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Rep. Savannah Maddox launches bid for Kentucky governor

June 7, 2022 GMT
Kentucky House Representative Savannah Maddox, right, talks with fellow representative Shane Baker during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 7, 2021. Maddox plans to announce her future political plans Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky House Representative Savannah Maddox, right, talks with fellow representative Shane Baker during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 7, 2021. Maddox plans to announce her future political plans Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky House Representative Savannah Maddox, right, talks with fellow representative Shane Baker during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 7, 2021. Maddox plans to announce her future political plans Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky House Representative Savannah Maddox, right, talks with fellow representative Shane Baker during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 7, 2021. Maddox plans to announce her future political plans Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Kentucky House Representative Savannah Maddox, right, talks with fellow representative Shane Baker during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 7, 2021. Maddox plans to announce her future political plans Monday, June 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Kentucky state Rep. Savannah Maddox entered the 2023 Republican primary for governor on Monday evening, portraying herself as an “authentic conservative” who resisted COVID-19 restrictions from the beginning in an effort to outflank her GOP rivals.

Her entry into the race ensures that Kentucky Republicans will have choices between a traditional brand of conservativism and candidates like Maddox from the party’s far right.

Maddox criticized Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and “moderate Republicans” alike as she announced her candidacy in a spirited speech to supporters in northern Kentucky — her home territory and a key battleground in any GOP primary. She didn’t specifically mention her GOP rivals, but her combative comments ran counter to pleas from others within her party to avoid criticizing fellow Republicans amid fears that the crowded primary could turn into a slugfest.

“We are going to give the citizens of Kentucky a real choice in this primary,” Maddox said. “We can maintain the status quo of being disappointed by moderate Republicans who straddle the fence. Or we can choose an authentic conservative who has a proven track record of fighting every day for our freedoms.”

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Maddox said that from the beginning she staked out her opposition to restrictions that the governor imposed to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus. She condemned the temporary closing of businesses and schools and mask-wearing mandates — steps she denounced as “COVID tyranny.”

“Our constitutional rights never go out the window just because there’s a virus going around, or under any circumstances,” Maddox said Monday evening.

Beshear, who is seeking a second term next year, maintains that his aggressive approach saved lives. His restrictions were in place mostly when COVID-19 vaccines were not available or not yet widely distributed — though the GOP-led legislature later severely limited his ability to respond when virus cases surged again. Beshear says his actions reflected guidance from the White House coronavirus task force when Republican Donald Trump was president.

This year, Maddox unsuccessfully pushed for legislation that initially would have barred employers, including in the private sector, from requiring their employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

State Democratic Chair Colmon Elridge responded Monday that Maddox “declared war on the health, safety and wellbeing of Kentuckians in an attempt to score political points.”

“Her entrance into the race ensures the year-long Republican primary will be even nastier, more extreme and more expensive,” he added in a statement.

Other Republicans running for governor have denounced Beshear’s handling of the pandemic.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron, now among the gubernatorial hopefuls, led the legal fight against Beshear’s pandemic restrictions. Cameron won the case in the Kentucky Supreme Court, clearing the way for new laws enacted by the GOP legislature to limit the governor’s emergency powers.

In announcing her candidacy, Maddox touted her staunch opposition to abortion and support for gun-ownership rights. In 2019, she successfully championed legislation to allow legal gun owners in Kentucky to carry a concealed handgun without a separate permit or training.

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Maddox also set out libertarian-leaning themes in her speech.

“I believe that Kentuckians, by and large, are God-fearing people, who just want to live a peaceable, prosperous life in which they are free from undue interference from their government,” she said.

Maddox framed herself as a staunch defender of the constitution and stressed her alignment with Trump, saying the former president “brought strength to the Oval Office.”

“Protecting your constitutional rights and liberties trumps all other interests and institutions,” she said.

Her devotion to Trump comes as members of the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection are promising to lay out how Trump and his allies worked to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election, spreading lies about widespread voter fraud that fueled the assault on the nation’s Capitol.

The governor’s race on the GOP side includes three statewide officials — Attorney General Daniel Cameron, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and state Auditor Mike Harmon. Others in the race include retired attorney Eric Deters. Several other prominent Republicans are considering bids for governor.

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Recent polling shows Beshear remains popular in GOP-trending Kentucky. The governor has touted his stewardship of Kentucky’s economy, pointing to the state’s record-setting economic development pace for job creation and business investments. He has landed the state’s two largest economic development projects ever — both battery plants.