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Steve Beshear, the former governor of Kentucky, has been tapped to deliver the Democratic party’s response to President Donald Trump’s address to both house of Congress for one big reason.
The move may seem odd. Beshear currently holds no elected office after his second term expired in 2015 (Kentucky has a two-term limit for governors) and is not the traditional idea of a “rising star” in the party that typically uses the spot to launch themselves into the national spotlight.
So why was he selected? The choice of Beshear seems to be aimed at one of the Democrats most important policy goals: the preservation of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
During Beshear’s time as governor, he embraced the ACA and its numerous reforms. The government set up Kynect, a state-based Obamacare exchange after the laws passing in 2010 abd expanded Medicaid coverage for lower income people in the state.
Since then Kynect has been relatively popular. Before the state move to a federal exchange by new Republican governor Matt Bevin, 33% of Kentuckians approved of Kynect while 29% disapproved accoridng to a poll by Public Policy Polling in 2015. By comparison the Affordable Care Act had a 33% approval and 47% disapproval in the same poll.
Additionally, between 2013 and 2016, Kentucky saw the biggest drop in its uninsured rate. Currently, just 7.8% of Kentuckians don’t have health insurance, a huge drop from the 20.4% without coverage in 2013 said a recent Gallup-Healthways tracker.
This does not mean that everything was perfect, much like other states Kentucky has problems with premiums but not as much as other states. Despite this, the state was relatively successful in its roll out of the ACA.
Despite the fact that Beshear is not a current office holder, his history with the ACA sets him apart to deliver the response according to most senior Democrats.
“Under Governor Beshear’s leadership, Kentucky became one of the great success stories of the Affordable Care Act in delivering quality, affordable health coverage for all,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the press release announcing the pick. “Governor Beshear is an experienced job-creator and a uniquely credible voice on the devastating consequences of Republicans’ plans to Make America Sick Again for families across America.”
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, echoed similar comments in the same release.
“Governor Beshear’s work in Kentucky is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act works; reducing costs and expanding access for hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians,” said Schumer.
Even former Democratic presidential candidate and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that Beshear’s ACA credentials were the “reason he was picked” and he was a good choice despite the fact that Beshear supported Sander’s rival Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
The logic behind the move is also fairly clear. The repeal and replacement of the ACA is shaping up to be the first main legislative battle of the new Congress.
Republicans have pushed forward on repeal, but there are disagreements among the GOP in regard to a replacement. Couple the discord of Republicans with polls showing that Obamacare is hitting its highest levels of popularity ever, and the Democrats may sense an opening to sway the conversation.
According to Politico, White House Correspondent Sean Spicer said that Trump’s speech will not go into detail on a specific Obamacare replacement plan and the possible proposals from Republicans are still wide ranging, so it remains to be seen how granular Beshear’s response will be on the ACA.
Beshear, in a Facebook post about the response, said he was excited to highlight his record as Kentucky’s governor.
“During my eight years as governor, Kentucky was considered a leader in areas like health care reform, education standards and job creation, and it’s exciting that our voice is still being sought out,” wrote Beshear.