LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One of Kentucky's former governors has died.
In a post on social media, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that former Gov. Brereton Jones has passed away at the age of 84.
"Gov. Jones was a dedicated leader and a distinguished thoroughbred owner who worked to strengthen Kentucky for our families," he said.
Jones was a prominent horse breeder whose political career began in his native West Virginia, where he was elected to the House of Delegates as a Republican. He moved to Kentucky and switched parties, first winning election as lieutenant governor before running for and winning the state's highest elected office.
Jones was Kentucky's governor from 1991 to 1995, and he served as lieutenant governor under Wallace Wilkinson from 1987 to 1991.
His administration was most memorable for a well-intentioned yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt at universal health insurance. Jones envisioned a system in which coverage would be accessible and affordable for everyone, regardless of health history. Instead, dozens of insurers bailed out of Kentucky, and costs for individual coverage soared. He also sought to strengthen ethics laws while in office.
Once in office, Jones got the legislature to create an ethics commission for executive branch officials and employees. But despite his frequent speeches about ethics, Jones seemed to many to have a blind spot when it came to his own finances and business dealings.
Also under Jones, the legislature enacted its own ethics law, with its own ethics commission, following an FBI investigation of a legislative bribery and influence-peddling scandal.
The major initiative of Jones’ administration was access to health care and controlling the cost of health coverage. But the heart of the initiative was an ultimately ill-fated experiment in universal health care coverage.
Insurers were forbidden to consider a person’s health when setting rates. No one could be denied coverage as long as they paid the premiums. Insurance policies were expected to be standardized — thus theoretically easier for consumers to compare — and a state board was created to regulate them.
Insurance companies refused to accede. A number of companies pulled out of Kentucky. Premiums shot upward as competition nearly disappeared. The initiative later was gutted or repealed by lawmakers.
He is also remembered as a survivor from a helicopter crash during his term that left him seriously injured.
Reflecting on his term shortly before leaving office in 1995, Jones said he warmed to the job.
“I hated the first year,” he told an interviewer. “The second year, I tolerated it. I liked the third year, and the fourth year, well, I’ve loved it. It all passes so quickly.”
After leaving the governorship, Jones returned to private life at Airdrie Stud, a horse farm in central Kentucky.
In a news release, the Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) remembered Jones as "a visionary leader in Kentucky's equine industry."
"His dedication led to critical policy changes and initiatives that directly benefited horse owners, breeders, trainers, and enthusiasts across the state," a spokesperson for KEEP said.
The Kentucky House Democratic Caucus released a statement on Jones' passing, saying:
We are saddened to learn of the passing of former Governor Brereton Jones, and extend condolences to his family. He served Kentucky admirably as lieutenant governor and governor, twin roles in which he left an indelible mark on the commonwealth. He was a staunch advocate for improving healthcare access for all citizens; he embraced needed ethics reforms for government; he was a vocal supporter of our signature horse industry and state parks; and he helped clear the way for future constitutional officers to serve two consecutive terms. There is no doubt that Kentuckians are much better off because of Governor Jones’ public service.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he and his wife, Elaine, are saddened to hear of the former governor's passing.
"The people of Kentucky benefited from Governor Jones’ leadership, both when he was in public office and afterward when he dedicated himself to educating Kentuckians about our state’s unique cultural heritage," he said. "I know his leadership and public service will continue to serve as an inspiration to us all."
The family has asked for privacy according to Beshear, but more information will be released soon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.