FRANKFORT, Ky. — Heading into a tough election year, Gov. Andy Beshear asserted Wednesday evening that Kentucky's future is “brighter than it's ever been,” and touted a record of economic development and resilience to make his case.

What You Need To Know

  • The governor touted the state's record economic gains in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday evening

  • The speech came as the governor heads into a tough election year as he seeks a second term in Republican-leaning Kentucky

  • Beshear urged lawmakers to pump more money into education.

  • He proposed awarding public school teachers a pay raise and achieving his goal of universal access to pre-kindergarten learning

The Democratic governor, delivering his fourth annual State of the Commonwealth address, cited record-setting economic gains and hailed the state's ability to overcome the tragedies of tornadoes, flooding and a global pandemic.

Beshear, confronting the headwinds of Republican supermajorities in the legislature head on, urged lawmakers to pump more money into education, to award public school teachers a pay raise and to achieve his goal of universal access to pre-kindergarten learning. In his speech, the governor announced he was working with Senate Minority Floor Leader Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort) to file legislation he called his "Education First Plan" which would give public school teachers a 5% raise to address a shortage of 11,000 public school teachers in the state. "Addressing our teacher shortage absolutely requires a pay raise. Just over the last year, Kentucky dropped from 42nd to 44th in teacher pay," the governor noted. He said it was "past time" for universal pre-K in the state, which would allow parents to go to rejoin the work force and advance education in the state.  

Beshear, whose term has been marked by policy disputes with lawmakers and weather disasters that decimated whole communities in his state, used the statewide television address to urge the legislature to fully legalize access to medical cannabis to help ease the suffering of people diagnosed with debilitating illnesses. "Far too many Kentuckians are suffering from life-threatening and chronic conditions, like our veterans with PTSD, or Kentuckians with cancer," he declared. 

He called for additional funding to shore up the state's troubled juvenile justice system after a string of violent outbreaks in juvenile detention centers last year. 

For his final legislative priority, the Democratic governor said he was filing legislation to legalize sports betting in the state and called for more investment in the state's pension system. 

Fresh off a morning appearance with President Joe Biden to mark the promised makeover of a dilapidated bridge over the Ohio River between Kentucky and Cincinnati, the governor punctuated his remarks by citing scripture and calling on state leaders to put aside partisan differences to pursue common goals in moving the Bluegrass State forward.

“As Kentuckians, we share the values of faith, family and community,” the governor said in his prepared text. “And if we double down right now, lead with our values, and push politics aside, there is nothing we cannot achieve. Our future is brighter than it's ever been.”

The speech comes as Beshear prepares for a tough reelection campaign in a state that continues to trend toward Republicans. The governor has remained popular while leading the state through a series of tragedies but has drawn a crowded field of GOP candidates wanting to unseat him.

Beshear's efforts to stave off that GOP momentum is one reason the Kentucky governor’s race in 2023 will be closely watched nationally, coming the year before the next presidential election.

In his speech, the governor harkened back to the state's tragedies that overshadowed his term — the COVID-19 pandemic, tornadoes that tore through parts of western Kentucky and floodwaters that inundated portions of eastern Kentucky.

“Scripture tells us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves,” Beshear said. “And that's exactly what folks across this commonwealth have been doing.”

The governor touted the state's unprecedented economic growth in the past two years, saying it provides the “promise of a better Kentucky.” The gains have put Kentucky on a course to ensure that future generations of Kentuckians “never have to leave this state to pursue their dreams.” He declared that Kentucky had "cemented its status as the electric vehicle battery production capital of the United States of America," while celebrating the creation of 42,600 full-time jobs in the state. Beshear also noted a $2.1 billion investment by the state's booming bourbon industry. 

Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives David Osborne (R-Prospect) and Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) held a press conference for the Republican Party of Kentucky after the governor's address. Both Republicans conveyed that while the state was doing well, it wasn't Beshear who deserved credit for it. “I think the state is in good shape but I don’t think it has to do with everything he took credit for tonight,” Stivers said.

Osborne added that the economic growth was due to laws passed by the General Assembly. “I think a lot of the successes have to do with the pro-growth laws we’ve passed over the last several years,” he said.  

When asked if state lawmakers had given enough credit to the Biden administration for the federal money flowing into the state for infrastructure improvements, Stivers said that he had. "But for Senator McConnell and his relationship with President Biden, that wouldn't have happend," he said, referring to the $1.6 billion federal investment in the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project which links Kentucky and Ohio. He added that he gives credit to the current administration, as well as the previous one.