Kentucky Governor-Elect Matt Bevin Up In Arms About Political Cartoon

November 20th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

The governor-elect of Kentucky, Matt Bevin (R), doesn't take office for another three weeks, but he's still found himself at the center of a controversy over his stance on Syrian refugees. Bevin says that he opposes the "resettlement of Syrian nationals," and a cartoonist at the Lexington Herald-Leader, Joel Pett, responded in a way that has itself generated controversy.

He drew this cartoon, which shows Bevin cowering under his desk, apparently fearful of the threat of terrorism.


"Sir, they're not terrorists... they're your own adopted kids!" the text of the cartoon reads.

And that's where the contention comes in: Bevin has four adopted children from Ethiopia, and some have argued that the cartoon is a personal attack that peddles in racism. Bevin certainly thinks so, and he took to Twitter to condemn the Kentucky newspaper cartoonist.

To Pett, allegations that the cartoon is an "overtly racist attack" on Bevin's children is completely unfounded. He said so in a response published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Thursday.

While he admits to having pushed the envelope, Pett contends that his illustration is neither an attack on Bevin's children nor racist.

"The fact that he adopted children from Africa, a continent whose promise and challenges I routinely draw about, is the thing I admire the most about Bevin," Pett wrote. "I did use the fact that he has children from another country in a piece designed to express outrage over a legitimate hot-button political issue."

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That hot-button political issue is the rise in anti-refugee (specifically those refugees from Muslim countries such as Syria) sentiment among many conservative politicians (and some Democrats) in the U.S.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted in favor (289-137) of a GOP bill that would curb the Syrian refugee program; 47 Democrats joined 242 Republicans in voting in favor of the bill. President Obama has said he'll veto any bill that curbs the refugee program, but before it goes to Pres. Obama it must first go to the Senate.

In terms of individual states, over two dozen U.S. governors have said they won't take in Syrian refugees (despite not having the authority to refuse refugees).

Unlike the sitting governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear (D), who said that the state should do "the Christian thing" and accept refugees fleeing violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, Bevin says the attacks in Paris "serve as a warning to the entire civilized world that we must remain vigilant."

"This is why I am joining with other governors across the country in opposing the resettlement of Syrian nationals," Bevin announced this week.

For the most part, Kentucky readers who disagreed with Pett were critical of the subjects portr in his editorial cartoon: Bevin's children. It is generally seen as poor taste to use a politician's children, no matter the context, to make a political point. But Pett stands by his cartoon.

"We can play it straight, or use sarcasm and humor, or irony, whatever," Pett wrote. "And maybe we could make an attempt, some tiny attempt, to understand other positions, and not poison free debate with a morass of shrieks, hurt feelings, and calls for silence."