all across the state to look at running for governor," he said. "We'll see where it goes."

Kentucky Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bowman called Beshear and Adkins "two of our strongest guys right now" and said both are likely "testing the waters" for a run for governor. But Republicans did not seem to be intimidated. Bevin skipped the event. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Bevin for "cleaning up the mess that was left behind in Frankfort by the previous administration," a shot at Beshear's father.

Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

And the Republican Party of Kentucky had volunteers handing out fliers highlighting Beshear's potential conflicts of interest as attorney general. Party officials have called for Beshear to recuse himself from an investigation of the University of Louisville. Beshear's former law firm, Stites & Harbison, did legal work for the university's foundation before Beshear took office. Beshear has said he did not perform any work for the foundation.

Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover seemed to shrug while contemplating a potential gubernatorial campaign for Adkins, his Democratic counterpart in the state House of Representatives.

"I don't blame him. Because he's never going to be Speaker and he's never, ever again going to be in the majority of the Kentucky House," Hoover said.

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