Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) earned a reputation for competent, effective leadership. After two terms with the Democrat in office, the Bluegrass State’s unemployment rate fell to a 14-year low, while Kentucky’s uninsured rate dropped by over 40%.
But this year, the state decided it wanted something very different, so it easily elected far-right Gov. Matt Bevin (R) – a man Republicans had previously labeled a “con man” who lies “pathologically” – to take Kentucky in a dramatic new direction.
Well, Kentuckians, if that’s what you wanted, that’s what you’re getting. The Lexington Herald Leader reported yesterday on some of the first moves taken by the new governor, who’s never held any elected office at any level.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin filed five executive orders late Tuesday to start reshaping state government along conservative ideological lines, including one that removes county clerks’ names from marriage licenses, granting the request of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who opposes same-sex marriage. Others reversed earlier executive orders by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to restore voting rights to felons and for a higher minimum wage for state workers and employees of state vendors.
The moves related to Kim Davis are obviously controversial in their own right, but let’s set that aside for a moment to consider some of the lower-profile orders.
For example, towards the end of his tenure, Beshear made a bold move on voting rights, automatically restoring the franchise to non-violent felons after they’ve served their sentences. Bevin, as a candidate, said he supported the policy.
And yet, the new Tea Party governor reversed it anyway, saying it’d be up to the legislature to decide whether to protect these voting rights. Vox’s report noted that the practical effect of the move means “at least 100,000 people may not gain the right to vote after all.”
As for the minimum wage, the Courier-Journal in Louisville reported on the governor undoing the state’s progress on this, too.
In another order reversing a major policy decision by Beshear, Bevin relieves executive branch agencies and state government vendors of the obligation to comply with a higher minimum wage set by Beshear in June. Bevin’s press release specifies, however, that this order does not affect wages of “classified employees with status who have already received increases” as a result of Beshear’s order.Last June Beshear raised the minimum wage paid to executive branch state workers from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. He also raised the pay of tipped state employees – waiters and waitresses at state parks – from $2.19 to $4.90 per hour. Beshear estimated salaries of nearly 800 state workers would be increased because of the order.Beshear also required in the order that companies holding state contracts pay at least $10.10 per hour to their workers working on those contracts.
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, told the Courier-Journal, “It’s a step backwards, clearly Bevin’s agenda is not to uplift these workers but to turn back the clock.”
Kentucky residents should probably keep that quote handy. Bevin “turning back the clock” is likely to be a recurring problem for the next four years.