The latest governor’s race has given Kentuckians the government they asked for. After lackluster voter turnout delivered the coup de grace to this corpse of a campaign, cock-fight-campaign-stumper Matt Bevin is the governor-elect. He will inherit one of the most powerful governor’s chairs in the country, along with a cornucopia of impending budget and and economic crises. And if Bevin keeps his promises, he could very well lead Kentucky down the same path Scott Walker put Wisconsin on by taking us full on into right-to-work status, undoing Kynect and gutting a state budget that is already inadequate to its needs.
Bevin’s election led a night of Republican dominance. Republican Mark Harmon defeated incumbent Andy Edelen to become the new auditor, Ryan Quarles easily disposed of Jean-Marie Lawson Spann to win the state’s agriculture commissioner, and Allison Ball defeated Rick Nelson to become the Commonwealth’s new treasurer.
Democratic incumbent Alison Lundergan Grimes held on to her job as secretary of state, while Andy Beshear defeated Republican Whitney Westerfield and will be the state’s new attorney general. With 100 percent reporting, voter turnout was a dismal 30.7 percent.
Attorney General Conway’s campaign strategy was straight out of the playbook – Mitch McConnell’s playbook. While trying to avoid policy statements and relying on platitudes, Conway’s organization ran commercials against Bevin that were essentially plagiarized versions of the commercials McConnell ran against the governor-elect when he had the temerity to challenge the now-Senate Majority Leader. Bevin, on the other hand, has relied heavily on the “God and Country” mantra, attracting the far-right political spectrum.
Both major party candidates, when they were cornered into making policy statements, delineated themselves in clear and concise fashion. Conway’s plan to solve the state pension problem was to sell bonds and put the state in more long-term debt, whereas Bevin’s plan is to cap the retirement system and put all new employees into 401K plans – also putting the state into deeper long-term debt. Bevin came out against, then was for, then against again, and then … for early childhood education, and Conway promised to pay for it — somehow. Conway mumbled his way through an objection to legalizing medical marijuana, while Bevin clearly stated his support — even going so far as to take pictures with members of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana.
And, of course, every registered voter knows all the stances of all the candidates since they were all included in the numerous public debates. Right?
Well, no. Except for the September 15 debate held at Bellarmine College, independent candidate Drew Curtis had to rely on other media outlets to promote his candidacy. He made use of Facebook and Twitter, radio talk shows and podcasts. He made himself available to journalists all over the state. Bevin’s hostile intransigence towards media and Conway’s absentee campaign style highlight stark contrasts to Curtis’s grassroots approach. In the closing weeks of the campaign, the Conway camp did release some social media commercials — the very same McConnell-inspired commercials they ran on television. Bevin’s television commercials were notably positive, leaving the dirty work of negative campaign ads to the super pacs and Republican Governor’s Association.
Early post-election chatter on social media and conventional wisdom dictate that the presence of a third party candidate was responsible for Bevin’s resounding victory. However, Curtis maintains that the majority of his crossover appeal was from Republican voters turned off by Bevin’s Tea Party leanings and mercurial temperament. Either way, the simple truth is that the votes simply weren’t there for Conway or the entire democratic ticket. More to the point, Curtis’s 3.6 percent doesn’t come close to covering Conway’s 8.5 percent deficit.
Bevin — who ran on being in favor of enacting right-to-work laws, eliminating Common Core, supporting public funding of charter schools, and undoing the nationally-recognized success of the state’s insurance program — will inherit a pension plan disaster and questions about medical marijuana. He has also proudly supported and advocated on behalf of Rowan County, marriage-equity opponent Kim Davis and has promised a hack-and-slash approach to the state budget that will certainly impact everything from education to roads. His stance on coal and his resistance to EPA standards will make him very popular with the coal operators, who were kind enough to invite Conway and him out to Virginia for secret, closed debates.
The two major candidates, for all of their uninspiring bluster, both bet on the anti-vote. Conway’s campaign was essentially “I’m not Bevin,” seemingly relying on the governor-elect’s temper tantrums to do the heavy lifting for him. Bevin ran an outsider’s campaign — his own campaign. Governor-elect Bevin’s victory is less about what he will or won’t do. It’s more about what Conway failed to convey — or inspire.