Gov. Matt Bevin Believes the American Dream Still Exists Because He’s Lived It

Health care. Covington. President Donald Trump’s attention to what governors think. Abortion extremism. School safety. On today’s podcast, we have a wide-ranging conversation with Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Ky., on all these topics and more. Talking about Medicaid work requirements, Bevin shares details about his own rise from poverty—and why he still thinks the American dream exists. Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript below. Plus: Our producers, Michael Goodin and Thaleigha Rampersad, weigh in on the Oscars this year.

We also cover these stories:

  • Vice President Mike Pence says, “There can be no bystanders in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom” and “Nicolas Maduro must go.”
  • The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration.
  • Last month, only 20 percent of Democrats said they were pro-life. Now, it’s up to 34 percent—a 14-point swing.

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This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. The full interview is available on the podcast.

Katrina Trinko: Joining us today in
studio is Gov. Matt Bevin, Republican of Kentucky. So Gov. Bevin, you come to
us straight from the White House. Can you tell us about your meeting there?

Gov. Matt Bevin: I will say this. There has never
been, in the memory of any governor, and my own as well just over the last four
years, any administration that has ever met as much with, discussed as much with,
cared about as much, or listened to as much as the president of the United
States now. The Trump administration really genuinely cares about what
governors are saying. And there’s never been any administration like it.

Trinko: So how do they show that they
care about what governors are saying?

Bevin: By asking our opinion on a regular basis. Not only sitting down, going out of their way to proactively reach out. I personally get calls from the president. I’m sure I’m not alone. I know other governors do. He will proactively reach out to ask our input on things, to get our help on things, to ask for our 2 cents worth.

This is somebody that when you reach out to him, he’ll either take the call or will return it in very short order. And not always delegating it off to someone else. He’s very hands-on. So too is the vice president. So too are each of the Cabinet secretaries.

I’ve never
seen anything like it. And it’s very helpful to those of us that are
responsible for running our respective states.

Trinko: That’s very interesting and
definitely not something the media has reported on.

Bevin: Not
at all. In fact, he has been so misrepresented with respect to how accessible
he is. It’s night and day.

Trinko: So speaking of media coverage, I wanted to talk about the Covington [high school boys attending] the March for Life. The teens were accused in this media uproar of essentially acting like racists. And now one of those teens, Nick Sandmann, is suing The Washington Post. Of course, more video imagery came out that showed they were not being rude to the Native American activist, Nathan Phillips.

So how did that affect the state? … I mean, I remember just watching on Twitter everything and being like, “What is going on? Why are we focused on these high school boys?” What was it like in Kentucky and how do people feel about it?

Bevin: I think the reaction in Kentucky was frankly no different on both sides of the equation than it was everywhere else in America.

But I will say this as to why they focused on these boys. I think we know why … the fact that they were white males, the fact that they were there for a pro-life rally, the fact that they were wearing a hat that was perceived to be in support of this president. For those reasons alone—the fact that they’re Catholic, the fact that they are … fill in the blank.

I mean every single demographic that the media and so many of those on the left would have us believe are triggers for automatic racism were triggered by this young man.

And he did
nothing wrong, as you have noted and as all the evidence has shown.

I’m glad that he’s suing. I think I was frustrated by the fact that it took on the life that it did. I kept thinking this will go away because it’s nothing. Once I saw a lot of this video even in the hours after the very first snapshots were released, I was amazed that it was taking on this life of its own. I thought it would die out. It just kept getting more and more frenetic.

This is what
happens. Those that preach tolerance to all the rest of us are the most
intolerant people. And those that would accuse us of racism are the most racist
and bigoted people. And those that would ask us to open and embrace all
ideologies have no acceptance of any idea other than those they agree with.

It’s just
outrageous to me. And I’m delighted in some measure that it was a private
citizen and not someone in government who was attacked this way because he has
the recourse of suing. And I hope he is well-remunerated in his efforts.

Trinko: To switch gears a little bit, I wanted to discuss health care. The Heritage Foundation, our parent organization, was actually down in Kentucky last week for some events on health care and they talked about the Health Care Choices Proposal plan. Essentially that plan would make some changes to Obamacare and would give the states more flexibility on how they spend their money. What do you think about that plan and what do you want to do on health care in Kentucky?

Bevin: I love it. I think the idea of turning control of dollars and of decision-making to the local level is the embodiment of the 10th Amendment. Those powers not specifically given to the federal government in our Constitution are the responsibilities of the states and of the people. And this would be a perfect example of that.

There’s no
reason why the federal government needs to be controlling these decisions and
these dollars. Give it back to the states. Let the states have control. Who
better than the states to know what’s in the best interest of their citizens? I
love the idea. …

We were the
first state in America ever to be given the opportunity to have requirements of
either work, or volunteering, or some other engagement in order to receive
Medicaid benefits. This would be only for the Medicaid expanded population.

