By BRUCE SCHREINER
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Fresh off an event trumpeting Kentucky’s largest-ever economic development project, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear filed for reelection Monday, touting his work to increase jobs, expand health care and support teachers during a term marred by a pandemic and deadly storms.
Beshear defended his efforts to combat COVID-19 and downplayed any potential political backlash from virus-related restrictions he placed on businesses and gatherings. The global health crisis gave him unprecedented access to Kentuckians through frequent news conferences held to guide them through the crisis.
“I think the voters of Kentucky — who by now know me pretty well — know that I’ll work for them tirelessly each and every day,” the governor told reporters at the state Capitol.
Beshear, 45, the son of former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, was accompanied by his wife, their two children and his parents as he submitted paperwork to the secretary of state’s office for the 2023 election. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who will run with him again next year, also joined him.
Polling has consistently shown the governor receiving high job-performance ratings from Kentuckians. But Beshear faces a tough reelection fight in a state trending heavily in favor of Republicans. GOP candidates, including several who have battled him on legal and political fronts during his first term in office, are lining up for the chance to challenge him next year.
“The fundamentals are strong for a Republican candidate to defeat him, and we stand ready to support our nominee once the primary process is concluded,” state GOP spokesman Sean Southard said in a statement Monday. “In 2023, the Andy Beshear show will have its final season.”
With the spring primary months away, Beshear batted away questions about potential rivals.
“When you’ve governed through a pandemic and tornadoes and ice storms, who your potential opponents are don’t keep you up at night,” he said. “I’m focused on doing a good job.”
Earlier in the day, Beshear spoke at an event showcasing progress by Ford and its South Korean partner in developing a battery production venture at Glendale in central Kentucky. The mega-project — landed by Beshear last year and ranking as the largest in state history — will employ 5,000 workers to produce batteries for future Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles.
The governor has consistently touted the state’s economic successes during his tenure. On Monday, he declared it the state’s “greatest two years of economic development in our lifetime, creating more jobs than ever before.”
Beshear pointed to his efforts to expand access to health care. He relaunched a state-run web portal first started by his father’s administration that signs up Kentuckians for health coverage, which had been dismantled by the Republican governor who served for a single term between them, Matt Bevin.
Beshear said he will keep pushing for higher pay for educators to help overcome a statewide teacher shortage.
The governor has urged the legislature to reopen the state budget next year amid unprecedented budget surpluses to pump more money into public schools. Lawmakers left it up to local school districts to decide whether to use additional state funding to provide higher pay to teachers and other school staff. Most districts have awarded pay raises, Republicans say.
But the governor says more needs to be done. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to blame Beshear for the pandemic-related setbacks in statewide test scores.
Beshear said Monday that Kentuckians will be remembered for their perseverance against the pandemic and in overcoming deadly tornadoes and flooding during his term. He has come under blistering GOP attacks for his handling of the pandemic, but he stoutly defended his actions.
“We made the hard decisions when they were the right decisions,” Beshear said. “I was going to put the lives of our people ahead of any personal ambition. And what I said then, is if we saved more lives but they ran me out of town, then OK. I’m going to remain proud of what our team did together, regardless of any consequences.”
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