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Amid national spotlight, Ky. Gov. Beshear weighs in on Trump, Biden, immigration

 Gov. Andy Beshear sits down with Kentucky Public Radio Reporter Joe Sonka for an end-of-year interview on Dec. 19, 2023.
J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear sits down with Kentucky Public Radio Reporter Joe Sonka for an end-of-year interview on Dec. 19, 2023.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was hesitant to speak out on national political issues or criticize former President Donald Trump during his first term in office, but has already signaled that may change over the next four years.

In an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press, Beshear was asked about Trump’s repeated statement that an influx of immigrants is “poisoning the blood of our country.” The governor was uncharacteristically blunt, calling such rhetoric “dangerous” and dehumanizing.

In a wide-ranging interview with Kentucky Public Radio later that day, Beshear was asked if this criticism of Trump signaled he would be more likely to comment on national political issues or figures in his second term — while his own national profile grows.

The governor replied that he’s “always gonna stay focused on Kentucky,” but then transitioned straight into more criticism of Trump’s rhetoric and his own views on American immigration policy.

“Even if someone believes they shouldn’t gain entry to our country, they are still human beings,” Beshear said. “I believe they're children of God. That's what my faith teaches me. So surely we can talk about this issue while also not dehumanizing, making people less of a human being.”

Beshear comfortably won reelection in November by five percentage points, despite Kentucky being a solidly red state that has twice elected Trump by blowout margins. That success has raised Beshear’s national profile among Democrats, and speculation he could run for president in 2028.

When asked earlier in the interview what lesson his success in conservative Kentucky sent to other Democrats across the country, Beshear partly credited it to avoiding discussion of Trump, Joe Biden or national political issues on cable news, saying he instead focused on local issues that directly affect Kentuckians.

“I believe if you can be focused on those things that everybody cares about and not chase the issue of the day in Washington D.C., then you can break through and people can see you not for a letter behind your name or Team Red or Team Blue,” Beshear said.

On immigration, Beshear added that some people “are fleeing violence and torture” and national policy should be “debated in a humane way that still talks about what they're trying to escape from.”

While America needs to address “illegal immigration” and enforce laws, Beshear said “we really need comprehensive immigration reform, because we have employers that need more immigration to meet certain needs.”

In his first term, Beshear deployed Kentucky National Guard soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border to aid federal officials with security as the number of migrants attempting to enter the country rapidly increased.

Trump repeated his “blood” remarks towards immigrants this week — drawing more comparisons to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany — saying at an Iowa rally Tuesday night they are “destroying the blood of our country.”

As for his direct criticism of Trump this week, Beshear said that he has commented before when Trump was president or “said something just totally outside the bounds.”

Beshear has publicly criticized Trump before, but not often, and not with as much force as he did this week. Beshear criticized Trump last year for dining with a white nationalist and has occasionally criticized the former president’s statements or social media posts when asked.

Asked what was at stake for Kentucky and the country in a likely presidential race next year between Trump and Biden, Beshear focused solely on the massive federal funding for transportation, water and broadband infrastructure the Democratic president has delivered for the state over the last three years — and did not bring up Trump.

He did so again when asked which Democratic officials in Washington D.C. he admires on public policy — along with praising U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo for her work against European Union tariffs on bourbon and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for helping deliver the largest-ever infrastructure grant for the Brent Spence Bridge expansion in northern Kentucky.

“Certainly the president and the vice president have come at our most difficult times and provided us help during them, and I'm really grateful for that as well,” Beshear said.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.

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