Policy Leaders Forum: Former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

May 2, 2017

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Former Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Steve Beshear was hosted by the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University on May 2, 2017 for a far-ranging and candid conversation on his experience in global affairs.

The event was part of the Policy Leaders Forum series at the Pardee School that brings senior international policy makers to Boston University for important policy conversations with faculty and students. Guests included faculty and experts from across Boston University. Beshear, who previously served as a state legislator, attorney general and lieutenant governor in Kentucky, also delivered the Democratic response to a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress given by President Donald Trump on February 28, 2017.

Beshear said much of his experience in global affairs while serving as the Governor of Kentucky was in bringing foreign direct investment to the state. He discussed the importance of persuading foreign companies to bring their business to Kentucky in fighting unemployment in smaller communities throughout the state.

“In Germany, it ended up that there were a number of small, family-owned manufacturing companies mostly in the automobile industry who really wanted to come to the states, but didn’t really know how to do it. We were able to locate those people, and we went to see them. You’d be surprised how impressed they were that a governor would come to them. That personal touch works,” Beshear said. “We were able to attract 10 to 12 German companies while I was governor and mostly locate them in smaller communities where we needed them to go because that’s where the unemployment was. We didn’t need them to go to Louisville or Lexington, we needed them to go these smaller communities around the state.”

Beshear also discussed the process of preparing for giving a response to a speech to a joint session of the United States Congress given by President Donald Trump earlier this year, describing how it was different from the usual approach to preparing a response to the State of the Union address.

“You never know what a president is going to say in the State of the Union until a couple of hours before he gives it. They didn’t do that,” Beshear said. “The second challenge is even when they don’t do that, you don’t know if he is going to say what is in the speech. For the first time, I think he pretty much stuck to his script.”

According to Beshear, the main point he wanted to stress in his response address was that it’s time to put aside the partisan politics that have plagued Washington D.C. in recent years.

“We sat down, drafted some original stuff and bounced it back and forth with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi,” Beshear said. “There were also just some things that I wanted to say, and to me the message that we’ve got to get out there is that it’s time to get away from this rank and file partisanship that is destroying this country. It literally — from a government standpoint — is destroying this country. I’m saying that as a Democrat. We’re as guilty sometimes as the other side is.”

Addressing the Pardee School students interested in pursuing careers in public service, Beshear encouraged them to pursue positions at the state and local levels.

“You will have a much bigger and better chance at actually making something happen at the state and local level. If you’re successful there, you may end up in Washington,” Beshear said. “The biggest disappointment that folks like me have when we go to Washington is that none of the staff down there of any senator or any representative has ever done anything except work in Washington. They have absolutely no idea what the decisions that their bosses are making have on us out here.”

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