This was supposed to be a profile of Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. But it would be easier to interview Jimmy Hoffa on Amelia Earhart’s airplane somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.

After three weeks of emails and phone calls with his staff, I began to get the hint—like a Heisman Trophy stiff-arm planted firmly in my face. “Don’t call us… and we won’t call you.”

The governor’s attitude toward the press seems to be “Leave me alone.” And maybe he has a point. For conservative Republicans, reaching out to the press is like shaking hands with a chainsaw.

I think it started with a cartoon.

Gov. Bevin was still unpacking boxes to move into his new office in Frankfort after winning a big upset in 2015, when terrorists in Paris killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more. Bevin responded by saying America should think twice about taking Syrian refugees.

As an Army captain who earned a National Defense Service Medal, Bevin might know a thing or two about it. Most Kentuckians probably nodded and agreed with him.

But to the press, he was a complete buffoon.

A cartoon by Lexington Herald Leader Pulitzer winner Joel Pett showed Gov. Bevin—who earned a parachute badge jumping out of airplanes—cowering under his desk, literally shaking with fear, while a staffer pointed to pictures of Bevin’s children on the desk and said, “Sir, they’re not terrorists, they’re your adopted kids.”

Gov. Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have nine children, including four they adopted from Ethiopia.

Bevin thought the cartoon was racist. The cartoonist blamed Bevin’s “inexperience” for his reaction. Inexperience? Bevin ran against Kentucky kingfisher Sen. Mitch McConnell and then took on the state establishment to win the governor’s office. But a guy who draws funny pictures scolded him for being a rookie.

That pretty much crystalizes everything people hate about the media. Arrogant. Smug. Condescending. Partisan. Biased.

So when Bevin gives the press the brush off, I understand. He has lots of important battles to fight with the Kentucky political establishment. He’s trying to clean out the dry rot on boards and commissions that have been wood-piled by Democrats for decades. He’s even taking on sacrosanct university trustees, the blueblood royalty of the Bluegrass State.

Bevin also has been battling former Gov. Steve Beshear, the Democrat he replaced, and his son, Andy Beshear, the attorney general. Former Gov. Beshear has gracelessly attacked Bevin while his son has harassed the new governor with lawsuits. The Democratic Party has run the state for decades, with only two previous Republican governors since World War II. They have declared war on the outsider, with help from sock-puppets in the press.

But what if they are all wrong about Bevin? What if he’s the best thing Kentucky has seen in years?

A political observer who supported Bevin’s opponent and has worked for both parties thinks so. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the way he is tackling issues,” he says off the record. “He doesn’t approach things by conventional means.”

And State Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Covington, gives Bevin an “A.” He says past governors have passed the buck on pension reform, but Bevin has made spending cuts to contribute $1 billion to the state’s $35 billion pension liability. “He’s willing to make the hard decision,” Schroder says. “He has surrounded himself with smart, competent people, using the ‘Team of Rivals’ approach that President Lincoln used to put former opponents in cabinet positions.”

For example, Bevin appointed Normand Desmarais of TiER1 in Covington to the board of Northern Kentucky University. Desmarais is a talented and successful innovator who was previously appointed to a state commission by Democrat Gov. Beshear. Not the usual crony-donor governors appoint.

Bevin’s upset victory defied the pundits and embarrassed the pollsters who had him losing by 10 points. He won by 9. And that has been liberating.

A story went around about Bevin’s job interviews to hire senior staffers. He would pass them a blank sheet of paper and ask, “What is it?”

“A blank sheet of paper,” they would reply.

“No,” the new governor would say, “that’s a list of all the people I owe this position to.”

Gov. Bevin’s battle to open the windows and bring fresh air into Kentucky government would be easier if he had an honest, fair, professional press.

Instead, he gets this: When he urged people to vote and work to change the system from within to avoid violence, a columnist at the Louisville Courier Journal compared him to “right-wing nut jobs like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.”

Bevin is no lunatic or desk-cowering weakling. He put himself through school washing dishes to pay tuition. After a grueling bicycle trek from Oregon to Florida, he looked for more challenges and joined the Army. He lost a 17-year-old daughter in an auto accident, created a successful investment business, then saved his family’s bell-making company that was established in 1832, taking it from a $116,000 debt for back taxes to pay raises and profits in one year.

He took the worst that Sen. McConnell could dish out in a primary campaign that was as rough as a stump grinder. On a visit to Covington, the governor ran wind sprints with a local high school football team.

And while few people know that Gov. Bevin is fluent in Japanese, everyone knows by now that he doesn’t speak the cramped, politically correct dialect required by the media.

But that’s not a liability. It’s a virtue.



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