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Beshear calls for unity after tornado devastation during televised address

Ryland Barton
Kentucky Public Radio

Gov. Andy Beshear called for unity during his State of the Commonwealth Address, saying Republicans and Democrats need to work together to help the state recover from last month’s devastating tornadoes and the coronavirus pandemic.

Beshear delivered his speech hours after announcing nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases in the state,the highest daily total so far in the pandemic. Yesterdays’ tally of nearly 7,000 was Kentucky’s second-highest total.

But the governor’s message was that the commonwealth is “strong” despite tragedy, that Kentuckians are “good people, tough people, resilient people” and are coming together to rebuild the state.

“We care deeply for one another. And while they may knock us down, no tornado, no pandemic, no flood, no ice storm can break us. Because we do not break,” Beshear said.

Beshear said he is working with lawmakers on a tornado relief bill that would set aside $150 million to help communities affected by the tornado rebuild and $50 million to help schools recover.

The governor also touted economic achievements over the last year, like Ford’s $5.8 billion electric car battery plant planned for Hardin County that’s supposed to create 5,000 jobs.

He said there have been $11.2 billion in promised investments and more than 18,000 jobs planned for Kentucky over the last year.

“Some of the most sophisticated corporations on the planet are betting their future on Kentucky. These are the jobs of the future and they’re coming to every part of our state,” Beshear said.

Beshear previewed his budget wish list, which he will lay out next week during another televised speech, calling for increased investment in education, raises for all state employees and money to attract and retain frontline workers.

He also laid out infrastructure priorities that could be funded by the federal infrastructure bill, like a companion bridge to the aging Brent Spence Bridge in northern Kentucky that would be funded “without tolls,” expanding the Mountain Parkway to four lanes and creating a “world class airport” in Paducah.

And he attempted to bury the hatchet with the Republican-led legislature, which he’s been at loggerheads withsince early on during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let’s not devolve into anger, division, bitterness or hate ever again,” Beshear said.

After the speech, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said that Beshear’s “actions need to follow his words.”

“When we have been able to sit down with the governor, we’ve been able to sit down and have good legitimate discussions, but those have been too few. Really, the discussions have only been more frequent since the Supreme Court ruling,” Stivers said.

Republican lawmakers passed several laws limiting Beshear’s emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic last year. The governor sued to block the bills, but the state Supreme Court upheld them last summer.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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