Tuesday’s election results in Kentucky weren’t so much political party or policy driven as personally driven.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s combative style of leading, his name-calling of educators when they objected to his efforts in dealing with their pensions, his brash personality and penchant for controversy, turned off Kentuckians. And it was not just the Democrats who felt that way.
Republicans swept the down-ticket constitutional offices and all but the secretary of state race (5 percent) by margins of more than 10 percent. Meanwhile, the governor’s race was practically deadlocked with apparent winner Andy Beshear ahead by 0.4 percent with all precincts reporting. Bevin isn’t conceding and that’s not surprising because he’s a fighter. The results still told a story.
In county after county, Republican candidates not named Bevin were enjoying comfortable margins. While Bevin won a lot of these counties, the vote margins were not piling up like he needed and nothing like his fellow Republicans. Something was not right.
Jefferson County and Fayette County were expected losses for Bevin, but not by such a devastating margin. Beshear dominated there with more than a 137,000-vote combined differential in the left-leaning counties.
Teachers were a factor, too. Many of them were determined to defeat Bevin after being called “selfish” and having a “thug mentality”. Bevin sparred not only with teachers but also attorney general Beshear, and even some members of his own party. He had put himself on an island and that’s not where you need to be when trying to win an election.
Bevin’s Christian principles, especially where it relates to doing all he could to rid the state of abortion, his opposition to expanded gambling and penchant for improving foster care in Kentucky, kept him in the game. Voters who share those values can be thankful for the legacy he leaves in those areas. They are values that are extremely important to most Kentuckians. He’s an extremely intelligent man with tremendous values with uncanny business savvy. But, in the end, his brash style and his hurting words resonated with too many voters – Democrats and Republicans alike.
For the past two years, Bevin had majorities in both the House and Senate, yet it was never a smooth ride, even within his own party. Beshear tracked him relentlessly at every turn in court and became an annoyance to Bevin that kept him from accomplishing some of his initiatives. He was embroiled in controversy many times not of his own making. Beshear should hope new Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, will not be that kind of thorn in his side.
The governor-elect will have a far more difficult road in the Republican-leaning General Assembly with a slate of all-Republican Constitutional officers. My prayer would be that they can find some middle ground, that Beshear can reach across the aisle for the betterment of Kentucky overall.
Beshear has promised to return civility to the office of governor and that’s a good thing. He needed only to look at Bevin’s self-implosion for evidence that words cannot only be hurtful but can also have long-term effect on voters – in other words, they don’t forget.
Even with the national Republican Party behind him, with President Trump holding an election-eve rally in Rupp Arena and Vice President Mike Pence going on a bus tour with him four days before the election, and an appearance by HUD Secretary Ben Carson, minds were already made up in Kentucky.
And Bevin was still only a few thousand votes from becoming the first Republican governor in Kentucky history to win a second term.
A little more civility may have been all it took because his values and initiatives aligned perfectly with most Kentuckians. It should be a lesson learned.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org