Gov. Andy Beshear’s allies form group to promote the Democrat’s agenda in GOP-leaning Kentucky

Jan 17, 2024, 7:18 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — People close to Gov. Andy Beshear formed an advocacy group Wednesday to promote the Democrat’s agenda in Kentucky, as his allies try to build on his reelection victory and bolster his resume by turning more of his proposals into enacted policies in the Republican-leaning Bluegrass State.

The action signals a more aggressive strategy to advance Beshear’s second-term agenda as the 46-year-old governor takes other steps to expand his political brand beyond his home state. Beshear’s national profile rose after his convincing reelection win over GOP challenger Daniel Cameron last November.

The newly formed 501(c)(4) group called “Heckbent” will promote key Beshear proposals by supporting grassroots advocacy, said Eric Hyers, his chief political strategist. It also could bankroll radio or TV ads in Kentucky.

“Our focus is to promote very popular policies that are good for working families here in Kentucky, that the governor and his allies have supported and ran on,” Hyers said in a phone interview.

The effort comes as Beshear tries to make inroads with the state’s Republican-dominated legislature on education funding and other key issues. The new group’s name plays off a Beshear remark during last year’s campaign, when he accused his Republican opponent of being “heckbent” on changing the Medicaid program in ways that would cause some people to lose their benefits.

While the new group’s primary focus is grassroots advocacy, a portion of funds it raises could be used to support or oppose political candidates this election year, when legislative races are on Kentucky’s ballot. Republicans hold supermajorities in the state House and Senate.

Such groups can raise and spend unlimited sums. They also do not have to reveal their donors, which leads some advocates for increased transparency in political spending to pejoratively refer to such entities as “dark money” groups.

There was no such group to promote Beshear’s agenda during his first term, when his notable legislative successes often were overshadowed by his many policy disputes with GOP lawmakers. Those successes included legalizing sports betting and medical marijuana, expanding early voting and making insulin more affordable. His administration also worked with lawmakers to funnel more money into infrastructure projects.

Beshear also announced the formation of a federal political action committee this month to support candidates across the country as he tries to expand his influence beyond Kentucky.

Beshear defeated Donald Trump-backed rivals twice in winning the governorship. His reelection in a state that has otherwise trended heavily toward the GOP has fueled speculation about whether he might run for national office someday. The term-limited governor has committed to serving out his second term, which ends in late 2027.

Beshear says his reelection offers a blueprint for Democrats, and that his PAC will focus on helping elect more Democrats in swing states and Republican strongholds. He won broad praise during his first term for leading the state’s response to deadly tornadoes in western Kentucky and massive flooding in the state’s eastern sections. He’s overseen record economic development for Kentucky.

The governor’s record of legislative achievements is more checkered — something the new group will try to change with messaging that could focus on areas represented by GOP lawmakers.

“This is all about turning good ideas into legislation and laws that help people,” Hyers said.

Beshear has noted that he signed more than 600 bipartisan bills during his first term, but some of his most ambitious proposals have stalled or been revamped.

He’s so far failed to persuade lawmakers to appropriate state funds to provide preschool for every Kentucky 4-year-old. He’s called for an 11% pay raise for teachers and all other public school employees. The GOP House budget bill doesn’t offer a guaranteed pay raise but would award additional funding to districts, with local administrators deciding whether to use some of the money to award raises. House Speaker David Osborne said lawmakers will strongly suggest that school personnel deserve pay raises.

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Gov. Andy Beshear’s allies form group to promote the Democrat’s agenda in GOP-leaning Kentucky