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New Democratic Governor of Kentucky’s Promised Executive Order Is Bad News for Mitch McConnell


After a recanvassing didn’t show any signs of voting irregularity, Kentucky’s deeply unpopular Republican Gov. Matt Bevin on Thursday conceded the state’s gubernatorial race to his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear. With no more obstacles standing between Beshear and the governor’s mansion, Beshear’s promise to immediately restore voting rights to those with felony convictions for non-violent offenses could spell big trouble for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) 2020 reelection hopes.

When Beshear declared victory in the gubernatorial race more than a week ago, he said one of his first acts as governor would be to sign an executive order expanding the right to vote more than 140,000 people with non-violent felony convictions, people are currently disenfranchised by state law. Kentucky and Iowa are the only two states with lifetime bans precluding persons convicted of felonies from voting while only Maine and Vermont have no voting restrictions for ex-convicts.

Under Beshear’s proposed executive order, the racial makeup of Kentucky’s electorate would see drastic changes, as state law currently bars approximately 26-percent of all black adults, compared to just eight-percent of the rest of the population, according to a report from The Appeal. Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, who preceded Bevin as the state’s governor, signed an executive order restoring the franchise to ex-felons in 2015. The order was one of the elder Beshear’s last official acts in office. Bevin overturned the order.

Despite traditionally low turnouts, a newly-minted bloc of voters could still have a significant impact on Kentucky’s 2020 Senate election. According to studies in other states that restored voting rights, black voters within the ex-felon population “overwhelmingly register with the Democratic Party” at a rate of approximately 87 percent.

Much like Bevin, McConnell is not particularly well-liked in the Bluegrass State. According to a Morning Consult quarterly poll of senators’ approval ratings released in July, McConnell had the highest disapproval rating of any senator in their own state (50-percent) and the fifth-lowest approval rating (37-percent).

Tayna Fogle, an organizer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, previously said she expects the executive order loom large in the upcoming election cycle.

“I’m so thrilled,” she told The Appeal. “We expect this new governor to really restore all of us holistically and allow folks to get the polls … And then we’ll see how Kentucky really changes.”

[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.