OP-ED: Words mattered in Kentucky campaign. Words will matter in the days ahead

Linda Blackford
Lexington Herald-Leader (TNS)
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, right, with his wife Glenna, speaks to supporters gathered at the republican party celebration event in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

What can we make of Tuesday’s tight and contentious election results?

“Words matter,” pundit Steve Robertson said. And he’s right.

They mattered in the voting booth. And they’ll matter in the days ahead.

Attorney General Andy Beshear appeared to win the Kentucky governor’s office Tuesday by about 5,100 votes in unofficial totals, but Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede, citing numerous irregularities without providing any examples.

While the rest of the Republican slate won in convincing fashion, Bevin’s apparent loss was due entirely to Matt Bevin. Bevin paid for his harsh speech and his arrogant manner in the past four years. Words mattered when Bevin insulted teachers, judges, unions, reporters. Words mattered even more than Donald Trump and his much-celebrated rally in Rupp Arena, which were not enough to pull Bevin out of his unpopular hole. “You can’t let that happen to me!” Trump bellowed Monday night to nearly 20,000 people. But enough Kentuckians did, rejecting if not Trumpian policies, then Trumpian manners and miens.

(Trump, of course, quickly cast off Bevin Tuesday night, while taking credit for the victories of all the other Republican candidates.)

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According to initial vote returns, Beshear’s words about issues like education and health care, helped him win Fayette County, the site of Trump’s rally Monday night, by bigger margins than Amy McGrath, Jack Conway and even his dad in previous elections. He even won places like Kenton County, usually a Republican stronghold, and Madison, which McGrath lost last year. While Beshear only squeaked by in Madison and Scott, two usually reliably Republican counties, he had a commanding lead in Woodford, and he crushed Bevin in Franklin County, the place that has the most up-close access to Bevin.

Words will continue to matter now. On Monday night, Trump joked about staying in office past eight years, but as with many of his “jokes,” there is intent below, or at least a seeding of an idea, no matter how absurd. Let’s hope Bevin will reject these kinds of tactics, and if it turns out as it seems, that Beshear did win by several thousand votes, that Bevin will accept those results with grace instead of rudeness. If he knows of actual irregularities, then he should say what they are and not play this coy finger pointing with something so serious.

As Republican state Rep. Jason Nemes noted on social media Wedesday, “if there is evidence of fraud or illegalities, as was alluded to last night, Governor Bevin should state his claim immediately and let the evidence be reviewed. But this is not an opportunity for a fishing expedition or a chance to overturn the election result. Governor-elect Beshear is entitled to the democratic legitimacy that comes with loser’s consent. So let’s go through the process honorably and expeditiously and give it to him.”

According to my colleague Daniel Desrochers, Bevin has until Nov. 12 to request a recanvass, but it’s unlikely that would change the outcome. He would still have 30 days to contest the election with the General Assembly and ask for an actual recount.

On Wednesday, Beshear noted that politics ended on Tuesday night, and now governing needs to begin. Naive but true. This campaign was ugly in the extreme; for the good of Kentucky, the transition should be made in a more polite and less political fashion.

— Linda Blackford writes columns and commentary for the Herald-Leader.