Kentucky governor touts economy, resilience after tragedies

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear delivers his State of the Commonwealth speech from the floor of the Kentucky House of Representatives, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Heading into a tough election year, Gov. Andy Beshear asserted that Kentucky’s future is “brighter than it has ever been” while touting a record of economic development and resilience to make his case. 

The Democratic governor, delivering his fourth annual State of the Commonwealth address, cited record economic gains during his tenure and hailed the state’s ability to overcome the tragedies of tornadoes, flooding and a global pandemic that repeatedly turned his job into crisis management. 

Beshear confronted the headwinds of Republican supermajorities in the legislature, urging lawmakers to pump more money into education, raise pay for public school teachers and achieve his goal of universal access to pre-kindergarten learning. 

The governor used the statewide television address, on the second day of this year’s legislative session, to urge lawmakers to legalize access to medical cannabis. He already took executive action to allow Kentuckians with certain debilitating conditions to legally possess medical marijuana, provided the cannabis is purchased legally in other states. 

But he said legislative action is still needed. 

“Treating people right … dictates that this session and that this General Assembly finally legalize medical cannabis,” the governor said. 

Beshear, whose term has been marked by policy disputes with lawmakers, also called for additional funding and other changes to shore up the state’s troubled juvenile justice system. 

The governor, fresh off a morning appearance with President Joe Biden to mark the promised makeover of a dilapidated Ohio River bridge linking Kentucky and Cincinnati, punctuated his remarks by citing Scripture. He also called on state leaders to put aside partisan differences to pursue common goals in moving the Bluegrass State forward. 

“As Kentuckians, we share more than divides us,” Beshear said. “We share the values of faith, of family and of community. And if we double down right now, if we lead with our values, and we push politics aside, there is nothing that we cannot achieve. Our future is brighter than it has ever been.” 

The speech comes as Beshear prepares for a tough reelection campaign in a state that continues to trend toward Republicans. The governor has remained popular while leading the state through the series of tragedies but has drawn a crowded field of GOP candidates eager to unseat him. 

Beshear’s efforts to stave off that GOP momentum is one reason the Kentucky governor’s race in 2023 will be closely watched nationally, coming the year before the next presidential election. 

In his speech, the governor harkened back to the state’s tragedies that overshadowed his term — the COVID-19 pandemic, tornadoes that tore through parts of western Kentucky and floodwaters that inundated portions of eastern Kentucky. 

“In the face of some of the greatest challenges imaginable, time and time again Kentuckians have shown up for one another,” Beshear said. “Scripture tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And that’s exactly what folks across the commonwealth have been doing.” 

The governor touted unprecedented economic growth over the past two years, saying it provides the “promise of a better Kentucky.” He said the legislature can continue the momentum by making additional investments in education and other priorities. 

“This General Assembly has the opportunity to make great progress on each of these issues we’ve discussed tonight, and you have the funding to do it,” Beshear said. “If we can just find our way to do what is right for the people of Kentucky, then we will be the generation that changes everything for the better — the generation that ushers in a new era of prosperity.”