FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin said “bringing integrity back to Frankfort” is one of the accomplishments he touted during a look back on his four years in office during an interview Tuesday with Kentucky Today.
“We’ve cleaned out the corruption, we’ve stopped the policy of ‘pay to play,’” he said. “No longer do you need to pay money to get a seat on a university board or the horse racing commission, or things of that sort. No longer when you bid for a contract in this state do you have to worry about whether you paid off the right people. That’s not hypothetical, that’s literally what has gone on for years and years.”
Bevin said “setting new standards for what good government looks like” is as noteworthy as anything that happened during his tenure.
But there was much more to consider during his time as Kentucky’s governor. Reforming the state’s adoption and foster care system ranks high on the list for Bevin, who has four adopted children himself.
Adoption numbers improve
“In the last year, we’ve seen adoptions in the state go up by 37.5 percent,” he said. “We’ve seen significant increases in the number of people not just thinking about it, or talking about it, or going to seminars to learn about it, but to actually adopt children. And it’s a trend that is now other states are looking at and copying, and that’s a good thing.”
A rise in those taking in foster children is also on the rise, he said.
“I’ve seen the number of people that are foster families increase,” Bevin said. “We have over 1,000 more foster families than we had just four years ago. And increasingly more well-qualified than ever before. We’ve held a higher threshold of the caliber of family that we want, the things we expect of them, and that’s good for our children because we have great need there.”
Bevin says that is all part of his focus on life itself. He has been a champion of pro-life with 10 “solid pieces of pro-life legislation” signed into law.
A voice for the unborn
“Not only for these children that are born and are in state custody, but those that are unborn,” he said. “Just the respect for human life from beginning to end.”
The same holds true at the other end of the spectrum, Bevin said. “As people age, the respect that we show people in their later years, the dignity and the value that we place on every human life, that’s been a hallmark of this administration. I think you’ve seen that evidenced by the people in our Cabinet for Health and Family Services, our Department for Community-based Services. You’ve never seen people as intentional, as hands-on, as responsive, as genuinely involved as you’ve seen for the last four years.”
He says there is still a lot of work to be done, not only by Governor-Elect Andy Beshear, but his successors.
“Nothing that we’ve talked about is going to be fully resolved in four or even 14 years. You probably need 40 years, a generation or two, to really change, systemically change, permanently change the culture of a place. As long as there is any child who needs a home, then arguably, not enough has been done.”
He says this also applies to foster children and the unborn.
Pension system bankrupt
Another long-term and sometimes controversial issue he has tried to address is the public pension system.
“This is a multi-trillion-dollar problem in America. It’s a scores of billions of dollars problem here in Kentucky, and the system is failing. It’s failing quickly and it will fail if people are not willing and able to make hard decisions,” Bevin said. “They’re not pleasant, they’re not fun. I’m the only Governor in the history of Kentucky that’s ever talked about it or done anything about it. If people think, ‘Good, now that guy’s gone, we don’t have to talk about it,’ that’s the beginning of the end.”
Bevin termed the system essentially bankrupt. “It’s being propped up only by how much money we can take from the 90 percent of people that’ll never get a state pension.”
He fears that the administration of Andy Beshear will be bringing in people who are already in lower-paying state government positions that will “spike” their pensions with six-figure incomes.
“Not one person who came into this administration, including people like Scott Brinkman [a former long-time state lawmaker who served as Bevin’s Secretary of the Cabinet], and others who have worked in state government in the past. Every single person that came in here signed a pledge that they would not spike their pension. They would not allow their service to this state to be used to benefit themselves at the expense of the taxpayer. I would like to think we would see the same from the incoming administration. Time will tell.”
He says the only way to save the pension system is to structurally change it for new hires, and then force governors and legislatures of the future to fully fund it through level dollar funding for at least the next 30 years.
Bevin says the past four years have seen unprecedented economic development. “The highest number of exports of things made here in Kentucky. The most people ever working in the history of Kentucky. The highest level of workforce participation rate, lowest level of unemployment. The highest amount of per capita income that we’ve ever had in history, and in fact, over the last four years per capita income in Kentucky grew faster than in every single state around us. That’s never happened before.”
What's next for Bevin?
As for his future plans, he said, “Time will tell.”
“The wonderful thing about America is that the American dream is real. It’s a real thing, it exists for very single person, and I’m grateful to live in a country like that,” he said.
“I love the private sector, I love serving other people, I like creating opportunities, I love kids and want to create opportunity for people who have been dealt short shrift in life and give them opportunities. I love global trade and policy. So there’s so many things that the future holds for the next step.”