Andy Beshear, Sex Symbol?

Merriam-Webster defines oxymoron as a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.  We all learned about them in school:  jumbo shrimp, bittersweet, passive aggressive, deafening silence. All examples of words that seem to contradict each other, but when put together create a unique phrase that seems to make total sense. 

Two months ago, the words Andy Beshear and sex symbol could not have been more contradictory.  But now, to housewives all across the Bluegrass wearing their “Govern me, Daddy” and “Shhh, Andy is speaking” t-shirts, in eager anticipation of 5pm to arrive, these words make total sense.  The thirst is real.

And it’s not just the ladies who love Andy.  Keith Griesser, an elementary school principal, became a Youtube celebrity for his Bon Jovi parody “Andy at 5”, which at the time of writing this had 79,000 views. 

For comparison, Governor Beshear’s inauguration speech currently has 3,000 views. Throw in the local Lexington bakery with the “Don’t Disappoint Andy” cakes, and donut shop who sold out of its Andy Apple-Filled donuts in minutes and it seems almost everyone in Kentucky has been swept up in Andymania.

But how did this happen?  I’ve been alive for the last few months, and have witnessed this meteoric rise firsthand, but I still can’t explain it. I decided to do a deep-dive to determine just how Governor Beshear has become the maker of memes, t-shirts, songs, and pastries around our state, and to provide a few of my personal thoughts on why he is so popular.

Yes, I drank the Andy Kool-Aid. It tasted delicious with my “Don’t Disappoint Andy” cake.

Election Night

Let’s go back to November 5, 2019 shall we?  Back when Lynn Bowden was running wild at football stadiums across the country and Tyrese Maxey was lighting up Michigan State in the Garden (ah, I miss sports…).  That was the night of Kentucky’s Gubernatorial Election between the incumbent Republican Matt Bevin, and Democrat challenger Andy Beshear.  It would turn out to be the closest Governor’s race in Kentucky in over 100 years and Beshear won by less than half of a percent, a difference of a mere 5000 votes. 

The last election this close was in 1915 when Democrat Augustus Owsley Stanley won by just over 400 votes. (However after doing a Google search, I am 400% certain that Governor Stanley did not have anyone making a “Govern me, Daddy” shirt about him).  It took a few days of recanvassing before it was official, but Kentucky had itself a new governor.

** Editor’s Note:  I am a registered Independent. I dislike the Republican Party AND Democratic Party equally as much.  Please do not comment or message me to call me a Liberal for the criticism I will provide below of former Governor Bevin.  My issues with Matt Bevin have nothing to do with the party he belongs to.

Oh Bevin, Bevin, Bevin.  No discussion of Governor Beshear can take place without mentioning him. Because quite frankly, if there were no Governor Bevin, there would be no Governor Beshear.  With the current political climate in Kentucky there is no way a Democrat should have won the governor’s race.  This is Trump Country.  McConnel Country. Barr Country.  You get the point. 

In a state that gets redder by the year, Republicans seemed destined to own the Governor’s Mansion for decades to come.  That is until the state saw what an awful human-being their governor was. 

Yes, there was corruption, scandals, all the typical stuff you see from every politician nowadays, but then for some astonishing reason, Matt Bevin decided to attack teachers.  You know, those people who now spend all day and night trying to find ways to still educate your children during a pandemic? 

By 2019, Bevin was consistently ranked as the least popular governor in all of the United States. Think about that, a die-hard Republican state that didn’t approve of its Republican governor.  That would be like Kentucky voting John Calipari as their least favorite coach, or bourbon as its least favorite drink. 

Yet still, with all of that going against him, Matt Bevin almost won.  Republicans won every other ticket on the ballot, by a landslide.  Which means there were thousands of Kentucky GOP members who voted straight along their party lines, with the exception of casting a vote for Andy Beshear.  This election was the state’s rebuke of its governor, and had nothing to do with how good or bad Andy was as a candidate.

During the campaign and early parts of his governorship, I didn’t find Andy particularly charismatic, he wasn’t a phenomenal public speaker, and he is disliked by many because of the policies of his father.  Without Covid-19, chances are he serves his time as Governor without much fanfare for one term before Republicans regroup and beat him in the next election. Ho-hum.

And then the world got turned upside-down.  Kentucky was one of the earliest states to declare a state of emergency, as well as one of the first to shut down schools.  Andy was ahead of the curve.  Meanwhile, his predecessor sent a tweet that hasn’t aged so well, referring to Beshear as Chicken Little:

Can we all agree, regardless of political affiliation, what a disaster Matt Bevin would have been in handling this situation?  That thought literally keeps me up at night.  But it was around this time that a watershed moment in Kentucky’s political history began to occur.

Andy at 5

The 5:00pm press briefings.  Andy at Five.  Beers with Beshear.  As Kentuckians were getting home from work, or finishing their work at home shift, this is what they would turn to for their daily update on the Coronavirus.  But there was something different about these.  Instead of seeing a loud, angry, accusatory politician, Kentuckians saw the exact opposite. 

