Partisan tensions in Frankfort escalated another notch last week as House Speaker Greg Stumbo organized a special committee to investigate Gov. Matt Bevin. It’s another shot in the heated battle for control of the only legislative chamber in the south still led by Democrats.
The panel on Comment on Kentucky discussed the panel Stumbo appointed, as well as the latest on key state House races, the U.S. Senate contest, and the presidential campaign.
Road Project Action Under Investigation
Stumbo’s five-member, bipartisan committee will review allegations that Bevin pulled a Jessamine County road project after Rep. Russ Meyer (D-Nicholasville) declined the governor’s request for him to join the Republican Party. Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service says it’s unusual to impanel such a group to investigate a new governor.
In a separate press conference, Bevin’s Chief of Staff Blake Brickman said Stumbo’s committee was a ploy to divert attention from allegations of corruption in the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear. Bevin has hired outside counsel to investigate accusations against his Democratic predecessor.
Ellis says Brickman played a voice mail recording that Stumbo left for Rep. David Floyd when he called to ask the Bardstown Republican to participate on his committee. In the message Stumbo said the allegations against Bevin may not be as bad as had been portrayed. Ellis says that Brickman contends that proves Stumbo’s investigation is a political “farce.” Floyd declined to participate on the panel due to family matters.
There’s some question whether the committee will be able to subpoena individuals to testify. Ellis says Stumbo contends he has the authority to empower the committee to issue subpoenas, while Brickman says that authority exists only when the legislature is in session. Stumbo wants the committee to issue a report on the matter by the time the Generally Assembly convenes in January, says Ellis.
When Stumbo was state Attorney General, he launched a probe into the merit system hiring practices of the state’s previous Republican governor. Ellis says many state GOP leaders see a symmetry between Stumbo’s 2005 investigation of Ernie Fletcher and his new efforts against the current Republican governor.
State House Races
The ongoing battle between the Bevin Administration and state Democrats is playing out against the backdrop of the November elections in which Republicans hope to gain control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century.
Nick Storm of cn|2 says there are more than a dozen races that could help decide which party will lead the chamber next year. One critical contest is in the 38th House district in southwestern Jefferson County. Storm says Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a super PAC that backs U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, has pumped about $115,000 into the race to back Rep. Denny Butler. The incumbent was a Democrat before switching his party affiliation late last year. Storm says Butler’s opponent, Democratic attorney McKenzie Cantrell, is getting strong support from labor unions. The district went for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Other House races to watch include the 91st and 94th districts in eastern Kentucky. The 91st, which includes Breathitt, Estill, Lee, and Owsley counties as well as part of Madison County, is a rematch between Democratic incumbent Cluster Howard and Republican challenger Toby Herald. Storm says the two also faced off in 2014 when Howard won by just 14 votes. The 94th features Democrat Angie Hatton, a Whitesburg lawyer, and Republican Frank Justice, a former mayor of Pikesville, in a contest to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Leslie Combs (D-Pikeville), who is retiring.
Storm says different campaign messages will come into play in the various House races. He says Republicans in the eastern Kentucky races will likely try to tie their Democratic opponents to the coal-related policies of President Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In central Kentucky districts, Storm says Democrats may tout their efforts to protect education funding from budget cuts promoted by Gov. Bevin and state Republicans.
Senate and Presidential Contests
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will participate in a candidate program to air on KET on Monday, Oct. 31. Storm says that will be the only joint appearance between the Republican incumbent and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, his Democratic opponent. Gray has criticized Paul for not accepting more debate invitations, but Storm says Paul argues that he is taking his message directly to voters through more than 100 town-hall forums across Kentucky.
A PAC supporting Paul has launched advertisements that label Gray as a tax-and-spend Democrat and that tie him to Hillary Clinton’s comments about the coal industry. Storm says Concerned American Voters is investing $350,000 in the commercials, and has $2 million available to spend on behalf of the Republican.
Former U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis (KY-2) joined 29 other former Republican Congressmen in signing a letter saying they would not vote for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. That letter came out before the Washington Post released a 2005 video of Trump using lewd and sexually offensive language.
Ronnie Ellis says those comments could be problematic for the real estate mogul in a religiously conservative state like Kentucky. Ellis isn’t certain the video will hurt Trump with evangelical voters in the commonwealth, but he says the issue bears watching.
The chair of the Jefferson County Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against Democratic members of the Louisville Metro Council for alleged electioneering on city time. Phillip M. Bailey of The Courier-Journal says the matter stems from a meeting council Democrats held at city hall with the state director of the Clinton presidential campaign. He says Democrats sought a ruling on whether the meeting with Elizabeth Cantrell would be considered electioneering. Bailey says city ethics laws forbid council members on taxpayer time from engaging in activities that advocate for a specific political candidate.
In response to a surge in homicides, council members want the city to invest in technology that would speed police response to gunfire. Bailey says one such system uses microphones placed in key locations to detect the sounds of gunshots, and would automatically relay that information to police dispatchers without having to wait for someone to call 911 and report an incident. Bailey says one company that provides such a system reports that it would cost $235,000 to install over a three square mile area, plus annual fees of $195,000 thereafter. So far this year Louisville has experienced a 56 percent increase in homicides and a 40 percent increase in shootings, according to Bailey.
And Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad is encountering public resistance to a plan to reallocate law enforcement resources to fight the escalating drug problem in the city. Bailey says Conrad wants to expand the department’s narcotics division and make its SWAT team full-time. To do that, Conrad proposes reducing the number of plain-clothes officers who investigate other crimes. Bailey says residents oppose taking police who are dealing with crimes in their neighborhoods and allocating them to other areas.
The opinions expressed on Comment on Kentucky and in this program synopsis are the responsibility of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of KET.