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Governor-Elect Matt Bevin Promises To Shake Up Kentucky Politics


Matt Bevin is a millionaire who's never held office before. But in January, he will become the governor of Kentucky. He's a Republican, and he's promising to make big changes in a state that's been mostly governed by Democrats for the last half a century. Ashley Lopez of member station WFPL reports that Bevin's unpredictable political choices will keep the next four years interesting.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Matt Bevin has a knack for getting under people's skin, including important people in his own party. Here's one example. A month before the election, he said on a sports radio show that he supported Ben Carson for president.


MATT BEVIN: I like Ben Carson. There's a lot about him that I think America would do well to have as...

MATT JONES: So you would not pick the Republican from Kentucky, Rand Paul?

BEVIN: At this point, I'm looking at people who I think would have the best chance of uniting all the pieces.

LOPEZ: Typically not supporting a fellow Republican from your state who is also running for office is just a bad political move. But in this case, it was also really awkward. That's because the day after Bevin endorsed Carson, Rand Paul was scheduled to endorse Bevin at a rally. So Bevin had to backtrack.


BEVIN: And I'll put it out there because I know people are going to want to ask about it. This race is about governor, but he is running for president of the United States. And I truly believe he would be an extraordinary president of the United States. I really do.

LOPEZ: Bevin's political career is peppered with moments like this. He first ran for office last year and unsuccessfully challenged Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in a primary. It was a pretty nasty race, and after Bevin lost that race, he didn't endorse McConnell - yet another political rule broken. Bevin eventually mended fences with McConnell and Rand Paul who both supported his bid for governor.

TREY GRAYSON: So he's playing by a different set of rules, and I don't think you can dismiss some of that.

LOPEZ: That's Trey Grayson. He's Kentucky's former secretary of state and lost a Senate primary to then political newcomer Rand Paul in 2010. Grayson was the establishment politician in the Senate race. He says Bevin plays by his own rules in a way that has won over voters in the state.

GRAYSON: Everybody would agree that Matt Bevin brought a unique approach to politics. But also, he had this personality that has this charisma and this confidence.

LOPEZ: And Bevin laid on the charm throughout the entire campaign. Here's Bevin taking calls from listeners during a statewide public radio broadcast.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Ninety percent of the things you've said I disagree with, so I definitely know I won't be voting for you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Laughter) That's good.

BEVIN: You know, Joe, I love it. I appreciate your frankness. And honestly, that's the purpose of this in some measure. It really is. The point of having these discussions is so that people can have a frank conversation.

LOPEZ: Matt Jones is a popular sports radio host in Kentucky who has moderated two debates with Bevin. He says Bevin isn't trying to please everyone.

JONES: He says what he thinks, and he explains it. And if people don't like that, Matt is OK with it. Matt does not seem desperate for your vote.

LOPEZ: Jones is currently considering his own unconventional run for Congress as a Democrat. Jones says like Bevin, his ability to sound like a normal person is exactly what is appealing to voters these days.

JONES: I think that is something people are yearning for.

LOPEZ: Bevin has promised a top-to-bottom shakeup at the state's capitol. His biggest agenda item - scaling back the state's health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid, moves he believes will set a new tone in Kentucky.


BEVIN: This is the chance for a fresh start. It truly is. And we desperately need it.

LOPEZ: For at least his first year in office, though, Bevin faces a Democratic majority in the state House, so it's likely Bevin's dustups won't end anytime soon. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.