2:35pm

Tue April 10, 2012
The Commonwealth

Governors Receive Honorary Degrees

Bellarmine University will bestow honorary degrees to Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels at their spring commencement ceremony. The school is recognizing the two governors for their regional partnership and bipartisan cooperation, specifically citing their work on the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges.

The juggernaut public works projects seeks to construct a new downtown bridge and an East End span between Utica, In., and Prospect, Ky., as well as a reconfigure the Spaghetti Junction interchange.

Both will receive an honorary doctor of law degree from Bellarmine at the school’s May 12 graduation.

Bellarmine University President Joseph McGowan says the governors’ work on the bridges project was a notable reason for choosing them.

“In Louisville and Southern Indiana, we’ve been going back-and-forth for 40 years trying to get a bridge going and finally these two governors have been working together, addressing the issues of cost and moving this ball down the field. So it’s much more likely that it’s going to happen than it’s ever been in our history,” he says.

Earlier this year, Beshear and Daniels signed an agreement on financing their portions of the Ohio River Bridges Project with both states putting up roughly $1.3 billion. The two successfully revised the plan and introduced several cost-cutting measures to bring it down from the original $4.1 billion price tag.

Despite praise from Bellermine’s leaders, a recent poll commissioned by a foundation in southern Indiana showed mixed results on support for building the bridges. It also revealed that residents aren’t satisfied with how elected officials have handled the project. The survey found only 27 percent of respondents are pleased with local leadership on the issue and most commuters oppose tolling existing infrastructure to pay for the project.

But McGowan says Beshear and Daniels have exemplified core values the university upholds despite the country’s deep partisan divisions and continued debate over the bridges project.

“Here in 2012 you actually have governors from two different states, each one from a different political party who are actually working together to get results,” he says. “When you look around politics today you don’t see partisan cooperation on a regular basis and you don’t see this kind of civility and professionalism.”

Previous recipients of honorary Bellarmine degrees include public radio broadcaster Bob Edwards, Maker’s Mark chairman emeritus Bill Samuels Jr., and celebrated writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry. This year marks the first time two governors have received the honor.