FRANKFORT, KY – Calling on Kentucky to set a national example of casting aside political divisions, Democrat Andy Beshear took his oath of office as governor early Tuesday in a private ceremony in the Governor's Mansion.
Beshear, 42, follows in the footsteps of his father, Steve Beshear, whose two terms as governor preceded the single four-year term of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. They are the first father-son duo to serve as governors in Kentucky history.
Jacqueline Coleman was sworn in as the state's lieutenant governor. Her background as a teacher and assistant principal was a key asset for a ticket that stressed its support for public education.
The post-midnight swearing-in is customary in Kentucky, to ensure continuity at the head of state government. The official transfer of power preceded a full day of inaugural events Tuesday, including a worship service, a parade and a public swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps.
Beshear and his family were up early to attend the worship service at a Frankfort church. Crowds braved cold, windy conditions to gather downtown for the parade.
Beshear's inauguration ushers in an era of divided government. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in the legislature. But in remarks after taking the oath, he urged the state's leaders to resist the trend of political rancor and to reach across party lines.
Noting that Kentucky was the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Beshear declared that “it's now time for Kentucky to step up again, believing in the common good, committed more to each other than any national divisions or any national parties."
Hearkening back to his campaign themes, Beshear spoke of the opportunity to improve education, health care, retirements and wages for Kentuckians.
“We also have the opportunity, no I think it's the duty, to prove to this commonwealth and this country that we can still govern," he said. “Anger, insults, even hatred, have infiltrated the very sacred institutions of our government. And we see our neighbors viewing neighbors as the enemy. ... But right here and right now, we have a moment in time, maybe a moment in history, to get this right."
Beshear countered Bevin's strong ties to President Donald Trump with a disciplined campaign that stuck to “kitchen-table issues” such as education and health care.
The new governor swore his oath with his hand on a Bible given to his parents as a gift on their wedding day. The same family Bible was used when Steve Beshear was sworn in as attorney general, lieutenant governor and both times as governor, and when Andy Beshear was sworn in as attorney general.
Teachers were given high-profile roles on inauguration day, reflecting Beshear's gratitude for their help in propelling him to a narrow victory. Bevin feuded with teachers over pension and education policies throughout his term. Educators were chosen to be grand marshals of the parade.
Devan French, a second-grade teacher in Bourbon County, said she was so disheartened by Bevin's criticism of teachers who rallied at the statehouse that she nearly left the teaching profession.
But on Tuesday, she said she's glad she stuck with it, and feels energized by the inauguration of a governor she sees as an ally to teachers.
“I'm rejuvenated," she said in an interview during an inaugural breakfast reception in downtown Frankfort. “I feel very, very encouraged, very motivated. I'm really excited to see where Mr. Beshear takes us."
Beshear's election as governor continued his quick political ascent. Four years ago, he narrowly won election as attorney general. He wielded his authority as the state's top lawyer to challenge a series of Bevin's executive actions. Beshear also filed the lawsuit that led Kentucky's Supreme Court to strike down a pension law the GOP-led legislature passed.
Now he'll be dealing with many of those same lawmakers as the state's chief executive.
He vowed as a candidate to exercise his executive authority to achieve specific goals.
Beshear said, for example, that he would use his powers as governor to disband the Kentucky Board of Education — for what he considered its charter schools leanings — and appoint new members. He also pledged to rescind Bevin’s proposed work-related requirements for some Medicaid recipients and restore voting rights for more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who completed their sentences.
Beshear's immediate challenges seemed to grow last week when Bevin's administration circulated a memo estimating that the new governor will inherit a budget shortfall that could exceed $1 billion as he prepares a two-year state spending plan to submit to lawmakers in early 2020.
Beshear has guaranteed that his promised $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers will be in his spending blueprint. He says the incentive is needed to resolve a statewide teacher shortage.
During the campaign, Beshear focused on issues such as public education, health care, pensions and jobs. He avoided talking about Trump, impeachment or other polarizing national questions that risked energizing his opponent's conservative base.
Trump loomed large, however, as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets and speeches. The president took center stage in the campaign with an election-eve rally in Lexington, the state's second-largest city.
But Bevin failed to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by his feud with teachers.