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LISTEN: Gov. Beshear talks working with the Legislature, medical cannabis and abortion

 Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear talks in front of a microphone to reporter Divya Karthikeyan who is faced away from the camera.
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville Public Media
Gov. Andy Beshear talks with Capitol Reporter Divya Karthikeyan.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s two-year term in office has been defined by crisis management, weekly press conferences and regular tussles with the Legislature going back to the coronavirus pandemic.

He’s been charged with responding to an unprecedented pandemic, devastating tornadoes last December in western Kentucky,historic flooding in July in eastern Kentucky and economic turmoil that included high inflation.

Democrats hope it will be an easy win for Beshear in the 2023 governor’s race amidst a crowded GOP primary field. And Republicans believe they have a good chance of toppling Beshear, pointing to the state’s surge in GOP voter registration and arguing that his last opponent, former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, was uniquely unpopular. Besheardefeated Bevin by about 5,000 votes in 2019.

Public polling suggests Beshear is popular in Kentucky. A recent survey by the Democratic Governors Association showed Beshear’s approval rate at 62% and a Mason-Dixon Poll from earlier this year showed him with 60% approval.

Capitol Reporter Divya Karthikeyan caught up with the governor on the year that was 2022, his priorities for 2023, medical cannabis, abortion and teacher shortages.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KARTHIKEYAN: Thank you so much for making the time, governor. You spent a fair amount of your time in office trying to work with Republican lawmakers and that especially came to a head during the coronavirus pandemic. How do you see the working relationship with the legislature really shaping up next year?

BESHEAR: We certainly came together in a special session to help out eastern Kentucky, just like we did at the end of last session for western Kentucky to help them rebuild. A whole lot still gets done, even with the drama that's out there. But from my end, I'm willing to work with anybody, even if they call me names the day before. My job isn't about me. It's about the people of Kentucky.

KARTHIKEYAN: You’ve passed two executive orders supporting access to medical cannabis, and how optimistic are you that the Legislature will support it?

BESHEAR: I certainly hope they will support it, because 80 plus percent of Kentuckians support it, it's your job to get it done not to claim that you're smarter than 80% of Kentuckians or better than 80% of Kentuckians, but to do their will.

KARTHIKEYAN: I'll give you an example of someone not having the correct documents [related to medical cannabis], and that could lead to arrest or prosecution. What would happen in that case? How enforceable would this order be?

BESHEAR: What would happen is law enforcement has a palm card. And what they do is they ask you for the documentation. If you don't have it, likely, they would cite you if they decided to, but then you'd have a chance to take that documentation to court.

But in reality, this is an area where neither law enforcement nor the court system, as long as it's real, are going to want to go through that process. They are already so busy with so many important things. So we're sensing a lot of cooperation, and there are a lot of folks wishing the legislature would fully act so we could move forward.

KARTHIKEYAN: Many are calling the staffing shortage and education a real crisis. As governor, what can you do to address it?

BESHEAR: It is a crisis of 11,000 teacher vacancies and that's before all the other educators. So you're gonna see coming into this next session, we're gonna push again, for an additional $5,000 raise that the state would pay the entirety of, on top of what all the local districts are doing to hopefully get the size raise. That's critically important.

KARTHIKEYAN: Let’s talk about abortion. A lot of debate that is focused on abortion right now is focused on lack of exceptions for rape and incest. You have called that policy extremist yourself. But there are many reasons beyond those two scenarios that people seek abortions. So, do you support a person's right to seek an abortion in all cases?

BESHEAR: I supported Roe v. Wade, that I think struck the right balance. What it said was this should be a safe and legal procedure, but there can be and should be reasonable restrictions. It's offensive, as a former attorney general, who saw cases of even very young, they're not even women, they're girls in Kentucky, violated oftentimes by family members that would have and currently have fewer rights than their rapist. That is really wrong. And the vast majority of Kentuckians disagree with that, too.

KARTHIKEYAN: You've talked about violation here. But does it have to go to that point for somebody to be able to get an abortion?

BESHEAR: When we talk about those that have been violated and harmed? What it does is show you that our current law is wrong. And Kentuckians who were in different places and how they felt about Roe versus Wade now agree. I feel in large measure that we are now at the wrong spot in Kentucky.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.