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Crises forge Beshear’s role as Kentucky’s consoler in chief

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Crises forge Beshear’s role as Kentucky’s consoler in chief

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Derrek McIntosh was left homeless twice within weeks — first by floodwaters that destroyed his eastern Kentucky home, then when a fire burned down the house he stayed in with relatives.

Now that he’s moved into a temporary travel trailer, McIntosh said he no longer worries where he’ll lay his head at night. And the 34-year-old Republican gives the credit for that to a Democrat — Gov. Andy Beshear.

When flooding swept through parts of Appalachia in late July, McIntosh said, the governor moved quickly.

“I think he’s doing an awesome job,” McIntosh said.

Beshear’s first term in office has been dominated by one deadly crisis after another: the global COVID-19 pandemic, tornadoes that killed scores of people in western Kentucky in December and floodwaters in Appalachia that left dozens more Kentuckians dead. Through it all, Beshear has offered encouragement to victims, pledged to hold officials accountable for the federal response and dived into the details of the recovery process.

“This rebuilding process is going to be one of the most challenging the country has ever seen,” Beshear said during a recent stop in Hazard. “And I think we’re up to it. I saw this saying the other day. It was: God saves his toughest challenges for his strongest soldiers.”

If there’s a playbook for a Democratic politician navigating the treacherous politics of a ruby-red state, Beshear may have found it. The 44-year-old governor talks about his Christian faith, his stewardship of the state’s record-setting economy and the resilience of his fellow Kentuckians.

Beshear, who is seeking reelection to his second term next year, typically steers away from partisan politics.

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“Every time that we can put aside red or blue, D or R, and just focus on things that are good for our families, are the times that we jump in front of every other state that can’t do that,” the governor said recently at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual ham breakfast. “And I’m convinced that our job in state government isn’t to move the state to the right or to the left but to move it forward.”

Beshear’s approach has caught the eye of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who will chair the Democratic Governors Association in 2023. He said Beshear has an “unlimited ceiling” if the Kentuckian wins another term.

“He’s every bit as good as he seems,” Murphy said. “And he’s just an extraordinary leader and, by the way, knows how to get stuff done with the other side of the aisle.”

Other Democrats may find the formula hard to duplicate in places that haven’t faced the gauntlet of challenges Kentucky has — or if they lack his political pedigree. His father, Steve Beshear, was a popular two-term Kentucky governor from 2007 to 2015.

And while crisis management has marked the younger Beshear as a politician to watch since his election as governor in 2019, Republicans are lining up to challenge him in a state where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

The GOP holds both U.S. Senate seats, five of six congressional seats, every statewide office other than governor and lieutenant governor and supermajorities in the legislature.

“I think his personal image is right side up, but his party’s image is decidedly upside-down,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator and former adviser to President George W. Bush.

Following a strategy that catapulted the GOP to dominance in Kentucky, Republican contenders for governor hope to nationalize the race, in part by tying Beshear to the inflationary surge that caused President Joe Biden’s approval ratings to sag.

But Beshear’s appearances with Biden have come in the aftermath of natural disasters and only served to amplify Beshear’s role as a state-level consoler in chief as he focuses on helping people.

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He intends to make his management of the state’s economy a cornerstone of his reelection campaign. During his term, Kentucky has posted record highs for job creation and investments and record low unemployment rates.

Republicans, meanwhile, consistently remind Kentuckians of the restrictions Beshear imposed during the pandemic.

“Folks, just because we lived through a global pandemic doesn’t mean that our rights, our freedoms and liberties should be tossed out the window,” GOP gubernatorial hopeful Ryan Quarles said this summer at the Fancy Farm picnic, the state’s top political event.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, among the Republicans running for governor, led a legal fight against Beshear’s pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings, winning before the Kentucky Supreme Court. That cleared the way for the legislature to rein in the governor’s emergency powers.

But as Republican rivals at the picnic slammed his job performance, Beshear was across the state in the mountains, consoling families left homeless by the flooding.

The governor defends his pandemic-related actions, which he says reflected guidance from then-President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. More importantly, Beshear says, they saved lives.

For all his niceties, Beshear also has shown a fighter’s instincts — whether it’s on the campaign trail or in skirmishes over legislation.

He vetoed bills putting more restrictions on abortion and banning transgender girls and women from female sports teams, beginning in the sixth grade. Both were political risks in socially conservative Kentucky. Beshear also vetoed bills aimed at launching charter schools, phasing out individual income taxes and tightening rules for public assistance benefits. Republican lawmakers overrode all those vetoes and cite them as evidence that he’s out of touch.

