FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — With a few days left in his term as Kentucky's governor, Republican Matt Bevin offered some unsolicited advice to his successor and political archnemesis, urging Democrat Andy Beshear to confront the toughest tasks facing the state the same way he did.
“Do the hard things,” Bevin said in a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press. “Don't try to be popular.”
That indifference to popularity may have cost Bevin his job. Members of both parties say his confrontational style alienated many Kentuckians and contributed to his defeat in last month's election. Yet the outgoing governor maintained his critical tone in discussing the prospects for his successor's agenda.
The challenges facing Kentucky, he said, include continuing the job of shoring up the state's underfunded public pensions. Bevin predicted the pension systems will ultimately fail without structural changes.
But Bevin spoke with pride of his accomplishments, pointing to the state's economic growth and the absence of public corruption in his administration. Bevin and GOP lawmakers put the bluegrass state on a conservative policy-making course.
Bevin sidestepped airing any regrets, saying, “I don't spend my life looking in the rear-view mirror."
There's been little interaction between Beshear and Bevin since the election, but both have said strong lines of communications have developed between their staffs during the transition. Beshear, who won by a few thousand votes, takes office Tuesday.
Bevin's unconventional style was on full display as he urged his successor to confront the tough issues that carry political risks. He also offered a grim prognosis for Beshear's chances of turning his campaign priorities into reality.
“Don't promise things you can't deliver," he advised. “Almost everything he's promised, no chance that it's going to happen. ... There's no money for it."
Beshear is in the early stages of preparing a budget to submit to the GOP-dominated legislature early next year. He has guaranteed that the $2,000 pay raise for public school teachers he campaigned on will be in his spending blueprint, but he'll have to persuade Republicans to back it.
The pay hike is an incentive Beshear says is needed to resolve a teacher shortage. He hopes to make smaller class sizes possible, fulfilling another campaign goal. Beshear lists health care, job and wage growth and pensions as other priorities.
Beshear has been reaching out to Republican lawmakers to build relationships that were frayed at times during his term as attorney general. As the state’s top lawyer, Beshear filed the lawsuit that led Kentucky's Supreme Court to strike down a pension law the legislature passed.
Bevin predicted that lawmakers and Beshear are in for a “very difficult budget session.”
“It's going to be a rude awakening for a lot of people," the outgoing governor said.
Bevin said he wants to see Beshear do well in office because “if he's successful, Kentucky will be."
Their election showdown capped a nearly four-year rivalry that dominated Kentucky politics. As attorney general, Beshear challenged a series of Bevin’s executive actions.
The Republican governor said this week that his willingness to confront tough issues, including pensions, will make it easier for future governors.
“Who wouldn't want to be the governor after the guy who cleans up all the crap?" he said. “But the thing is this, we didn't even clean up all the crap."
Bevin said the pension systems remain in “dire straits" and are at risk of eventually failing unless hard decisions are made. That includes structural changes and an unwavering funding commitment.
Kentucky has one of the country's worst-funded public pension systems, but Bevin had a turbulent time in trying to revamp them. In 2018, the attempts sparked protests from thousands of teachers who converged on the state Capitol, closing some schools. After the pension measure was struck down on procedural grounds, Bevin called lawmakers back for a special session to take up the issue again. Lawmakers adjourned without passing any bills.
With his exit from the governor's office just days away, Bevin's short-term plans include attending Beshear's inauguration.
“It would be kind of inappropriate, I think, not to," he said.
As for his longer-term plans, Bevin said he anticipates returning to the private sector. He offered no specifics, saying: “I'm blessed to have options."
Before becoming governor, Bevin founded several companies and invested in others. He managed and expanded multiple businesses, ranging from manufacturing and software to investment management and medical devices.
“I love the private sector," he said. “I love turning ideas into companies and creating wealth from nothing and creating jobs from nothing."
Bevin, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, said he has spoken with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials multiple times since his election loss.
Asked if he'd like to work in Trump's administration, Bevin replied: “I don't really love government but I'm willing to do what is necessary where there's a need. And so we'll see."