FRANKFORT, Ky. (WHAS11) -- In a salute to his controversial decision to implement "Obamacare" in Kentucky, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear will attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, seated with First Lady Michelle Obama in the U.S. House gallery.
"It's an honor that I never expected," Beshear told WHAS11, "but we're both thrilled with it."
Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear will also attend the speech yet will not be seated in the Mrs. Obama's box.
Amid delays, complications and revisions of the Affordable Care Act, nationally, Beshear has emerged as a leading advocate for the health care law. The second-term governor has defended his decisions to expand Medicaid eligibility and create a Kentucky-based health insurance exchange in a state where Obama and the health care law are generally unpopular.
"Certainly, we've been having great success here in Kentucky," Beshear said. "Actually, we've got the national model for success in implementing the Affordable Care Act."
Beshear said the initial flood of calls since Kentucky's exchange launched on October 1 has increased from 1000 people signing up per day to about 1500 per day, a total of 182,000 people in four months.
"That just shows you the pent-up demand that Kentuckians have for affordable health care here in Kentucky," Beshear said.
Beshear said he received a phone call on Thursday from Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House advisor, with the invitation. Beshear said he and his wife, Jane, plan to fly to Washington on Tuesday in time for a 5pm White House reception followed by the presidential motorcade to the Capitol.
"Obviously, Kentucky being a shining light and a leader in this nation in providing health care also gives me an opportunity on the national stage to talk about the other things that Kentucky is leading on like in education and education reform," Beshear said.
The governor also touted Kentucky schools taking the lead on the adoption of common core standards, next generation science standards, raising the drop-out age from 16 to 18, a $44 million Race to the Top early childhood grant, and an expansion of early childhood education.
"Those kinds of things America needs to know, the world needs to know," Beshear said, "because Kentucky is a progressive place to be, and we want to attract people from all over the world to come here, create jobs and do business with us."
The Obama invitation comes as Republicans are eager to link another Kentucky Democrat, Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, to the Obama administration. Polls have shown the president and the health care law are generally unpopular in Kentucky.
"Right now, with all the misinformation out there, they're confused just like everybody else is," Beshear explained. "So, next November, 80 percent of Kentuckians will know that it doesn't affect them. And so it won't be an issue for them, and a good part of the other 20 percent are going to be covered either by expanded Medicaid or by a qualified health plan and they're going to like very much what they're getting for the dollars that they pay."
"So, I think by next November this will be a positive issue for those that support it," Beshear said.
That said, Beshear said his role in Mr. Obama's State of the Union is "not political."
"If the president were a Republican, I would be going to Washington, D.C. to be honored and for Kentucky to be honored for the efforts that we're making for our people on affordable health care," Beshear added.
The Beshear-Obama relationship has improved considerably since 2011, when the governor admonished the president to "Get off our backs" regarding EPA regulations considered harmful to Kentucky's coal industry. That same year, Beshear did not greet Mr. Obama when the President travelled to Ft. Campbell Kentucky to meet with the soldiers involved in the mission to track down Osama Bin Laden. An Associated Press report later revealed that Beshear had not been invited.
Later that same year, however, Beshear had the first of least two subsequent meetings with President Obama where they discussed federal help for infrastructure, specifically the repair of the I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge in Louisville.
In the 2012 Democratic primary, 42 percent of Kentucky Democrats, representing half of Kentucky's counties, voted for "uncommitted" delegates rather than for Mr. Obama.
WHAS11 asked Beshear whether he would take the occasion of the State of the Union invitation to raise Kentucky's concerns with the president.
"I've discussed a number of issues with the President over the years," Beshear replied, "every time we get a chance to talk."
"I'm sure that from time to time just as I've done in the past, I will be able to talk with the President about a number of issues that affect Kentucky," Beshear continued. "I've talked to the White House on a number of occassions about getting a Race to the Top grant, you know, for our children at an early age, about a lot of different things like that, that Kentucky needs. And, you know, things are starting to come around out of Washington for Kentucky."
Beshear noted a "Promise Zone" economic classification President Obama announced earlier this month for eastern Kentucky.
The State of the Union honor and Beshear taking a stand for the ACA may also yield other gains for Kentucky.
"Certainly, I think that Kentucky has benefitted from us stepping up and being the model for success for the Affordable Care Act, Beshear said.
"We're doing it because our people needed this," the governor continued. "But it's also giving us national recognition and I'm sure we are much more on the minds of those in the White House and in this administration because we've been there and are doing the kinds of things that show that this act, this Affordable Care Act can be a success in this country."