Andy was calm, cool, and collected and felt like a welcomed guest in our living rooms (much as I imagine FDR’s fireside chats felt like).  He didn’t place blame or try to divide, instead he said (at least a thousand times) “we’re going to get through this together.” 

Who is this guy? There’s no room for someone like this in today’s politics. 

Even when he gets angry he still sounds nice when he tells social distance breakers, “You can’t be doing that.” He is that teacher you had in school who never had to raise their voice, but instead would guilt you into doing the right thing because they were just so nice.  (Shout out to Ms. Hubbard who was that teacher at my high school).

By now if you’re reading this and live in the state of Kentucky, odds are you have seen at least a couple of these 5:00 press conferences.  Actually, the odds are you have seen a lot of them.  They started in early March and looking back at the Governor’s Youtube channel (where if you are a true Andy at 5 junkie you can re-watch them all), started as a “brief” 20-30 minute update on the number of Coronavirus cases, what business were being closed, and how to protect yourself.

They have now grown to what seems to be a 1-hour plus Hollywood production that includes social media posts from everyone around the state practicing social distance, sign-language interpreter Virginia teaching us all a few phrases in sign-language, and “KENNETH, THE SLIDES!”. 

Personally, Virginia Moore has become the favorite part of my day. She has moved from the corner of my television screen, to taking up permanent residency in the corner of my heart.  How can you not love this woman?  When I watched her teaching us all to sign “We will get through it together,” well, I’m not crying, you’re crying!

But don’t think these press conferences are all fun and games. If you happened to be a noncompliant BINGO Parlor in Pike County, Andy has shown a willingness to channel his inner Hulk Hogan and bring out a big boot to your face.

My thoughts

So how do all these things come together to create the almost cult-like following amongst Andy supporters?  Well, here are my theories:

  • Everyone was so sick of Matt Bevin that the next governor was almost destined to be well-liked.
  • With a global crisis happening, Kentuckians were looking for leadership. Since there seemed to be none in Washington, Andy stood out.
  • The national media has praised Kentucky and Governor Beshear’s response to the Coronavirus as being one of the best in the nation.

As I mentioned earlier, this state could not get rid of Matt Bevin soon enough.  He was a constant embarrassment to our state. Need examples?

  • Claimed teachers who were fighting for their pensions should retire.
  • Also accused teachers of being responsible for the sexual assault and drug use of children in the state.
  • Also blamed teachers for the shooting of a 7 year-old girl which happened during their protests.
  • Doubled-down on all these comments, saying he regretted none of them.

It’s safe to say that Kentucky desperately wanted a breath of fresh air in its leadership.  Andy Beshear already had a tremendous bonus to the start of his governorship, which is that his name was not Matt Bevin.

Enter Covid-19

Anytime there is a tragic event, war, conflict, or anything where the American people are scared, they immediately turn to the leaders of our government for comfort and reassurance that everything will be OK. 

Say what you will about anything else George W. Bush did during his 8 years in office, but the days after 9/11 were when he was at his best.  My memories of the days that followed September 11th were of a president reassuring the nation on Saturday Night Live, throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees game, and visiting with first responders.  But all of it seemed genuine.  These didn’t just seem like photo ops to make himself look good, we believed that he would do the right thing. 

This was the complete opposite of how his Republican counterpart, President Donald Trump has seemed to handle the Coronavirus.  The response in Washington has been a complete cluster on pretty much all fronts.  With no national leaders that Kentuckians (or any other state for that matter) could trust in, Andy Beshear stepped up.  He settled our nerves, and told us what we needed to do in a respectful and understanding way.  He sympathized with us, but he was transparent and honest about the harsh realities this virus could bring if we didn’t start social distancing quickly. 

You can tell that this man loves his state, and is hurt deeply every time he has to announce that another one of his fellow Kentuckians has passed away.  THAT is the leadership we were looking for in this horrible time.

Finally, I think Kentuckians are proud of their governor, because for the first time in a LONG time, our state is being recognized for being good at something other than basketball.  By mid-March, practically every media outlet was churning out articles praising Beshear’s response to the Coronavirus. 

This is new territory for Kentucky, as we are generally criticized by everyone outside of our state for our low rankings in education, poverty, obesity, drug use, and the list goes on and on.  I have always said, thank goodness for West Virginia and Mississippi, because without them we would rank 50th in the country in every metric. 

So when we get the opportunity around here to puff out our chest about something, and can show the rest of the country that we have the best basketball team, the best horse racing, the best bourbon, or even the best governor, by golly we are going to do it!

In Conclusion

Eventually, this virus will pass (I hope), and we will all return to some sense of normalcy.  When that time comes I’m sure there will be much more criticism of his policies, and perhaps we are already seeing that with the “We Want to Work” protests. 

And while the countless weeks quarantined inside will be how most of the country remembers this difficult time, Kentuckians will remember how their unassuming governor became a Rockstar from Pikeville to Paducah, made us all feel like heroes, and became must-see TV.  And Virginia.  You’re the real MVP.