Infrastructure turns into a theme in election-season speeches at Kentucky ham breakfast

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that building roads and bridges shouldn’t be a partisan matter, but his Republican opponent in the governor’s race tried to deflect any credit away from the incumbent Democrat for a burst of projects underway.

The influx of infrastructure spending turned into a theme in some speeches at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s country ham breakfast — a late-summer tradition that attracts leaders in politics, business and education. Beshear gave updates on three massive projects, while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell touted the 2021 federal infrastructure measure as a “much-needed gift” for his home state and the country.

McConnell said the infrastructure bill exemplified what the public expects from Republicans and Democrats — to "look for things you can agree on and do those.”

“I had watched the last two administrations struggle with trying to put together an infrastructure bill," Kentucky's senior senator said. “When it finally developed, as a result of a compromise in the Senate, that we could actually do something that both sides had been trying to do, I supported it. I’m proud of it.”

The measure will pump more than $6 billion in federal funding into Kentucky over five years to improve the state’s roads, bridges, railroads, riverports, airports, broadband and more, his office said Thursday.

The speeches occurred as Beshear and his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, jockey for advantage ahead of the November election in the state's hotly contested campaign for governor. Cameron spoke with reporters at the ham breakfast, but in accordance with tradition — which strictly limits which officeholders get time at the podium — he didn't get to address the large crowd.

Afterward, Cameron weighed in on the federal infrastructure measure while deflecting credit away from Beshear for the flurry of projects underway.

“I’m grateful for what Sen. McConnell did as it relates to the infrastructure package," Cameron told reporters. "Grateful for the bipartisan support on that. It’s helping fund projects. I know Andy Beshear tries to take credit for those things. But that was because of the work of Sen. McConnell and others in the United States Senate that that package got passed. And we’re seeing some of the benefits of that.”

Cameron is a protege of McConnell, having worked as the senator’s legal counsel. McConnell strongly backs Cameron's bid for governor but didn't comment directly on the campaign in his speech Thursday.

In his remarks, Beshear touched on his main campaign themes — the state's record-setting economic development achievements during his tenure and his support for big pay raises for public school employees, state-funded pre-K for all 4-year-olds and increased funding for student transportation.

Pointing to the state's economic momentum, the governor said: “What it means is we have a chance to be the generations that change everything — that turn our brain drain into a brain gain."

Beshear touted progress on three mega-projects for the Bluegrass State — building a new Ohio River bridge connecting Kentucky and Ohio without tolls, widening and extending the Mountain Parkway in eastern Kentucky, and constructing another Ohio River bridge to close a gap in Interstate 69 linking western Kentucky and Indiana. Beshear said his administration has shepherded the progress, working with the neighboring states on those bridge projects.

The Democrat continued to downplay partisan politics as he seeks reelection in his deeply red state.

“I believe that a good job isn’t Democrat or Republican,” he said. "A bridge isn’t red or blue. That clean drinking water and the expansion of high-speed internet are critical for every single Kentucky family.”

In a speech later Thursday in Louisville, Cameron took aim at the many statewide events headlined by Beshear to announce funding projects for communities statewide. It's an inherent advantage of incumbency practiced by governors from both parties.

“Our current governor has certainly gotten good at taking photos and passing out other people’s money," Cameron said. "But at the end of the day, not so good at addressing some of those foundational issues that are important to our communities. In fact, in many ways our foundation is eroding underneath us.”

Those foundational issues include public safety and a quality education system, Cameron said. Many students suffered “generational learning loss” from pandemic-era school closures, he said.

Hitting back on Beshear's economic record, Cameron said Kentuckians are still squeezed by high inflation, and the state struggles with one of the country's worst workforce participation rates. The Republican nominee said he soon will release his plan for Kentucky's economy.

“We will reinvigorate the culture that respects work, not one that settles for government dependence," Cameron said. "My plan will lift up every Kentuckian who works hard, plays by the rules and wants their children to have a better life.”