FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth offered a stinging rebuke of Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday as he opened his campaign to challenge the incumbent in this year's primary election.
Goforth, a relative newcomer to the legislature, denounced Bevin's leadership style as one of "arrogance, scorn and hateful ridicule," and offered a populist message he said contrasts with Bevin's "corporate-first agenda."
"We need a governor who listens more than he lectures," said Goforth, who faces the challenge of building statewide name recognition, at his kickoff event in London, Kentucky. "We need a governor who leads more than he lambasts."
Goforth also introduced Lawrence County Attorney Mike Hogan as his running mate. Hogan, a veteran prosecutor from northeastern Kentucky, brings statewide experience to the ticket, having narrowly lost the GOP primary for attorney general in 2015.
Later in the day in Frankfort, Goforth become the first Republican to file candidacy papers with the secretary of state's office to challenge Bevin's re-election bid. Bevin has said he'll seek another term, but he has yet to file for the office or begin to raise money. Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
Bevin's approval ratings plummeted after he criticized public workers who opposed his efforts to change the state's struggling public pension plans.
Goforth, a former high school dropout who rose from poverty to open a small chain of pharmacies, predicted he'll be competitive with Bevin in campaign fundraising, and said he would be "financing some of my campaign." Bevin can draw upon his own wealth as well as fundraising connections in Kentucky and across the country to finance his campaign.
Acknowledging he's seen as a decided underdog in challenging an incumbent governor from his own party, Goforth said: "I have been fighting and defying the odds my entire life."
Looking to capitalize on Bevin's handling of the pension debate, Goforth said: "Our people are tired of being talked down to and maligned by someone who thinks he is better than us, that he alone has all the answers to the problems that we face."
Just weeks into his tenure in the legislature, Goforth was among several GOP lawmakers who bucked their party leadership to oppose last year's changes to the state's public pension systems. The measure stirred massive protests by teachers at the state Capitol and later was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Kentucky's pension systems are among the worst funded in the country.
Goforth represents a rural district covering Jackson and parts of Laurel and Madison counties. The Republican from East Bernstadt won a special election last February to replace former GOP Rep. Marie Rader, who resigned because of health reasons. Goforth won a full term last November.
Introducing himself to a statewide audience, Goforth said he dropped out of school as a teenager to help support his family, then went on to earn his GED and served in the Army before going to college and becoming a pharmacist.
"I have lived a life that is uniquely Kentucky," he said.
Goforth also touted his conservative credentials during his opening campaign event. Like Bevin, Goforth opposes abortion and supports gun rights. Goforth pre-filed bills for the 2019 legislative session that would further restrict abortions and expand the state's concealed carry law for gun owners. Goforth said he opposes legalizing casino-style gambling in Kentucky and would oppose efforts to divert money from public schools to support charter schools.
On the Democratic side, candidates for governor include Attorney General Andy Beshear, state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, former state Auditor Adam Edelen and Geoff Young, a former state employee who has run for office repeatedly.