Republican state Rep. Robert Goforth offered a stinging rebuke of Gov. Matt Bevin on Tuesday as he opened his campaign to challenge the incumbent in this year's primary.
Goforth, a relative newcomer to the legislature, repudiated Bevin's leadership style as one of "arrogance, scorn and hateful ridicule," and offered a populist message he said contrasts with Bevin's "corporate-first agenda."
"We need a governor who listens more than he lectures," Goforth said at his kickoff event in London, Kentucky. "We need a governor who leads more than he lambasts."
Goforth also introduced Lawrence County Attorney Mike Hogan as his running mate. Hogan, a veteran prosecutor from northeastern Kentucky, brings statewide experience to the ticket, having narrowly lost the GOP primary for attorney general in 2015.
Goforth planned to become the first Republican to file candidacy papers with the secretary of state's office to challenge Bevin's re-election bid. Bevin has said he'll run for another term, but he has yet to file for the office or begin to raise money. Kentucky is one of three states that will elect governors in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.
Bevin's approval ratings plummeted after he criticized public workers who opposed his efforts to change the state's struggling public pension plans.
Looking to capitalize on Bevin's handling of the pension debate, Goforth said: "Our people are tired of being talked down to and maligned by someone who thinks he is better than us, that he alone has all the answers to the problems that we face."
Just weeks into his tenure in the legislature, Goforth was among several GOP lawmakers who bucked their party leadership to oppose last year's changes to the state's public pension systems. The measure stirred massive protests by teachers at the state Capitol and later was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Kentucky's pension systems are among the worst funded in the country.
Goforth, a pharmacist, represents a rural district covering Jackson and parts of Laurel and Madison counties. The Republican from East Bernstadt won a special election last February to replace former GOP Rep. Marie Rader, who resigned because of health reasons. Goforth won a full term last November.
Introducing himself to a statewide audience, Goforth said Tuesday that he grew up in poverty and dropped out of school to help his family. He earned his GED and served in the Army before going to college and becoming a pharmacist. He built a small chain of pharmacies.
"I have lived a life that is uniquely Kentucky," he said.
Goforth also touted his conservative credentials during his opening campaign event. Like Bevin, Goforth opposes abortion and supports gun rights. Goforth pre-filed bills for the 2019 legislative session that would further restrict abortions and expand the state's concealed carry law for gun owners.
On the Democratic side, candidates for governor include Attorney General Andy Beshear, state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, former state Auditor Adam Edelen and Geoff Young, a former state employee who has run for office repeatedly.