The announcement of the single largest economic development project and jobs announcement in Kentucky’s history is also a lightning strike moment for re-election that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will need to win a second term in a red state.
Beshear has inked a deal that will be part of his epitaph with the $5.8 billion investment from Ford, bringing 5,000 Kentucky jobs, the influx of high-tech engineers, scientists, and suppliers for the wave of the future electric car battery industry, this governor will be held in rare air amongst other elected officials and takeaway negatives GOP operatives were waiting to throw at him.
The project was officially unveiled on Tuesday from a podium erected in front of the state Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky. With the announcement, Beshear adds a lifetime achievement and a solid reason for Kentuckians to keep him in place in 2023. He also removes a strategic arrow from the quiver of Republicans.
The project from Ford, the locally beloved company with roots dating back to Henry Ford, will pace perfectly along with the backdrop of a gubernatorial election two years away for Beshear. It also takes away the largest hanging issue for the governor – the economy and jobs in a generationally impoverished state.
“After today everything is different,” Beshear said from the podium on Tuesday. “Our future is now.”
Likely GOP gubernatorial contenders Mike Harmon, Kelly Craft, Ryan Quarles, Savannah Maddox, Alan Keck, and others will have to decide in the coming days whether to lean in on an economic deal that many will be celebrating, or if they can somehow make an argument that they would be better served in the role from an economic perspective.
Republicans were predictably planning on talking about unemployment and the economy, but when Beshear puts thousands of Kentuckians in high-paying tech jobs that add to a hundred-year legacy company – it’s going to be very difficult to make a counterargument.
State lawmakers in the General Assembly have already sought to make the announcement about Republican policies enacted since the GOP took the House in 2017, making both bodies in the legislature under single-party control. The first statement positioning the announcement in a Republican policy context came from House Speaker David Osborne, R-Crestwood, on Tuesday.
“(Ford’s) decision to expand their presence as part of their relationship with SK Innovation is proof that the policies crafted by the legislature are making Kentucky a better place to work and build a business,” Osborne said in a statement. “Broadening the tax base, while lowering tax rates; cutting unnecessary bureaucracy; and allowing hardworking people to keep more of the money they earn will spur even more job growth.”
Bringing the largest single investment in North American car manufacturing history does not happen every day, and as former President John F. Kennedy said, “victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
Beshear can share the stage, laud those around him in help bringing the economic investment, and still leave with the accolade, it’s the benefit of being the chief executive. As Kennedy found out after the Bay of Pigs, it can also be the downfall.
We can flip back through the pages of Kentucky history 36-years to Dec. 1985 to find Martha Layne Collins, another Democratic governor announcing Toyota Motor Manufacturing would break ground in Georgetown, Kentucky, the following year. Collins brought the car manufacturer to the state, a move that provides nearly $6 billion in economic investment, and employs thousands. Toyota broke ground in 1986, and by May of 1988 the first Camry rolled off the assembly line.
To this day, Martha Layne Collins is known by nearly every Kentuckian for this singular accomplishment. It’s because of the profound impact Toyota has had on countless Kentucky families. Martha Layne Collins served her single term from 1983 to 1986, but because of a Kentucky law at the time, was only eligible for the single stint in the governor’s mansion. To this day, Collins is still interrupted around the state and thanked for bringing Toyota to Kentucky.
Former Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy Beshear’s father, served as Lt. Gov. when Marth Layne Collins was in office. The younger Beshear had an up-close seat as an 8-year old for Gov. Collins moves in unveiling Toyota to Kentucky.
With two years left to campaign, undercutting GOP arguments on the economy, and plenty of ribbon-cutting worthy moments to come in the next two years, Beshear may have the makings of something once thought improbable a second massively defining moment after taking on the pandemic, and the makings of a second term in office.