FRANKFORT (AP) — Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general won a lawsuit last fall against the state’s GOP governor, but Republican lawmakers have made sure to remind him his party lost the election.
They announced a proposal Wednesday to strip the Democratic attorney general of some powers and hand them to the state’s Republican governor instead, including the ability to represent the state in some lawsuits.
Beshear sued Gov. Matt Bevin three times last year. He won one case and two others are still pending. But Republicans defeated 17 Democratic incumbents state House in November, giving the GOP control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time.
They say Beshear is out of step with the people’s will.
Southern Republican lawmakers have clamped down on Democratic statewide officeholders before. In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a series of laws to curb the new Democratic governor’s authority. Gov. Roy Cooper has filed a lawsuit in response.
Beshear has promised to sue the Kentucky legislature should they pass this bill. He says it would make it harder for him to sue Bevin when he believes the governor broke the law. Two such lawsuits have already brought responses from the courts.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruled in September that Bevin broke the law when he cut the budgets of some public colleges and universities without asking the legislature. And a state judge rebuked Bevin in a still pending case for “a flagrant abuse of executive power” for using state troopers to prevent the ousted chairman of the state’s retirement system from participating in a meeting.
On Wednesday, speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee members, Beshear said the bill would give Bevin a “get out of jail free card.”
“If a bank robber is caught robbing a bank, instead of deciding, ‘I’m going to stop violating the law and stop robbing banks,’ we’ll just get rid of the police,” he said.
But Republicans say the law is needed because Beshear hasn’t been representing the majority of Kentucky residents. Republicans passed two anti-abortion laws in January, one banning all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and another requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion.
Beshear said he would not defend the 20-week abortion ban should it be challenged in court. He is defending the ultrasound law in court, but Republicans say he has not done so whole-heartedly. For example, Beshear took no position in court when the ACLU asked for a temporary restraining order to block the bill while the lawsuit was pending.
“Someone has to have the designation as the individual who represents and voices the opinion of the state, and that should be the institution of the chief magistrate, which is the governor,” said Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, who sponsored the proposal.
Lawmakers considered the proposal during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. But Republican chairman Whitney Westerfield — who lost to Beshear in the 2015 attorney general election — adjourned the meeting without voting on it. He said it could come up again next week.
“We don’t know if we have the votes,” Westerfield said. “There might be a day when we have a Republican Attorney General, one everybody in the super majorities like, and a Democratic governor we disagree with. And we’re going to wish we hadn’t passed this.”
A spokesman for Bevin did not respond to a request for comment. Bevin has been in Japan for several days on a trade mission and is scheduled to return to Kentucky on Wednesday. Stivers said the governor’s office did not ask for the amendment. But Beshear made it clear he believes the governor is behind the proposal.
“Some of the language that you heard today from Sen. Stivers is the same language we are seeing in pleadings from the governor, down to the specific words,” Beshear said.