Beshear pledges to name a union person as labor secretary

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories on the Fancy Farm picnic weekend festivities.

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Stumping for union votes at Paducah’s 2007 Labor Day picnic, Steve Beshear promised the crowd that if he got elected governor, he’d name a union person as labor secretary.

His son, Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear, made the same pledge before he spoke at last night’s 13th annual Alben Barkley Dinner, also in Paducah.

"I believe in a labor cabinet that has deep relationships with organized labor," Beshear said. He came with Jaqueline Coleman, his running mate.  

"In the end, all organized labor asks [the cabinet]...to do is follow the law and enforce the law—to make sure that we have safe workplaces, to treat people fairly, to make sure everybody is getting a shot--and to make sure, for instance, that misclassification doesn’t happen. Why? Because it’s illegal. Everybody has to follow the law."

Steve Beshear, a Democrat like his offspring, defeated Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. He named J.R. Gray as his first labor secretary. A veteran state representative, Gray had been a Machinists union official.

Gray was succeeded by Mark Brown, who had been a state representative, too, and a union pipefitter. Beshear's last labor secretary was Larry Roberts, a director of the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council. 

Since Republican Matt Bevin was elected governor in 2015, "there has been an all-out attack on working families just like there has been an all-out attack on public education," said Beshear, whom the Kentucky State AFL-CIO endorsed both times he ran for attorney general. 

In 2016, the GOP took the House for the first time since 1921, and labor's firewall against anti-union legislation came crashing down. 

Beshear cited a slew of anti-labor bills that followed--"everything from passing ‘right to work,’ [to] repealing the prevailing wage."

Bevin turned "the labor cabinet into a group that bragged about not fighting [employer] workplace violations and blowing up the OSHA board and eliminating it," Beshear said. "We see attack after attack--changing the workers comp law so that people who have been injured can’t get the rightful recoupment that they need to live their lives."

Steve Beshear said organized labor played a key role in his election going on 11 years ago and in his reelection in 2011.

Andy Beshear is counting on strong labor support if he is the Democratic nominee. "Organized labor played a big role in my victory as attorney general," he said. "I think what organized labor and everyone else has seen is that they’ve got a fighter for the right things that is willing to stand up to Gov. Bevin and not back down, but has also stood up to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Over and over when they are doing harm to Kentuckians, that has filed suit or has stood up for families because at the end of the day, I’m a dad with two kids, too."   

Beshear said he wants "to make sure that every single worker is appreciated and that we are giving everybody a shot at that better life. What you will see in the governor’s office with me is a friend of labor that understands that our commonwealth is about working families, that fights for better paying jobs, that wants a commonwealth where we’re not third to last [among the 50 states] in wage growth." 

Beshear is the first candidate to announce for governor. Bevin has yet to say if he will seek a second term.

Although crucial state House and Senate races loom on Nov. 6, Beshear tossed his hat in the ring last month.

"Compared to the last two cycles, I jumped in later. [Then Democratic Attorney Gen.] Jack Conway announced in May, a year-and-a-half out. Steve Beshear did, too. But Jaqueline and I made our decision to announce because we thought our vision is badly needed here in Kentucky."

He said their vision is "of prioritizing public education, of fighting this opioid epidemic with real solutions, of creating good paying jobs. We see people who are out there struggling, and that message is more important now than ever, and we believe it works with these legislative races. We’ve been at events, drawing big crowds, being able to take all the energy and just add to it."

Besides Beshear, other speakers at the feed included House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, a potential challenger to Beshear for the Democratic gubernatorial nod. He said he won't decide whether to run until after the fall elections.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes also spoke. She, too, is often mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor. She didn't hint at a gubernatorial bid. Instead she urged the crowd to send Democrats to Frankfort in November. 

"I think wanted me here because I'm kind of what you call an endangered species," she joshed. "Statewide elected, Democrat, female and in the South."   

"Isn't this exciting," Beshear started off with a grin. "You look around, you see the number of Democrats in this room.

"You see the energy we have. And it's not just that we're here and it's not just that we're going to win lot of races; it's that we're going to change this commonwealth for the better."

Atkins spoke last. He said he'd been traveling the state ginning up support for Democrats running for the legislature. "I can tell you that this crowd here tonight does not surprise me because I have seen these crowds all over Kentucky and it energizes me to see these crowds that I have seen."

He added, "These crowds aren't not just sitting there to be sitting there. The crowds are energized and they're ready to go because they've had enough and you've had enough."

A quintet of state AFL-CIO endorsed Democratic legislative candidates spoke. They included House hopefuls Desiree Owen of Barlow, Charlotte Goddard of Pottsville, Martha Emmons of Paducah, Linda Story Edwards of Benton and Julie Tennyson of Paducah, who is running for the state Senate.

Also taking his turn at the mike was state AFL-CIO endorsed Dr. Paul Walker, a Murray State University English professor and the Democratic standard bearer for Congress in the First District.

In addition, Democratic House candidate David Ramey of Murray was in the crowd, and recognized. Abigail Barnes of Salem also earned a shout-out. She was campaigning and had to miss the feed.

Ramey and Barnes are state AFL-CIO endorsed.

The McCracken County Democratic Party hosts the event, which is named for Vice President Alben Barkley of Paducah. The Graves County born-Barkley was also a congressman and Senate majority and minority leader. 

Michael Murphy, party chair, said the crowd was the largest ever. He said about 280 people packed the Walker Hall events center in downtown Paducah.

"We had people who came from as far as Whitesburg, Louisville and Lexington," he said. "I think it reflects the enthusiasm we're seeing for Democratic candidates this year."