“It shows that his beliefs are inconsistent with the beliefs of Kentuckians,” said state Auditor Mike Harmon, another GOP officeholder running for governor.

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But for some Republican voters, Beshear’s handling of epic natural disasters and his empathy for Kentuckians struggling to overcome tragedy matter more.

Timothy Carter, an eastern Kentucky coal miner and diehard Trump supporter, said Beshear has been there for flood victims.

“He’s gotten out and stomped right through the mud just the same as they have,” Carter said. “And when a lot of people see that, that brings a different respect. It’s an earned respect.”

In a region with deep affection for Trump, Carter and several others praised Beshear as they waited recently for their children to be fitted with donated shoes at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, one of several places Beshear designated as emergency shelters after the tornadoes or flooding.

During another visit there, Beshear comforted Pansy McCoy, who took refuge at the park after floodwaters swamped her home. She’s hit a snag in getting the help she needs.

“I just want my home,” she told the governor. “I just want a home.”

“We’ll work with you on that, OK?” Beshear said before connecting her with members of his team.

While McCoy expressed her appreciation for the governor, not everyone saw things that way.

Randy Johnson stayed outside the park lodge when the governor spoke to a crowd inside. Johnson said later that he’s been in limbo since his home was flooded, living at the park with his wife and grandchild and awaiting federal aid.

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“He sure let us down,” Johnson said. “I just don’t see nothing getting any better.”

But that wasn’t the prevailing view. McIntosh, the Republican who’s moved into a temporary travel trailer, said he’ll have no problem voting for the governor next year.

“I can’t believe he’s doing as much as he’s doing here,” McIntosh said, “trying to help all us eastern Kentuckians.”

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Associated Press writer Mike Catalini in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP for full coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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Beryl forecast to become ‘dangerous’ Category 4 hurricane

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Beryl forecast to become ‘dangerous’ Category 4 hurricane

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Beryl was closing in on the southeastern Caribbean, and government officials late Sunday pleaded with people to take shelter from the dangerous Category 3 storm.

The storm was expected to make landfall in the Windward Islands on Monday morning. Hurricane warnings were in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada, Tobago and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” warned the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, saying Beryl was “forecast to bring life-threatening winds and storm surge.”

Beryl was centered about 110 miles (175 kilometers) south-southeast of Barbados early Monday. It had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) and was moving west at 20 mph (31 kph). It is a compact storm, with hurricane-force winds extending 30 miles (45 kilometers) from its center.

It had gained Category 4 strength Sunday before weakening slightly, and further fluctuations in strength were forecast.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique and Trinidad. A tropical storm watch was issued for Dominica, Haiti’s entire southern coast, and from Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic west to the border with Haiti.

Beryl was expected to pass just south of Barbados early Monday and then head into the Caribbean Sea as a major hurricane on a path toward Jamaica. It was forecast to weaken by midweek, but still remain a hurricane while heading toward Mexico.

Historic hurricane

Beryl initially strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane Sunday morning, becoming the first major hurricane east of the Lesser Antilles on record for June, according to Philip Klotzbach, Colorado State University hurricane researcher.

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It took Beryl only 42 hours to strengthen from a tropical depression to a major hurricane — a feat accomplished only six other times in Atlantic hurricane history, and with Sept. 1 as the previous earliest date, hurricane expert Sam Lillo said.

 

 

People disassemble a beach bar's awning in preparation for Hurricane Beryl, in Bridgetown, Barbados, Sunday, June 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

 

People disassemble a beach bar’s awning in preparation for Hurricane Beryl, in Bridgetown, Barbados, Sunday, June 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

 

Beryl then gained more power, becoming the earliest Category 4 Atlantic hurricane on record, besting Hurricane Dennis, which became a Category 4 storm on July 8, 2005, hurricane specialist and storm surge expert Michael Lowry said.

“Beryl is an extremely dangerous and rare hurricane for this time of year in this area,” Lowry said in a phone interview. “Unusual is an understatement. Beryl is already a historic hurricane and it hasn’t struck yet.”

Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was the last strong hurricane to hit the southeastern Caribbean, causing catastrophic damage in Grenada as a Category 3 storm.

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“So this is a serious threat, a very serious threat,” Lowry said of Beryl.

Reecia Marshall, who lives in Grenada, was working a Sunday shift at a local hotel, preparing guests and urging them to stay away from windows as she stored enough food and water for everyone.

She said that she was a child when Hurricane Ivan struck and that she doesn’t fear Beryl.

“I know it’s part of nature. I’m OK with it,” she said. “We just have to live with it.”

