Last week we learned Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration removed former first lady Jane Beshear’s name from a building on the grounds of the Kentucky Capitol.
There hasn’t been much offered to explain why the Beshear name was erased from the Capitol Education Center, but the rift between Bevin and his predecessor, Gov. Steve Beshear, is no secret. Each has accused the other of corrupt governing, while the Beshears’ son, Attorney General Andy Beshear, leads legal challenges to Bevin’s cuts to the state budget and orders removing members of state boards. In addition, Bevin booted the former first lady from the Kentucky Horse Park Commission not long after her husband made the appointment.
Although we wish elected officials weren’t so quick to bestow privileges and honors on family members, we know Gov. Beshear named the Capitol Education Center for his wife because he said she was largely responsible for landing donations to equip facility. This included a $250,000 gift from Duke Energy. The building previously housed mechanical equipment but had been vacant before it became the Capitol Education Center. It’s now a welcoming center for guests on the capitol grounds.
Granted, we frequently see elected officials naming taxpayer-funded buildings, bridges and roads for political figures and wonder why they haven’t considered a luminary from another walk of life — such as an educator, an inventor or an artist. Even though some politicians who are memorialized in this way are influential and exemplary, there are times when this tradition seems too self-serving.
In the same way, the Bevin administration’s decision to pull Jane Beshear’s name from a state capitol building last week appears to be a self-serving move. Bevin and the Beshears are at odds, and since Bevin’s the one in office now, he has the authority to do this. But simply having the authority to do something doesn’t mean it is advisable or in good taste.
Imagine how confusing and irritating it would be if more of our public places went through name changes based on the political winds of the day. Think of all the state parkways that have been named for politicians — including our Pennyrile Parkway with the added Edward T. Breathitt designation in honor of the Hopkinsville Democrat who served as Kentucky’s governor from 1963-67. Oak Grove has a library named for the former mayor, Colleen Ochs, a name chosen by her husband, Dan Potter, who followed her as mayor.
And in Hopkinsville, there’s the James E. Bruce Convention Center — which, by the way, saw a brief period of controversy when the late Kentucky lawmaker’s colleagues tied state funding strings to their desire that the facility be named for Bruce. Thank goodness no one in Hopkinsville tried to retract the name after Bruce died or after some of his supporters had left the state House. That would have been vindictive and tacky.
Political battles will come and go. A conflict that seems significant and worth the fight today might not pass that test in 20 or 30 years. Removing Jane Beshear’s name from a state building looks like an over-reaction — and over-reach — by Bevin.
The Kentucky New Era