FRANKFORT (AP) — Referring to himself as the “tip of the spear” for Kentucky, Matt Bevin took the oath of office to become Kentucky’s 62nd governor during an invitation-only ceremony just after midnight in the state capitol.
Bevin succeeds Democrat Steve Beshear, who could not seek re-election because of term limits. His election was historic, becoming only the ninth Republican governor in the state’s 223-year history, the second one in more than four decades. And Jenean Hampton, his lieutenant governor running mate, becomes the first black person to ever hold statewide elected office in Kentucky.
“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to be the tip of the spear for the commonwealth of Kentucky,” Bevin told about 200 people in brief remarks after taking the oath. “If we truly love one another, if we look out for one another, if we have each other’s back, if Republican and Democrat alike, if we rise to the occasion that has been presented to us, a fresh start to a new day, then the greatest days of the commonwealth of Kentucky are indeed yet to come.”
Bevin took the oath of office with his hand on a Bible that belonged to his eldest daughter, Brittiney, who was killed in a car accident in 2003.
Hours later, at his inaugural worship service Tuesday morning, the last entry of the 17-year-old’s prayer journal was read to the crowd: “My dangerous prayer is that You’ll place broken-hearted people in my path and fill me with You so that I can let Your love heal their pain,” she wrote.
A full day of events was underway Tuesday, including a worship service, a parade and a public swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol steps.
Bevin walked at the front of the inaugural parade, stopping along the way to shake hands with people who lined the streets on the clear, sunny morning.
Academy Award-winning actor Jon Voight rode in a convertible near the front of the route.
Voight said he has kept up with the Kentucky race and recently struck up a friendship with Bevin.
“As a person, I admire him very much. I think Kentucky is blessed to have this fellow in leadership now. Let’s see what happens. The exciting thing about Matt Bevin is he’s got so much energy and he’s so bright,” Voight said.
A businessman from Louisville, Bevin has never held public office. He was born in Denver, Colorado, but grew up as one of six children in a three-bedroom house in rural New Hampshire. He spent four years in the Army before going to work in the financial industry. He came to Kentucky in 1999, where he eventually started his own investment firm that he later sold. He now owns all or part of 10 different companies, ranging from a bell manufacturer in Connecticut to a medical device company.
Active in tea party circles, Bevin supported Rand Paul’s surprising Senate victory in 2010. In 2014, Bevin challenged U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary, only to lose badly following months of negative TV ads that questioned his integrity. He re-emerged in January as one of four people seeking the Republican nomination for governor. As the top two candidates battled on the airwaves, Bevin offered himself as a positive alternative. He won by 83 votes, one of the closest elections in state history.
Bevin campaigned on undoing much of Beshear’s health care reforms, including repealing the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program and the state-run health exchange, programs that had given health insurance to more than half a million people. He argued taxpayers could not afford to have 25 percent of the state’s population on Medicaid despite the health benefits gained by more people having access to health care.
But it was Bevin’s message of “vote your values, not your party” that likely resonated with a majority of Kentucky’s conservative voters who were energized after a county clerk went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bevin won 106 out of 120 counties, including many poor counties with sizeable populations receiving Medicaid benefits.
At a worship service Tuesday morning attended by some 1,500, Rev. Dave Stone, from Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, prayed that “when the going gets tough,” Bevin will “choose the more difficult right rather than the easier wrong.”
Bevin sat in the front row, as Christian pastors sang and prayed.
Pastor Hershael York of Buck Run Baptist Church said that Bevin is governor of people “or all faiths or no faith. But he is unquestionably, openly, confessionally a man of deep faith, specifically a faith in Jesus Christ.”
As governor, Bevin now has about two months to write a two-year state spending plan for lawmakers to debate in the upcoming legislative session. The budget will have to address massive shortfalls in the state’s largest public pension plans, along with how to pay for the expanded Medicaid population that Bevin wants to eventually repeal.