Forecasters warned of a life-threatening storm surge of up to 9 feet (3 meters) in areas where Beryl makes landfall, with 3 to 6 inches (7.6 to 15 centimeters) of rain for Barbados and nearby islands and possibly 10 inches in some areas (25 centimeters).

Warm waters are fueling Beryl, with ocean heat content in the deep Atlantic the highest on record for this time of year, said Brian McNoldy, a tropical meteorology researcher at the University of Miami.

Lowry said the waters are now warmer than they would be at the peak of the hurricane season in September.

Beryl marks the farthest east that a hurricane has formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, breaking a record set in 1933, according to Klotzbach.

“Please take this very seriously and prepare yourselves,” said Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “This is a terrible hurricane.”

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Bracing for the storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costumers purchase groceries ahead of Hurricane Beryl in Arnos Vale, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sunday, June 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Lucanus Ollivierre)

 

Costumers purchase groceries ahead of Hurricane Beryl in Arnos Vale, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sunday, June 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Lucanus Ollivierre)
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Long lines formed at gas stations and grocery stores in Barbados and other islands as people rushed to prepare for a storm that rapidly intensified.

Thousands of people were in Barbados for Saturday’s Twenty20 World Cup final, cricket’s biggest event, with Prime Minister Mia Mottley noting that not all fans were able to leave Sunday despite many rushing to change their flights.

“Some of them have never gone through a storm before,” she said. “We have plans to take care of them.”

Mottley said all businesses should close by Sunday evening and warned that the airport would close by nighttime.

Across Barbados, people prepared, including Peter Corbin, 71, who helped his son put up plywood to protect his home’s glass doors. He said by phone that he worried about Beryl’s impact on islands just east of Barbados.

“That’s like a butcher cutting up a pig,” he said. “They’ve got to make a bunker somewhere. It’s going to be tough.”

In St. Lucia, Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre announced a national shutdown for Sunday evening and said schools and businesses would remain closed Monday.

“Preservation and protection of life is a priority,” he said.

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Looking ahead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Beryl's winds batter Carlisle Bay in Bridgetown, Barbados, Monday, July 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

 

Hurricane Beryl’s winds batter Carlisle Bay in Bridgetown, Barbados, Monday, July 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
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Caribbean leaders were preparing not only for Beryl, but for a cluster of thunderstorms trailing the hurricane that had a 70% chance of becoming a tropical depression.

“Do not let your guard down,” Mottley said.

Beryl is the second named storm in what is forecast to be an above-average hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 in the Atlantic. Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Alberto came ashore in northeastern Mexico with heavy rains that resulted in four deaths.

On Sunday evening, a tropical depression formed near the eastern Mexico coastal city of Veracruz, with the National Hurricane Center warning of flooding and mudslides.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the 2024 hurricane season is likely to be well above average, with between 17 and 25 named storms. The forecast calls for as many as 13 hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms, seven of them hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

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Judge acquits 28 people accused in Panama Papers case, including law firm co-founder

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Judge acquits 28 people accused in Panama Papers case, including law firm co-founder

PANAMA CITY (AP) — A judge has acquitted 28 people accused of money laundering in an international case known as the Panama Papers, including the co-founder of a law firm that authorities say was at the center of a conspiracy to hide money linked to illegal activities.

Jürgen Mossack founded Mossack & Fonseca with then associate Ramón Fonseca, who died in May. Mossack was acquitted on Friday along with others after a Panamanian judge found that the evidence against Mossack didn’t comply with the chain of custody after authorities raided the office of the now defunct firm.

Prosecutors had accused Mossack, Fonseca and others of creating offshore companies and using complex transactions to hide money from illegal activities related to the so-called car wash corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to a charge related to using shell companies to hide millions of dollars in bribes paid worldwide to win public contracts.

The judge noted that other evidence in the Panama Papers case “was not sufficient and conclusive to determine the criminal responsibility of the accused.”

In addition, the judge lifted personal and property precautionary measures against all the defendants, according to a judicial statement.

“We feel satisfied in the midst of mixed emotions, because many lives were affected along the way,” Guillermina Mc Donald, who was the defense attorney for Mossack and Fonseca, told The Associated Press. Her firm also represented 80% of the accused firm’s collaborators.

Judge Balaoisa Marquínez had decided to combine the Panama Papers case with another known as “Operation Car Wash,” a major anti-corruption investigation that began in Brazil.

On Friday, she ruled that in the car wash case, “it was not possible to determine the entry of money from illicit sources, coming from Brazil, into the Panamanian financial system with the purpose of hiding, concealing, disguising or helping to evade the legal consequences of the preceding crime.”

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In June 2022, Mossack, Fonseca and 37 other people were acquitted in a separate money laundering case.

