Steve Beshear was born in Dawson Springs, Ky., and now lives in Lexington. He earned a bachelor's and a law degree at the University of Kentucky in 1966 and 1968, respectively.
Beshear served as a state legislator, attorney general and lieutenant governor. Then his political career hit a snag. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1987 and he lost a challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 1996. But he said the setbacks made him a better person. "It gave me more maturity," he said. "It tends to put in perspective what's important in life."
Beshear was elected governor in 2007, beating Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose lone term was dogged by a hiring scandal. In 2011, Beshear won re-election to a second term over Republican challenger David Williams, the longtime president of the state Senate.
Beshear and his wife, Jane, have two sons.
Believing his political career was over long ago, Steve Beshear spent much of 2006 urging other prominent Democrats to run for Kentucky governor. When they declined, he decided to run himself.
The former lieutenant governor and attorney general who had not held office in 20 years completed an unlikely political comeback in 2007 by defeating Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, whose first term was plagued by a hiring scandal.
Kentucky voters gave him a second term in 2011, re-electing him overwhelmingly over Republican challenger David Williams, the longtime president of the state Senate.
Dogged by economic miseries that wreaked havoc on the state budget, Beshear has spent most of his time in office looking for ways to curb government spending. During his first four years in office, he slashed more than $1 billion from the state budget.
Early in his first term, Beshear pushed for a 70-cent increase in the state's cigarette tax to generate money that he hoped would allow him to avoid deep cuts in government services. Instead, lawmakers agreed on a compromise plan that imposed Kentucky's sales tax on liquor and raised the cigarette tax 30 cents per pack, a move that fell far short of a budget fix.
Lawmakers have refused to accept Beshear's proposal to raise money by legalizing casino-style gambling in the state and taxing the proceeds. Beshear has been unable to convince the GOP-controlled Senate to go along the plan.
Despite the budget problems, Beshear said he was glad for the privilege to lead the state.
"It's all I envisioned and more," he said. "I inherited a difficult financial situation that has grown much more severe as the national economy has gone down. You can't choose the economic times in which you serve, but you can choose how you lead."
Beshear campaigned in 2007 on a promise to bring back honesty and integrity to state government.
"After the experiences of the last few years, the people of Kentucky are certainly demanding a highly ethical administration and they have a right to demand that," Beshear told The Associated Press at the time. "It's my job to make sure that we deliver on that promise." He took office lamenting that the state's coffers were bare.
At his second swearing-in ceremony in December 2011, Beshear called on Kentucky political leaders to "reject the politics of division and intolerance."
"Kentucky must resist becoming another voice in Washington's acrimonious shouting match," Beshear said. "After all, shouting doesn't foster unity. It only makes people cover their ears."
Beshear's hopes for unity faded quickly when lawmakers convened less than a month later in a contentious legislative session that again saw his gambling proposal rejected, along with his proposal to raise the minimum age for dropping out of school from 16 to 18.
A divided legislature, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats leading the House, often left Frankfort in gridlock that Beshear found nearly impossible to penetrate.
In his 2011 inaugural address, Beshear said he had found "partisan rancor so strong that consensus was almost impossible."
Beshear has said he learned the value of public service long ago from his parents. His father was a preacher, and his parents owned a local furniture store and a funeral home.
"Our parents raised us with a strong sense of morality, a strong sense of values and a strong sense of responsibility and accountability," he said.
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Recent winning percentages for office currently held: 59% (2007), 56% (2011).
(Last updated by Roger Alford on June 7, 2012.)