FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general sued the Republican governor on Tuesday, marking the fourth time taxpayers will pay for the state’s two most powerful politicians to collide in court.
Attorney General Andy Beshear’s latest lawsuit says Gov. Matt Bevin is using executive orders to rewrite state laws without the approval of the state legislature. As a result, Beshear says, Bevin gets to consolidate power by replacing or altering the boards of dozens of powerful regulatory commissions that oversee some of the state’s largest industries and most vital public services.
In the 20 months Bevin has been in office, he has altered 37 state boards by adding and replacing members, and he has a plan to alter another 39 over the next 30 days. Earlier this month, Bevin issued an order altering seven boards that regulate public education, prompting the Republican chairman of the House Education Committee to worry publicly about the independence of the state legislature.
Tuesday, Beshear asked a state judge to void Bevin’s executive order and to permanently ban him from changing independent state boards that are governed by state law.
“The governor could have avoided this lawsuit simply by following the law,” Beshear said in a news release announcing the lawsuit. “Everyone must follow the law, regardless of position and regardless of party.”
Bevin spokesman Woody Maglinger said the governor’s order is “legal, proper and in the best interest of our students.” Bevin is relying on a state law says it’s OK for the governor and other statewide elected officers to reorganize the government when the legislature is not in session, including “the creation, alteration or abolition of any organizational unit.”
It’s the same law Bevin used last year to abolish and replace the boards of trustees at the University of Louisville and the Kentucky Retirement Systems. It’s also the law Beshear himself used last year to make changes to the attorney general’s office.
“Why didn’t (Beshear) look in the mirror and sue himself?” Maglinger said.
One reason is because so far the courts have made a distinction between an agency controlled by the governor or the attorney general and an independent board created by the state legislature. That’s why a state judge ruled in one lawsuit that it was illegal for Bevin to replace the University of Louisville’s board, but the same judge ruled in another case that it was legal for Bevin to alter the board governing the state’s largest public pension system.
Both of those lawsuits, filed by Beshear, are still pending. A third lawsuit, also filed by Beshear, challenged Bevin’s order cutting the budgets of state colleges and universities without the state legislature’s approval. The state Supreme Court ordered Bevin to give the money back, and he did.
The Republican-controlled state legislature has since passed laws making most of Bevin’s changes permanent, and lawmakers added some changes of their own. But Beshear says that does not change the fact that Bevin’s original orders were illegal, and he’s asking the court to stop the governor from doing it again.
Bevin isn’t finished yet. Earlier this month, the Personnel Cabinet Secretary David Dickerson told state lawmakers the governor planned to reorganize an additional 39 state boards in 30 days. Beshear said those orders would “provide the governor with more power and control than the General Assembly granted.”
Personnel Cabinet spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said the changes are not a power grab by the governor, but an attempt to protect those boards from anti-trust lawsuits following a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. That ruling said state governments must supervise professional licensing boards because the people on those boards hold licenses in the industries they regulate.
“We must eliminate this vulnerability, ensuring that Kentucky can maintain a competitive marketplace for licensed professionals,” Khun said.