We are pioneering things that have never been done in America or Kentucky … as somebody who grew up well below the poverty level, as somebody who grew up with no access to health care—I was an active-duty Army officer the first time I ever had health care in my life. And I was in my 20s. I appreciate it. I’m empathetic. I know there’s a need there.

And what I
want to see is what I know from personal experience to be true. That people who
are engaged, people who have opportunity to pursue something but have an
expectation that they do it are much more likely to end up with better health
outcomes.

At the end of the day, I don’t just want quote, unquote coverage if it doesn’t result in a change in health outcomes. I want a healthier population. And so we’re working on many fronts to engage people in their own health making decisions because they’ll be better off for it.

Trinko: So that’s really interesting because the work requirements for Medicaid has, of course, attracted a lot of criticism from the left. And people are saying, “Well, how dare you make health care dependent upon working?” But you’re saying you understand what it’s like to need or to be in poor straits. So why did you decide to pursue this and what’s your response to liberal critics on this?

Bevin: It’s interesting. The people who criticize this really don’t know what they’re talking about. They really don’t … This, first of all, only applies to able-bodied working-age men and women, people with no dependents.

And it isn’t
simply work. They could also volunteer for 20 hours a week. They could be in
school for 20 hours a week. They could be in a training program for a job that
actually exists in their community for 20 hours a week, which we will get them
connected to. They could be taking care of somebody that otherwise the
government would be paying for that person to be cared for for 20 hours a week.

We’re simply asking people to be doing something in exchange for something of great value. That liberals are outraged that they would be expected to do something in exchange for health care. But the people that are providing that health care to them have to do that very thing in order to pay for it.

So I’m outraged that somebody thinks someone [should] get it for free when someone exactly like them goes to work to provide it to them and may or may not even have it themselves. So to me, it’s an empty, empty excuse for not expecting more of people.

People are
more capable of things than the bigoted left would often believe them to be.

Trinko: Speaking of that, how did your
own story make you feel that? Because we hear over and over, people can’t move
up in today’s America. It’s too hard. There’s privilege. All of this stuff.
People can’t get past it. But obviously you did.

Bevin: I grew up in an unheated house
just south of the Canadian border. We had no central heat. I shared a bedroom
with my three brothers my whole life. We had no shower. We drove around on $100
rusted out cars. We lived well below the poverty level.

And here’s
what I know: The American dream is a real thing. It’s not an anecdote. It’s not
a historical thing of the past. It’s not some dream or urban myth. It’s
genuine. It has been. It continues to be.

But it’s fragile. And it needs to be preserved. And if a kid like me, growing up in a community in which very few people would’ve ever done what I did—I never even flew in an airplane till I won a trip through 4-H when I was 17 years old.

I mean, for
me, the world was a very small and insular one. For many people I grew up with,
it stayed that way. But America affords opportunity for people.

I chose to take that opportunity and I’m grateful and blessed to live in America. And I want the same for others …

When people on
the left look down on people like I was and assume I don’t have the capacity,
the drive, the mental willpower or whatever to do more for myself, it is a
level of bigotry that, whether they recognize it or not, assumes that I’m not
worthy of being who they are.

And I think
it’s insulting. I think it’s wrong. And I think it’s the exact anathema of
everything that the American dream has always been.

Trinko: OK. Well, to switch gears again, you talked about foster care in your State of the Commonwealth address. And you said there’s about 9,000, 10,000 kids in Kentucky who are in foster care right now. Tell us why you’re passionate about that issue and how you’re trying to address that.

Bevin: Boy,
we could talk for three hours. And I know we don’t have that kind of time. But
I am passionate about this for many reasons. My wife and I are blessed to have
nine children. We had five of them were born to us, four of whom were adopted.
This is near and dear to our hearts. This is driven by a whole lot of personal
life experiences.

But at the end of the day, it’s driven by this: We have in America 470,000 kids in the foster care system. Again, between 9,000 and 10,000 in Kentucky.

In Kentucky alone, I’ve got more than 2,500 of those children that are waiting to be adopted that just simply want a forever family. And every kid just wants to be loved. They want a mother and a father. Or at least a mother or a father. Somebody to love them, protect them, advocate for them, defend them. These are all that kids want. Encourage them.

And the greatness of America is that we are so blessed with resources. There’s no reason why we can’t make room for every one of these kids—470,000 kids in a nation of 350 million people or so. What are we talking—1.2, 1.3 percent of the population maybe? Can the 98.7 percent of the rest of us not take care of these kids? I’m pretty confident we can.

So I just
would encourage people at every turn to do what you can in your community. Be a
foster parent, be an adoptive parent. At the very least, reach out to someone
who is. Provide a meal. Provide some clothes your kids have grown out of.
Provide a date night for them by saying, “Hey, let your kids hang out at
my house for the night.”

