Gov. Steve Beshear used his inaugural celebration Tuesday to begin a new push to expand the types of gambling allowed in Kentucky.
The second-term Democrat said amending the constitution to allow more gambling could generate needed revenue for state government. That would not only require action by the state legislature, but also approval by Kentucky voters.
“We’re going to go all out to try to get the expanded gambling on the ballot this year,” Beshear told reporters on the first day of his second term.
Kentucky has a long tradition of betting on horse races. But political leaders have been reluctant to open the state to slot machines or other casino-style games.
Beshear arrived at the Capitol on Tuesday in a horse-drawn carriage, kicking off a day of inaugural festivities that include swearing publicly that he has never fought a duel with deadly weapons.
The Dawson Springs native, accompanied by his wife, was trailed by a parade of other newly elected state officials and scores of high school marching bands that snaked along Frankfort streets on an overcast day with temperatures in the upper 40s.
Beshear directed his aides to make his second inauguration more accommodating to Kentuckians who want to take part, moving the inaugural worship service from a church setting to the Frankfort Convention Center. But regulars said attendance was off sharply.
“This is the worst turnout I’ve ever seen,” said John Conway, a Frankfort resident who has been watching the state’s inaugural parades for the past 40 years. “I blame the economy and I blame politics.”
(Members of the Letcher County Central and Jenkins High School marching bands formed an allcounty band and were part of the 54 marching bands to participate in the inauguration parade. The band members performed a medley of “America,” “America the Beautiful” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”)
In his inaugural speech, Beshear called for Kentucky’s political leaders to put partisan politics aside to do what’s best for the state. But in the same speech, he repeated his proposal for expanding gambling, which has been one of the most divisive issues in recent years. Anti-gambling lawmakers who have derailed Beshear’s separate pushes in the past for stand-alone casinos and for slots at horse tracks quickly voiced opposition.
“We’ve been down that course in the past, and I’d just like to see us move beyond there,” said Rep. Danny Ford, R-Mount Vernon, one of the state’s most vocal gambling opponents.
Beshear, who overwhelmingly won re-election after an especially divisive general election campaign, had kicked off daylong inaugural festivities with a worship service in the Frankfort Convention Center, where religious leaders urged him to seek guidance from God.
“We are in error if we think we can build a better tomorrow on our own,” said F. Bruce Williams, pastor of Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Louisville during the worship service that included remarks from evangelical Christian leaders, a Catholic bishop and a Jewish rabbi.
Beshear, son of a Baptist preacher, was officially sworn in for a second term during a private midnight ceremony but will repeat the oath of office again in a public ceremony outside the Capitol.
Bill McDonald, minister at Crestwood Christian Church in Lexington, said Beshear and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson have already had remarkable political careers. “But this term may well bring you to the defining moment of your service,” McDonald said. “At the end of this term, may the people of our commonwealth say to you that you seemed to be led by an inner light, that you cared about them as if they were family.”
Some 300 people watched at the midnight service as Beshear recited the traditional and archaic constitutional oath that requires him to swear that he has never fought a duel with deadly weapons, a holdover from Kentucky’s frontier days.
Beshear, 67, is only the third Kentucky governor to serve consecutive four- year terms. The Democrat easily overcame challenges from Republican Senate President David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith in a conservative state where voters routinely elect Republicans in national races. Both challengers blamed Beshear for not doing enough to improve Kentucky’s economy in the midst of a lingering national recession.
In brief remarks after being sworn in, Beshear acknowledged that Kentucky has gone through “a difficult time” over the past four years of economic recession, but added, “I am excited about the future of our state.”
Beshear has a broad political resume, having served as a state legislator, attorney general and lieutenant governor before political setbacks pushed him into private law practice through his middle-aged years. He returned to the political scene in 2007 when he defeated Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a Republican whose term in office was marred by a hiring scandal.
In his speech, Beshear asked political leaders to “reject the politics of division and intolerance.”
“Kentucky must resist becoming another voice in Washington’s acrimonious shouting match,” Beshear said. “After all, shouting doesn’t foster unity. It only makes people cover their ears.”
Beshear said he found trust in government scarce when he arrived in the governor’s office four years ago.
“And like governors before me, I was stunned by a destructive atmosphere that had come to be known as the ‘culture of Frankfort,’” he said. “Partisan rancor so strong that consensus was almost impossible.”
Beshear also warned in the speech that “hard times are not over.”
“While the economy and state revenues are beginning to recover, the lingering effects of the recession pose immense challenges,” he said. “Difficult decisions loom. And more sacrifice lies ahead because our next budget may be the most challenging yet. We can and we will fight through these challenges, but we will have to stand together to do it.”