Former state Auditor Adam Edelen made his case Wednesday to be the state’s next governor by stating that Kentucky must modernize.
“Kentucky can build the future, or be run over by it,” Edelen said at Bowling Green Country Club during a meeting of the Bowling Green Rotary Club.
Edelen, a Democrat, said he is “not running to beat Matt Bevin, although that’s a great fringe benefit.”
So rather than attack the Republican incumbent, Edelen largely outlined his proposals to modernize and diversify the state’s economy.
He touted Bowling Green’s diverse economy as a reason the city “has exploded,” but added that the city can’t “be an island of prosperity in a sea of despair.”
He noted that in many parts of the state, the only place residents can access high-speed internet is at their local McDonald’s.
Edelen called broadband the “infrastructure of our times” and said the state will need public-private partnerships to get broadband coverage across the state. He said that effort is a vital component of a modern economy with better paying jobs.
“There’s no future in a low-skill, low-wage economy,” he said, yet the state is “chasing jobs that don’t exist anymore.”
He said the political class that has been leading Kentucky has lacked the innovation and courage to make needed changes, and instead politicians “with their heads in the sand (are) selling you nostalgia. It’s a battle we are losing.”
Edelen touted a $130 million solar project he is leading outside Pikeville as an example of what is needed to diversify the economy of the state. The project, being done in partnership with a coal company, entails building solar panels on top of a former strip mine and is employing many unemployed coal miners.
“Both parties have given coal miners nothing but rhetoric,” he said. Edelen said his project is giving the former miners modern skills, which will mean “they will never be short of work again.”
He said the state must embrace renewable energy, noting that most large companies are mandating on their own efforts to be more sustainable and ecologically friendly.
He said if the state stays on its current path, it will be a “cheap, knocked-off version of Mississippi.”
Edelen noted that the state successfully diversified in recent decades from an economy largely dependent on tobacco.
“We have gotten this right in the past,” he said, and with the right leadership, can get it right again.
“We can do this because we have done this. We can get big, important things done,” he said.
Edelen also said investments in education and infrastructure like broadband and renewable energy are needed to retain and attract skilled workers.
“We are losing so many of our best and brightest” to cities like Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., he said.
On the state’s troubled pension system, Edelen said a starting point is that the state must “keep our promises to our teachers.”
He said the system will take a while to fix, and one primary problem is the Kentucky Retirement System board, which has displayed “really bad governance,” he said.
Edelen said he supports expanded gambling to increase revenues, but he said he does not believe it will fix all the state’s revenue problems.
Bevin is seeking to have legislators meet in a special session to pass a revised pension bill that would provide some relief to universities and quasi-governmental agencies. Bevin vetoed a version of the bill after it passed the legislature in the last session.
That Bevin at this point cannot get the Republican-controlled legislature to approve the bill is further evidence that the governor is “great at wrecking stuff, awful at putting it back together,” Edelen said.
As chief of staff under then-Gov. Steve Beshear, Edelen said he has a track record of working in a bipartisan way with legislators and would seek to continue that record.
“The call of history requires leaders that are bigger than our divisions,” he said.
The three Democratic front-runners are making consecutive appearances at Bowling Green Rotary Club meetings.
Rocky Adkins, a state representative from Sandy Hook, spoke May 1. Attorney General Andy Beshear is scheduled to speak to Rotary on May 15.
Bevin is opposed in the Republican primary by state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, William Woods and Ike Lawrence.
The primary is May 21, with the general election Nov. 5.
– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.