SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear pledged Friday to redouble his push for higher teacher pay and universal access to early childhood education if he wins reelection, offering a glowing assessment of Kentucky’s future that he said was fueled by record economic development gains that have occurred on his watch.
His Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, offered a sharply different appraisal while campaigning on the same day. In remarks that largely steered away from the state of the economy, Cameron hammered at Beshear for his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the incumbent’s stance on issues related to transgender youth.
Cameron also stressed his staunch opposition to abortion, saying he wants to “make sure that our most cherished and valued asset, our unborn, have every opportunity to reach their fullest and God-given potential.”
The two candidates laid out clear differences in this year’s hotly contested campaign for Kentucky’s top political office, a race that could offer fresh glimpses into voter sentiment heading into 2024 elections that will determine control of the White House and Congress.
At a campaign stop that drew an overflow crowd at a Shelbyville coffee shop, Beshear said Kentuckians have “been through a lot together” during his tenure — recalling the global pandemic along with tornadoes and flooding that ravaged parts of the state. Through it all, he said, the state has achieved record-setting economic development gains that have the state primed for greater opportunities.
“I am feeling more optimistic and more hopeful for our commonwealth than ever before,” Beshear said.
Afterward, the governor said he would continue pushing for significantly higher pay for public school teachers. He said Kentucky can’t continue on its trajectory of economic momentum if it lags behind other states in what it pays its teachers.
Beshear said he would again include funding for universal pre-K in the budget plan he presents to lawmakers next year if he wins reelection to a second term in November. Such access to preschool “solves child-care problems” for many parents and “makes sure that no one starts kindergarten behind,” the governor said.
Cameron has said he would push to raise starting pay for Kentucky teachers and reduce their administrative paperwork if he’s elected governor.
On Thursday, Beshear said the state was poised to record its largest-ever revenue surplus of $1.4 billion from the fiscal year that recently ended. The exact amount will be known once accounting records for expenditures are completed this month.
The governor said Friday that he also wants to bolster funding for public safety, which includes equipping Kentucky law enforcement officers with “the most advanced” body armor.
On Tuesday, Cameron proposed awarding recruitment and retention bonuses to bolster police forces
During his campaign stop Friday in Meade County, Cameron offered up his vision for public education.
“It’s about having a world-class education system that is about reading, writing, and math and making sure that our schools don’t become incubators for liberal and progressive ideas,” he said.
Cameron pounded away at Beshear’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — the issue that dominated the first couple of years of the governor’s term. The Republican challenger said the governor’s virus-related restrictions forced some businesses to close while others were allowed to stay open. Beshear has staunchly defended his actions, saying the restrictions saved lives.
Cameron also took aim at Beshear’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity from sixth grade through college.
MORE KENTUCKY NEWS:
“His is a vision … that said it is OK for biological males to play women’s sports,” Cameron said.
Beshear, meanwhile, accused his opponent of pounding a “steady drumbeat of division, of anger.”
“That is not who we are as people, and it is not what we can allow to win this election,” Beshear said. “Think about it — an election where we run saying everybody has value, everyone should be a part of what’s to come. That is exactly who we are as Kentuckians.”