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Beshear exercises hands-on approach to leadership role




FRANKFORT

Kentucky’s next governor says he’s open to new ideas and bipartisan input – but ultimately, he will make the decisions and stand behind them.

“I’m the one in the end who has to give the direction to this government,” said Gov.-elect Steve Beshear, who takes the reins of state government on Dec. 11. “And I’ve got to set the agenda for this government. That requires a governor who’s going to be out front and leading those around him toward the goals that we’ve set.”

Beshear, a former Democratic lieutenant governor, made an unlikely political comeback to win election last week. He hadn’t held office in two decades and only ran for governor because he couldn’t recruit another candidate. Beshear cruised to a 20-percentage point victory over Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

He had made leadership a key issue in the race, and has already begun flexing his gubernatorial muscles.

Beshear already has urged the state Board of Education to reopen a search for a commissioner, saying an uncertain political climate that prevailed during the governor’s race may have deterred qualified candidates from applying for the job. Board members are considering his request.

The governor-elect, who takes office on Dec. 11, is a strong leader, but not one who rushes ahead with an idea without listening to the advice of those around him, said Kennedy Helm III, chairman of Stites & Harbison, the multistate law firm that has a Lexington office where Beshear formerly worked as a managing partner.

“He would seek a lot of opinions, but once the time came to make a decision, he didn’t hesitate,” Helm said. “He is the kind of person who is open to new ideas, open to different points of view, a good listener.”

Jim Cauley, the Democratic strategist who served as Beshear’s campaign manager and has been tapped to be his chief of staff, said the incoming governor is the kind of leader people enjoy serving under, or, more accurately, alongside.

Cauley said Beshear isn’t a topdown manager.

“It’s like we all kind of come together and when we walk out the door we’re all rolling in the right direction,” Cauley said. “He’s very good at getting us all kind of pointed, focused in the right way.”

Even during the campaign, Cauley said, Beshear resisted the temptation to second-guess his advisers – even on where he and when he would make political appearances.

“There were times with his schedule he would have liked to have micromanaged it,” Cauley said. “But he said you all tell me where I need to go and let’s go. He was never a micro-manager.”

Beshear, a Lexington attorney, had climbed the political ladder in the 1970s and 1980s as a state legislator, attorney general and lieutenant governor. He lost two subsequent elections for governor and U.S. senator.

Now that he has won the coveted position, Beshear said has several primary goals, including expanding medical benefits to some 81,000 children in the state who current have no health insurance. He also wants to improve government benefits to senior citizens so that none has to choose between buying medicine or food.

He has proposed paying for the programs by persuading lawmakers and voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos in Kentucky. By allowing about 10 casinos to open, Beshear said, the state could reap $500,000 in tax revenues.

Those issues were key in his campaign, and he has begun putting together a management team to help him implement them. He named current state Treasurer Jonathan Miller as his finance secretary last week. Lexington businessman Phil Osborne, owner of a public relations firm, will be his chief communications officer.

“I’m going to surround myself with the best people I can find, regardless of their political affiliation,” Beshear said. “I will be a very hands-on governor, but I’m also going to give those people that I surround myself with the ability to perform their duties.”


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