Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is overseeing a promising rollout of the healthcare law. Defying bitter GOP opposition, he says it’s medicine the state needs.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Relations between President Obama and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear have not always been friendly. When Obama paid his first presidential visit in May 2011, his fellow Democrat was somewhere else. Later, Beshear lashed out at the administration’s environmental regulators, telling them to “get off our backs.”
But leading one of the nation’s poorest, sickest states, Beshear has improbably overseen one of the most successful rollouts of Obama’s troubled healthcare overhaul and become, deep in his long public career, a hero to Democrats grasping to find a redeeming figure amid the political wreckage.
He’s an unlikely champion, not least because Kentucky’s two U.S. senators are both implacable opponents of the program.
“I knew if I was going to make a huge difference in the health status of Kentucky, it was going to take some kind of transformational tool to do that, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act is for me,” Beshear, white-haired and greyhound-lean, said as he sat behind a big maple desk in his office. “I think we’ve started something here,” he later added, “that a generation from now you’ll see a very different Kentucky than what you see today.”
For now, Kentuckians may feel understandably whiplashed.
While Beshear, serving his second and final term, has become one of the foremost proponents of Obamacare, the state’s senior senator, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, has been an even more visible foe. Facing a tough 2014 reelection fight, he calls the law “a disaster,” “a huge mistake” and “a monstrosity” that “needs to be pulled out root and branch.” The sentiment is seconded by Kentucky’s junior senator, Republican Rand Paul, who was elected in 2010 in a tea party fever born of seething opposition to the president and his healthcare plan.
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