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The Battle of Kentucky: Bevin vs. Beshear in Lawsuits, Investigations

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin delivers his budget before a joint legislative session in the House Chambers at the Kentucky State Capitol, in Frankfort, Ky., on Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

A dispute over whether Kentucky Gov. Mark Bevin (R) has the authority to fire the chairman of the Kentucky Retirement System’s board of trustees is the latest flashpoint in a feud between Bevin and the state’s attorney general, Andy Beshear, that boiled over in April.

It began with Gov. Bevin calling for a state investigation of Beshear and his father, former Gov. Steven L. Beshear.

Andy Beshear countered by suing Bevin for cutting $41 million in state education funding without the legislature’s approval.

Beshear told Gov. Bevin on April 1 that he would have a week to take back the 4.5 percent budget-cutting order. Three days after the deadline passed, Beshear announced the lawsuit.

“No governor has the power to do what this governor has done,” Beshear, a Democrat, told reporters. “And I would sue any governor who did this, whether Democratic or Republican.”

Beshear said that when Gov. Bevin unilaterally cut $41 million in state funding for education, he violated the separation of powers guaranteed by the state’s constitution, as well as breaking state laws governing spending reductions.

“On Jan. 4, I put my hand on my family Bible and took an oath to defend our constitution. As Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that no public official acts outside his or her authority, regardless of position and regardless of party,” Beshear said. “And that duty is why today I filed suit against Gov. Bevin for his unconstitutional and illegal order cutting Kentucky’s public universities and colleges in this fiscal year.”

A spokesman for Bevin said Beshear was only trying to move attention away from the governor’s call for an investigation into the attorney general and his father.

“As best we can make sense of his rambling press conference, we strongly disagree with the attorney general and will respond as necessary in court,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto told WUKY-TV.

Beshear’s allegations against Bevin are as tame as the pages of a high school government book compared to what the governor is accusing the attorney general and his father of doing.

Phrases like “ill-gotten gains” and “the greedy — even corrupt — practices of the past” littered Bevin’s announcement of an investigation into the 2015 Beshear for Attorney General campaign and the administration of former Gov. Steven L. Beshear.

Bevin charged his administration “learned from rank-and-file state employees” they were forced by Gov. Beshear’s administration to donate to the campaigns of Democrats in 2015, including Stephen Beshear and his son, Andy.

“This sort of thing was not only wrong — if true, it was illegal,” said Bevin. “It warrants thorough investigation and exposure in any Cabinet where it may have occurred. And punishment where warranted. These practices will not be tolerated in our administration.”

Gov. Bevin also wants an investigation of the way former Gov. Beshear handled a $3 million no-bid contract that was awarded to SAS Institute of North Carolina for fraud-detection services.

It was awarded on the last day of Beshear’s administration to the company that has ties to the Beshear administration. Bevin said a former governor’s office official worked as a lobbyist for SAS, and the husband of Beshear’s secretary of the cabinet was employed by SAS as a consultant.

Bevin has also raised questions about the Beshear administration’s handling of a request for a proposal for an upgrade of the state government’s IT system.

“A losing vendor receives the highest score following the re-bid conducted by a political appointee,” Bevin said. “It is a convoluted mess that doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Bevin also wants an investigation of what he called “two major potential irregularities” in the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Branch of the Personnel Cabinet, which he thinks could have cost the state millions of dollars.

Bevin has appointed Col.William Landrum III, the secretary of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, to handle the investigations.

“A thorough, independent investigation like this can expose and cast light upon prior unsavory — and perhaps illegal — practices, but can also provide the public a degree of confidence in a fair and transparent governance that was so glaringly absent in the past administration,” Bevin said.

Attorney General Beshear said Gov. Bevin should have chosen an agency outside his administration.

“The appropriate agency for investigating the governor’s allegations is the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, an independent agency, and not a cabinet that answers to the governor,” Beshear said.

“The governor is once again overstating his authority under state law. Spending taxpayer money on an outside contract when such allegations should be sent to the commission is wasteful,” he added.

While the Bevin administration is wearing its sleuthing hat, Beshear said he’d like to see an investigation of two no-bid contracts totaling $4 million that have been awarded by the Bevin administration.

As for the allegations of campaign finance violations, Beshear said U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey has already conducted an investigation and concluded “there was no involvement by me or my office.”

While that deluge of water was flowing under the bridges of the Bevin-Beshear feud, Gov. Bevin sparked Beshear’s attention again. This time, it was over a new allegation of overreach by trying to fire Thomas K. Elliott from his position as head of the chair of the state pension board.

One of Bevin’s 2015 campaign promises was to straighten out the Kentucky Retirement System, which is dealing with an unfunded liability of more than $19 billion.

AP reported his spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said the attempt to dismiss Elliot was only intended to give the pension board a “fresh start.”

The board refused to follow Gov. Bevin’s order to get rid of Elliot. But Ditto said, “He (Elliot) was removed lawfully and has no right to serve.”

Although Attorney General Beshear opined in March that Bevin could not remove a member of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission or “other boards and authorities with set or defined terms,” Beshear has not weighed in on this latest dispute over Bevin’s use or misuse of power.

However, Beshear has said he would be glad to offer an opinion if requested.