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With Republican challengers seizing on the state's COVID response, Beshear downplays pandemic politics as emergency ends

Governor's Office

GOP candidates for governor have all lobbed criticism at Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s response to the pandemic, characterizing his administration’s actions as government overreach. With Thursday’s end of the COVID public health emergency, Beshear had a chance to assess his record during the crisis.

Republican gubernatorial candidates see a political opening when it comes to the pandemic, and several are banking on what they see as the unpopularity of more restrictive orders signed by the governor at the height of the crisis.

"Governor Beshear ignored the constitution and shut churches down, so I took him to court and fought to reopen churches so we could come together to worship," Attorney General Daniel Cameron says in the opening of one of his first TV ads, referring to Beshear's temporary emergency order in 2020 making it a misdemeanor to attend mass gatherings of people as a handful of churches ignored recommendations to go virtual.

But with COVID long on the decline, the issue has been out of the spotlight during Gov. Beshear’s weekly Team Kentucky updates. Thursday was an exception, with both Beshear and state health commissioner Dr. Steven Stack revisited the topic as the official emergency ends.

The governor wasn't asked directly about the politicization of the pandemic, but in response to a question about the legacy of the outbreak and the state’s response, Beshear kept the focus on the teamwork it took to combat the virus.

"Even through all of the years and everything else of kind of the crazy politics that came in, I saw the vast majority of Kentuckians just wanted to do the right thing by their loved ones," Beshear said. "And you look at healthcare heroes and others and how hard they fought... truly special."

Commissioner Stack recalled his interactions with health leaders and communities across the state.

"Everywhere, regardless of rural or urban, or political party, everywhere I encounter people who are grateful. They're grateful that in a difficult time, people came together, they tried to be straight shooters and share information, and people did the best they could. It didn't mean we always agreed. We certainly didn't always agree, but people did the best they could," the commissioner said.

That sense of a general unity on the COVID front will again be tested – this time politically – as Republicans select their candidate for governor on May 16. While all of the top tier candidates have been critical of Beshear’s handling of the crisis, frontrunner Daniel Cameron has made his legal challenges against the governor’s pandemic policies a centerpiece of his campaign.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.