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Meet Matt Bevin, The Political Outsider Who Is Now Kentucky's Governor

Kentucky Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin campaigns at a Louisville Chick-fil-A in May.
David Stephenson
Kentucky Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin campaigns at a Louisville Chick-fil-A in May.
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In a year full of political outsiders, Republican Matt Bevin is the first to make it into office. The millionaire businessman, Tea Party favorite and political novice was elected governor of Kentucky on Nov. 3 and promises big changes to a state that had been governed mostly by Democrats for the past half century.

On Bevin's way to the governor's mansion, his personality has ruffled plenty of feathers — including many in his own party, which could make the next four years unpredictable.

Exhibit A of Bevin's ability to get under the skin of his erstwhile allies was his endorsement of Ben Carson for president a month before Election Day.

"At this point I am looking at people who would have the best chance of uniting all the pieces [of the Republican Party]," said Bevin in a radio interview.

That created some awkwardness with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is also running for president and was scheduled to endorse Bevin the very next day.

So Bevin had to backtrack and endorse Paul, calling him someone who would be "an extraordinary president of the United States."

Bevin's political career is peppered with moments like this. He first ran for office in 2014 and unsuccessfully challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a primary. It was a nasty race and Bevin didn't endorse McConnell after the primary, skipping a common political courtesy.

Bevin eventually mended fences with McConnell and Rand Paul, who both supported his bid for governor.

This is the chance for a fresh start. It truly is and we desperately need it.

"He's playing by a different set of rules and I don't think you can dismiss some of that," said Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state. "Everybody would agree that Matt Bevin brought a unique approach to politics but also he had this personality that has this charisma and confidence."

Bevin laid on the charm throughout the entire campaign, happily chatting and sparring with voters who disagreed with him.

"He says what he thinks and he explains it. And if people don't like that, Matt is OK with it. Matt does not seem desperate for your vote," said Matt Jones, a popular sports radio host in Kentucky who has moderated two debates with Bevin.

Jones is currently considering his own unconventional run for Congress as a Democrat and that like Bevin, his ability to sound like a normal person is exactly what appeals to voters these days.

"I think that is something people are yearning for," said Jones.

Bevin has promised a top to bottom shake-up at the state Capitol. His biggest agenda item: scaling back the state's health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid, moves he believes will set a new tone in Kentucky.

"This is the chance for a fresh start. It truly is and we desperately need it," said Bevin.

For at least his first year in office, though, Bevin faces a Democratic majority in the statehouse. It's likely Bevin's dust-ups won't end anytime soon.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.