There’s any
number of ways we can fix this problem in America like that. We just have to be
aware of it and we need to be passionate about stepping up. And this includes
every governor and every legislature in the United States of America. It’s a
badge of shame if we don’t.

Trinko: We’ve seen a lot of extreme
abortion legislation recently. New York, of course, passed a law. Virginia,
thankfully, did not. New Mexico, I believe, is looking at extreme abortion
legislation as well. What do you think is going on and what is Kentucky doing
on this issue?

Bevin: I think what you’re seeing is
the gild is coming off the lily, the lily of rare, safe, and legal [abortion] that
has been foisted upon us … supposedly those supporters of abortion only would
want it under the rarest of circumstances. That’s clearly never been their
agenda. And it certainly isn’t now. And they’re not even now pretending that it
is.

There’s
nothing about any of these pieces of legislation that are proposed and/or
passed that you just mentioned that are anything about rare, safe, and legal.
There’s nothing rare about it. They’re just simply saying essentially abortion
on demand. A child could be born and if the parent doesn’t want it to live,
they would just leave it there to die.

This is being
espoused by people in elected office. It’s being cheered in legislative
chambers. It’s sadistic. It’s evil. You can call it anything else you want. It
is infanticide. It is morally repugnant. And the idea that as a nation we would
not be outraged.

And the argument that, well, it’s not convenient for people or financially feasible for them at this time—that’s the reason to kill this infant child. But how much more feasible, or reasonable, or convenient, or affordable is, say, a 14-year-old child with severe autism? That could also be demanding. Do we just say, “Hey, we did the best we could and we’re just gonna now put this child to sleep”?

We should be offended—the same with euthanasia at any age, including for those who are elderly.

The idea of government not doing its basic function, which is preserving the most vulnerable in society, is remarkable to me.

… Let’s be honest. People like Margaret Sanger, who is a strong proponent of abortion, and was a strong proponent of eugenics, and who was the founder of Planned Parenthood—she was unapologetic in her desire to rid the human population of what she considered to be undesirable people. And they were people who were poor. And they were people who were immigrants. And they were people who were people of color.

And indeed,
you look at where these abortion clinics are set up. They are deep inside those
communities. And to this day, nearly 100 years later, they are fulfilling her
desire to cleanse what she considered to be undesirable people. And those of us
who are seeing this should be outraged and stand in the gap. And this is what
I’m grateful that states like Kentucky are doing.

Trinko: On another somber note, school safety—you discussed that in your State of the Commonwealth address. What’s Kentucky doing on that issue?

Bevin: We are addressing it. It needs
to happen. Not just in Kentucky, but everywhere. It’s crazy to me. And again,
we can have a long conversation, but the short version is we have young people
increasingly going into school and doing harm to other young people. And this
needs to be protected against.

But it’s not
just simply a function of putting up barricades, and frisking kids, and having
metal detectors. Because that’s what we do in prisons and violence still
happens inside of prisons.

The reality is this: It’s a human condition. It’s a function of the heart. It’s a function of the mind. It’s a function of the will of man to either do good or to do evil. And so we’ve got to look at the root causes.

We need to address behavioral issues and behavioral health. And we need to ask ourselves why our young people, why are they so devoid of appreciation for life itself? Why because of our culture of death have we created young people who would take their own lives and that of others? What are the root causes? What can we do to address this?

These are
things that have informed our conversations in Kentucky. We are going to
strengthen and harden, as the term is sometimes said, our school facilities.
But more importantly, we’re drawing attention to the need for resources. To
address the fundamental root causes. You’ll never fully be able to encapsulate
evil. If people want to do harm, they will. But we need to address this and I’m
grateful that our legislature has made this a priority in Kentucky.

Trinko: Last question. For those of us in the Washington, D.C., bubble, it’s easy to not know what people in the heartland are actually thinking and want. I’m sure you talk to a lot of Kentuckians on a daily basis. What is D.C. missing about what the people in your state actually want and care about?

Bevin: For starters, nobody in Kentucky really cares about anything published in The Washington Post. And I mean that not to be pejorative about The Washington Post, but what often creates buzz in this town, and is gossiped about, and rumored about, and discussed is of absolutely no relevance to the people in the rest of America.

So my point being, what do people in the heartland, Kentucky and otherwise, care about? They care about jobs. They care about the physical and the financial security of their families. They care about opportunity for their children.

They do believe in the American dream and they want it to be possible. They don’t resent and reject the idea of upward mobility for themselves and others. They don’t all resent it in others. They actually aspire to it and they want their children to aspire to it. The greatness of America. And I think this is why people don’t understand.

Trinko:  Thank you so much for joining us, Gov. Bevin.

Bevin: Thank
you.

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