Andy Beshear ’03 Leads as Governor of Kentucky

Close Race Placed Alum in National Spotlight
Andy Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks at a press conference Dec. 12 at the Capitol in Frankfort. Photo by Bryan Woolston/The Associated Press

April 9, 2020

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ’03 has made headlines recently for his response handling the COVID-19 crisis in his state. But the University of Virginia School of Law alumnus has been in the national spotlight since last year. The spring issue of UVA Lawyer profiles Beshear and the closely watched gubernatorial contest that launched him into the national spotlight. 

The most riveting horse race in Kentucky last year wasn’t at Churchill Downs. It was the gubernatorial contest between incumbent Matt Bevin, a Republican, and state Attorney General Andy Beshear ’03, the Democrat who prevailed in a bruising dash to the finish, by just over 5,000 votes.

Beshear, 42, took office in December, pledging a different tone than his predecessor. Bevin had been frequently characterized as “combative” by the press.

“Where there is disagreement, we will act like adults,” Beshear said in an interview with UVA Lawyer in January. “We will treat each other with respect. It’s what’s expected of everybody else in their place of employment; we ought to be able to do the same in government.” 

During his tenure, Bevin pushed through cuts to the state pension system in order to course-correct $43 billion in pension debt. When teachers responded with a “sick out” from school and a mass protest, Bevin compared them to children who needed to be disciplined.

As attorney general, Beshear challenged the legality of the pension revamp, which was not approved using the traditional three-vote procedure in the Kentucky General Assembly. Instead, the “final” vote was masked within other legislation that had been voted on twice previously.

The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed with Beshear that the vote — as taken — was unconstitutional. It struck down the new pension law. 

Beshear also successfully sued Bevin at the state Supreme Court over mid-cycle cuts to the university system.

In Kentucky, attorneys general suing governors happens “more often than people think,” Beshear said, “going back through our last 12 or so governors.” 

It’s a sign, he added, that the system is healthy and working as designed.

“There are times when an attorney general is going to need to sue the governor of their state, regardless of what party either are in, if they believe there is a violation of the law,” he said. “What’s important is how we react to that, that we understand that everybody has a job to do. And just because we have a disagreement, that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable. We have a court system to go to, to ultimately solve those disagreements.”

While critics might have dismissed Beshear’s pension lawsuit as an act of partisanship, that would have been short-sighted for a man with his eyes set on the governorship. The pension shortfall is now his problem to resolve.

Beshear, who had no other prior political experience, ran on his record as an attorney general who made drug manufacturers pay in response to the opioid crisis, and who ordered and achieved testing for all backlogged rape-kit evidence in the state, among other accomplishments. The latter effort resulted in nine indictments as of the beginning of the year. 

The first indictment stemmed from a rape that occurred in 1983; the victim is now in her 80s. 

“It just goes to show that justice is always possible,” he said.

After polls closed Nov. 5, Beshear was up by less than half a percent of the vote and The Associated Press deemed the outcome “too close to call.” Pundits were eager to view the outcome of the race as not so much a reflection of the candidates as a referendum on President Donald Trump, who won the state by a landslide in 2016 and who campaigned extensively on Bevin’s behalf.

Bevin refused to concede, citing “irregularities.” But on Nov. 14, following a recanvassing, Bevin indeed conceded. He wished Beshear luck in his new job.

A former litigator who practiced in Washington, D.C., before joining the Kentucky firm Stites & Harbison, Beshear promises to listen to anyone who offers informed counsel — even his father. Beshear’s dad is Steve Beshear, who held the office from 2007-15 — the two terms immediately prior to Bevin’s. They are the first father and son in Kentucky to both occupy the top executive role, and the fourth such pairing nationwide.

But at the end of the day, the younger Beshear stressed, he’s his own man. 

“[My father] knows some of the traps, and he knows some of the opportunities,” he said. “I will take as much advice as I can get, provided it will help me be a better governor, but what I really need from him now is more babysitting.”

The governor and first lady Britainy Beshear have two children, Lila and Will, ages 9 and 10. 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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