Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear declared Tuesday that he’s been steadfast in the fight against crime, hitting back against his Republican challenger’s attacks on public safety issues — which have risen to the forefront of Kentucky’s closely watched gubernatorial campaign.
Flanked by a bevy of current and retired law enforcement officers backing his reelection campaign, Beshear laid out his record on criminal justice issues. As governor, he said, he pushed for large pay raises for state troopers as well as increased training for police officers. As attorney general, he prosecuted child sex offenders, cleared a rape kit backlog and combated senior scams, he said.
“Leadership is about stepping up and doing the work,” Beshear said. “Running toward challenges, not abdicating responsibility. During my time as attorney general and now as governor, I’ve always tackled challenges … in crime head on. Leaning into problems, not backing away and blaming others.”
Beshear’s comments were aimed at his Republican challenger, Daniel Cameron, the state’s current attorney general.
While campaigning last week, Cameron said Beshear “bears all of the responsibility” for what the Republican nominee claimed were rising crime rates. Cameron did not mention that as attorney general he’s the state’s chief law enforcement officer — an omission that drew a pushback from Beshear.
“That’s not just wrong,” the governor responded. “That’s hiding from problems and blaming others.”
Beshear’s campaign said an FBI database shows Kentucky’s violent crime rate is well below the national average, and that every state bordering Kentucky has a higher rate than Kentucky’s with one exception — Virginia.
Beshear said he would push for additional funding for law enforcement training and body armor to protect law officers if he wins another term in November.
Cameron has pointed to his own considerable support from the law enforcement community.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s campaign has blasted the governor’s decision to allow the early release of some nonviolent inmates during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people released ended up committing new crimes, Cameron said. State Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard on Tuesday referred to them as the “governor’s getaways,” adding: “Crime is bad enough without Andy’s help.”
Beshear responded that more than 20 governors from both parties took the same action to release low-level, nonviolent inmates near the end of their sentences to help ease the spread of the virus in prisons.
The governor then went on the offensive, slamming Cameron’s response to the hundreds of pardons and commutations issued by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in his final days in office.
“I believe that the people of Kentucky can recognize the difference between letting low-level offenders out during a deadly pandemic near the end of their sentence, versus our current attorney general’s failure to appoint a special prosecutor or do anything about Matt Bevin’s pardons of rapists and murderers,” Beshear said.
Democrats accuse Cameron of shirking his duties by failing to hold Bevin accountable for pardons of violent criminals and others before Bevin left office following his electoral loss to Beshear in 2019.
Cameron has referred to the Democratic attack ad as “completely absurd.” He said his decision to turn the investigation over to the FBI drew broad support at the time.
In another development, a top aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has joined Cameron’s campaign, adding another political heavy hitter to his team in trying to defeat Beshear.
Terry Carmack, the senator’s chief of staff, will assume a senior management role in Cameron’s campaign, Southard said. Cameron’s campaign said the addition of Carmack reflects an “all-hands-on-deck” approach by a unified GOP in support of his bid to unseat Beshear.
Cameron won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement early in the primary campaign and he’s a McConnell protege, having previously worked as the senator’s legal counsel. Cameron has shown an ability to bridge an ever-expanding gulf between the ex-president and the Senate GOP leader.
Carmack said Republicans are “excited to make history” by electing Cameron as governor. Cameron would become Kentucky’s first Black governor if elected.
The Democratic Governors Association, meanwhile, had a different characterization of Carmack’s role.
“Daniel Cameron’s campaign has a new babysitter on loan from Mitch McConnell, who is once again trying to hand Daniel a political office,” said DGA Communications Director Sam Newton.
Carmack has extensive political experience at the state and national levels. He served previously as state party chairman in Kentucky, chief of staff to members of Congress and as political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
His addition to the Cameron campaign was described as a “terrific move” by Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator and former adviser to President George W. Bush.
“Terry is one of the most experienced guys in Kentucky politics,” said Jennings, who has close ties to McConnell. “We are in for a close, hard-fought race and you won’t find a smarter, savvier operator than Carmack. He knows the state like the back of his hand.”
Carmack is taking a leave of absence and will return to McConnell’s staff after the November election.