The investigation in Brazil began in 2014, with the Mossack & Fonseca firm later coming under scrutiny after 11 million financial documents tied to the company were leaked.

The repercussions of the leak were widespread: it led to the resignation of a prime minister in Iceland and brought scrutiny to now former leaders of Argentina and Ukraine, Chinese politicians and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others.

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A San Francisco store is shipping LGBTQ+ books to states where they are banned

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A San Francisco store is shipping LGBTQ+ books to states where they are banned

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In an increasingly divisive political sphere, Becka Robbins focuses on what she knows best — books.

Operating out of a tiny room in Fabulosa Books in San Francisco’s Castro District, one of the oldest gay neighborhoods in the United States, Robbins uses donations from customers to ship boxes of books across the country to groups that want them.

In an effort she calls “Books Not Bans,” she sends titles about queer history, sexuality, romance and more — many of which are increasingly hard to come by in the face of a rapidly growing movement by conservative advocacy groups and lawmakers to ban them from public schools and libraries.

“The book bans are awful, the attempt at erasure,” Robbins said. She asked herself how she could get these books into the hands of the people who need them the most.

Beginning last May, she started raising money and looking for recipients. Her books have gone to places like a pride center in west Texas and an LGBTQ-friendly high school in Alabama.

Customers are especially enthusiastic about helping Robbins send books to places in states like Florida, Texas and Oklahoma, often writing notes of support to include in the packages. Over 40% of all book bans from July 2022 to June 2023 were in Florida, more than any other state. Behind Florida are Texas and Missouri, according to a report by PEN America, a nonprofit literature advocacy group.

Book bans and attempted bans have been hitting record highs, according to the American Library Association. And the efforts now extend as much to public libraries as school libraries. Because the totals are based on media accounts and reports submitted by librarians, the association regards its numbers as snapshots, with many bans left unrecorded.

PEN America’s report said 30% of the bans include characters of color or discuss race and racism, and 30% have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

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The most sweeping challenges often originate with conservative organizations, such as Moms for Liberty, which has organized banning efforts nationwide and called for more parental control over books available to children.

Moms for Liberty is not anti-LGBTQ+, co-founder Tiffany Justice has told The Associated Press. But about 38% of book challenges that “directly originated” from the group have LGBTQ+ themes, according to the library association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Justice said Moms for Liberty challenges books that are sexually explicit, not because they cover LGBTQ+ topics.

Among those topping banned lists have been Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” George Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An LGBTQ+ related book is seen on display at Fabulosa Books, in the Castro District of San Francisco on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

 

An LGBTQ+ related book is seen on display at Fabulosa Books, in the Castro District of San Francisco on Thursday, June 27, 2024. “Books Not Bans” is a program initiated and sponsored by the store that sends boxes of LGBTQ+ books to LGBTQ+ organizations in conservative parts of America where politicians are demonizing and banning books with LGBTQ+ affirming content. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

 

Robbins said it’s more important than ever to makes these kinds of books available to everyone.

“Fiction teaches us how to dream,” Robbins said. “It teaches us how to connect with people who are not like ourselves, it teaches us how to listen and emphasize.”

She’s sent 740 books so far, with each box worth $300 to $400, depending on the titles.

At the new Rose Dynasty Center in Lakeland, Florida, the books donated by Fabulosa are already on the shelves, said Jason DeShazo, a drag queen known as Momma Ashley Rose who runs the LGBTQ+ community center.

 
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Becka Robbins, events manager and founder of the

 

Becka Robbins, events manager and founder of the “Books Not Bans” program at Fabulosa Books, packs up LGBTQ+ books to be sent to parts of the country where they are censored on Thursday, June 27, 2024 at the Castro District of San Francisco. The bookstore is sending LGBTQ+ books to where they are censored to counter the rapidly growing effort by anti-LGBTQ+ activists and lawmakers to ban queer-friendly books from public schools and libraries. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

 

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DeShazo is a family-friendly drag performer and has long hosted drag story times to promote literacy. He uses puppets to address themes of being kind, dealing with bullies and giving back to the community.

DeShazo hopes to provide a safe space for events, support groups and health clinics, and to build a library of banned books.

“I don’t think a person of color should have to search so hard for an amazing book about history of what our Black community has gone through,” DeShazo said. “Or for someone who is queer to find a book that represents them.”

Robbins’ favorite books to send are youth adult queer romances, a rapidly growing genre as conversations about LGBTQ+ issues have become much more mainstream than a decade ago.

“The characters are just like regular kids — regular people who are also queer, but they also get to fall in love and be happy,” Robbins said.

_____

Ding reported from Los Angeles.

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