By John Celock
Capping an unlikely rise to the pinnacle of state politics, Republican Matt Bevin became Kentucky’s 62nd governor Tuesday pledging, “Kentucky is better than that.”
Bevin, a 48-year-old businessman, took the official oath of office shortly after midnight, taking over from two term Democrat Steve Beshear to become Kentucky’s second Republican governor in the last 44 years. Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton (R) repeated their oaths and delivered their inaugural addresses during a ceremony in front of the state Capitol in Frankfort Tuesday afternoon.
“The power to stand united is in each and everyone of us.” Bevin said. “This is our Kentucky. This is our opportunity.”
Bevin used his inaugural address to highlight the veteran theme of his inaugural address. Both Bevin and Hampton are military veterans. In addition, Bevin focused on the conservative themes of his campaign, including ending the state health care exchange and stressing state government over the federal government.
While Beshear and several former Democratic governors – along with former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher – sat nearby on the inaugural platform, Bevin sketched out a plan where the new governor said the state would improve it’s performance. Among the areas that Bevin touched on were his health care plan, moving up Kentucky’s per capita income, expanding school choice, changing the state tax code, auditing the pension system and overhauling the pension system.
“We’re going to get rid of the things that send the message to the outside world that says that we’re not a business friendly state,” Bevin said.
Bevin’s inauguration follows a two-year political journey that saw the conservative travel 95,000 miles around Kentucky and have many questioning his political future. Bevin first jumped to public view last year when he challenged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in the GOP primary from the right. Following his loss to the powerful McConnell, Bevin launched his gubernatorial bid, a times being considered an afterthought in the GOP primary.
Following an 83 vote win in the Republican primary earlier this year, Bevin was locked in a competitive race with state Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee. During the final weeks of the race, Conway started to take a lead and the Republican Governors Association started to move resources away from Kentucky and into the Louisiana governor’s race. Bevin defeated Conway 53 percent to 44 percent.
Under the Kentucky constitution, while Bevin and Hampton were sworn-in Tuesday, the rest of the state’s constitutional officers will be sworn-in next month.
In her remarks, Hampton, the first African-American to hold statewide office in Kentucky, talked about her upbringing in Detroit and her military background. She also noted that she plans to travel around the state as lieutenant governor, wanting to meet and talk with Kentucky residents.
Hampton is the third African American woman to be elected as a lieutenant governor in American history, following former Ohio Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley (R) and former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R). She also becomes the third African American woman currently holding a statewide office, joining California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) and Connecticut Treasurer Denise Nappier (D).
Bevin pledged to stress state government during his governorship and that he wants to fight what he described as federal overreach. He noted that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution delegates authority to the states.
“There is not going to be a day in our administration where we allow the tail of a regulatory agency in Washington, D.C. to wag the dog of Kentucky,” he said.