Beshear discusses coronavirus, education, bipartisanship
Gov. Andy Beshear’s first official visit to Woodford County last Friday, March 6, featured an oversized check for county park tennis court improvements and talk of education, social workers, the coronavirus and the importance of bipartisanship. The grant announcement was actually made at the Feb. 25 Woodford Fiscal Court meeting, but local leaders, including Judge-Executive James Kay, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and parks officials, turned out in force to the fiscal courtroom greet the new governor. (The $250,000 Land and Water Conservation grant will pay more than a third of the cost of the tennis court improvement project, which will include removing fences, milling and rebuilding the courts and adding ADA-compliant sidewalks.) Beshear praised the grant application, which was prepared by parks director Rainey Johns, saying it was evidence that the community is innovative and that its leaders are working hard for the people. Beshear was accompanied by Dennis Keene, a former colleague of Kay’s in the state House of Representatives, who’s now the commissioner of the state Department of Local Government. “ … Collaborating with local governments like yours to find solutions for community problems is an absolute privilege,” Keene said. Beshear began his remarks by noting he’d just come from reading to some “amazing children” at Simmons Elementary School (see story on page A3) and that his mother was once a Woodford County public school teacher. (She taught at Woodford County High School.) “What I love about communities like this and so many others across Kentucky is that you truly live Team Kentucky (the administration’s slogan) every day. Well, I am working hard to build a Frankfort and a state government that puts differences aside and comes together for the betterment of all of our people. You all do that every day,” Beshear said. Smiling, Beshear noted that the General Assembly was pushing several bills designed to “strip a new governor of his powers” – but didn’t criticize GOP leaders for trying to change the rules after the November election. “ … I want you to know that I’m going to have to push back on some of those things, but I hope to always use the bully pulpit that a governor has to try to bring out the best of us …” he said. He said Kentuckians are desperate for a government that’s focused on results and “doesn’t spend every day yelling at each other, or treating each other in a way that would get people fired at work.” Beshear said his proposed budget would increase public education spending by $400 million and fund 350 new social workers, whom he called “true heroes” who often leave that profession because of caseloads three to five times the national average. He said the House budget also puts new dollars into education, though not as many, adding, “even their version would not make the devastating cuts that we have seen” in the past. “There are things that we are going to try to change (in the House-passed budget), but that doesn’t mean that what they have proposed isn’t solid and wouldn’t ultimately benefit our communities. I just want to benefit them a little more,” he said. The House budget pays for 100 new social workers, and Beshear said even if he can’t push that number higher, it’s “certainly a start.” Coronavirus Beshear briefed attendees on the latest developments involving the coronavirus in Kentucky. (The first positive test for the disease came later that day.) He said the state medical lab can provide test results twice as fast as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting same-day results if the test is given in the morning. Beshear recommended frequent hand washing and not going to work if you feel sick, and said he hoped private businesses that don’t provide paid sick leave will change their policies until the coronavirus problem has passed. He also said the flu has claimed the lives of 66 Kentuckians, four of whom are children, and recommended flu shots, though he noted that they are not a vaccine for coronavirus. Beshear also said his administration is working well with the Trump Administration’s coronavirus team, which is led by Vice President Mike Pence. “… We have had very good coordination with the federal government. … In every call I’ve been on, it’s either been (with) the vice president and (Alex) Azar, the secretary of health, or the secretary of health and the head of the CDC. I do believe we’ve been given good cooperation,” he said. Later that day, President Trump signed off a bill appropriating $8.3 billion to fight the disease. “I’m not scared to criticize when it’s due, but we also should recognize when folks are working with us,” Beshear said. “So I believe that we are prepared and we will be prepared. We want people to be mindful, but I don’t want them to be frightened.” Monday night, Beshear announced that six Kentuckians had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, with three of them from Harrison and two in Fayette counties.