By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
LEXINGTON, Ky. — To kick-off the 2020 session of the General Assembly, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and state legislative leaders traded jokes and discussed issues they can work on together at the 25th annual Kentucky Chamber Day Dinner.
In each of their comments, the speakers wished for a speedy recovery for their colleague, state Rep. John “Bam” Carney, R-Campbellsville. Carney fell critically ill the week of Christmas and has been in the hospital for many weeks. While his condition is improving, Carney still faces a long road to recovery. All the leaders emphasized that, politics aside, they are all friends and genuinely care about each other’s well-being.
New Democratic Gov. Beshear’s comments sought to ring in the new year with a tone of bipartisanship, stating events like the Chamber Day Dinner are a good opportunity to get together and stop thinking about party politics and focus on what’s good for Kentucky families.
Beshear thanked the chamber for the opportunity to speak at the event, noting virtually everyone in the room is part of the “nerve center” that moves the state forward. In his remarks, Beshear shared his priorities for the state budget including public education, health care, workforce development, addressing the addiction crisis and criminal justice reform.
The new governor said Kentuckians expect state leaders to leave the feuds and wounds of the past behind and said he vows to work across the aisle and find common ground to move the state forward.
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, began his remarks with many funny quips and poked fun at some of the other speakers before talking about some of the priorities he expects will be tackled in 2020.
Osborne spoke to the financial challenges the legislature and governor will face in crafting the next two-year state budget. He pointed to the Kentucky Chamber’s Leaky Bucket report, released in 2010, which highlighted the rapidly growing financial needs in areas such as corrections, pensions and Medicaid.
On other issues, the House Speaker said a serious conversation about criminal justice reform as well as infrastructure funding, both of which he said will require bipartisan work. He also stressed that if Kentucky doesn’t effectively educate the next generation, work in all other areas is for nothing. Osborne said the Republican-controlled legislature is committed to working with Gov. Beshear to accomplish these goals.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, echoed many of Osborne’s sentiments and added the Senate will be focused on addressing the needs of school safety, the state’s struggle with opioid addiction, budget constraints and more.
Stivers showed a photo of himself on the screen and joked that he looked much younger six years ago and warned Gov. Beshear he may leave the office looking more like his dad, former Gov. Steve Beshear, in the next couple of years due to the stress of the job.
He added all jokes aside, all the people in the room are Kentuckians, not just Republicans or Democrats and will be working together to put Kentucky first and make the commonwealth the best it can be.
Democratic House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, the first woman to lead a legislative caucus in Kentucky, said it is vital to recognize that while Kentucky has made tremendous gains in recent years, many areas of the state continue to struggle. She emphasized that the legislature should be looking to generate more revenue in 2020 including legalizing sports wagering and casino gaming and added the House Democrats will again be pushing for an increase in the minimum wage in 2020.
Jenkins said she believes all state leaders have a desire to see the state move forward and said she believes the next two-year state budget proposal that Gov. Beshear will present later this month will serve as a good road map for that progress.
Along with other jokes made in his remarks, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, showed a “carpool karaoke” video of him and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, where the two traded jabs about issues such as the budget, criminal justice, and more (watch the video here).
In terms of policy, McGarvey stressed the need for infrastructure funding, expanded gaming and making Kentucky more competitive with other states. “We have to be the change we want,” McGarvey said.
If you missed the 2020 Kentucky Chamber Day Dinner, KET will have coverage of the event on its website in the coming days.