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Beshear draws a primary challenger in former Republican Peppy Martin

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Peppy Martin, formerly a Republican, will run against Gov. Andy Beshear in the Democratic primary next year.

Peppy Martin, a former Republican who lost to incumbent Gov. Paul Patton in 1999 amid a series of controversial statements, has filed to run for Kentucky’s top political post in 2023.

Martin will run as a Democrat this time, challenging Gov. Andy Beshear during next year’s primary election.

During an interview, Martin said she took issue with Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and wants to push for policies like legalizing cannabis, casino gambling and eliminating the state income tax.

“I think some of his measures have been too draconian for Kentuckians. On the other side, like the marijuana thing, they’ve been half-baked,” Martin said.

Beshear recently issued an executive order allowing Kentuckians to possess and use cannabis for medical purposes, as long as it’s purchased legally in another state.

Some Republicans have threatened to challenge the order, but Martin says the governor and lawmakers need to go further—legalizing the plant, while taxing the production and sale of it. She said Beshear was simply permitting the “bootlegging” of cannabis from other states.

Martin drew fire from Republicans and Democrats alike during her failed gubernatorial bid in 1999. During a speech at the annual Fancy Farm political speaking picnic that year, Martin called U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao his “Chinese connection,” prompting McConnell and Chao to leave the event.

When asked if the comment was racist during a recent interview, Martin said “no.”

“Wasn’t anything racist about it, you can ask her why she got up and walked out,” she said.

During the 1999 campaign, Martin also claimed that 80% of Kentucky sheriffs and state troopers were engaged in drug trafficking.

At the time, Martin said she was quoting “street talk.” During the recent interview, she defended the claim.

“I think there have been some improvements that were made after I said that. A lot of people agreed with me,” she said.

Patton won reelection in 1999 with 60.7% of the vote to Martin’s 22.2%. Reform candidate Gatewood Galbraith garnered 15.3% that year.

Martin is Beshear’s only official primary challenger so far in 2023, though perennial candidate Geoff Young said on Twitter that he will run.

So far, 12 Republicans have lined up for the chance to challenge Beshear during the General Election, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, State Auditor Mike Harmon, state Rep. Savannah Maddox and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.

Martin said a Democrat will have a better chance at winning next year’s election, pointing to voters’ recent rejection of a referendum to give the Republican-led Legislature more power.

“They like the governor to be strong, they like the governor to remain a strong figure as a counterbalance to the Legislature,” Martin said.

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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