Allegation of politicized road project delay sparks denial, talk of impeachment proceedings next session

08/30/2016 07:20 PM

FRANKFORT — After state Rep. Russell Meyer accused Gov. Matt Bevin of pulling the plug on an $11 million road project in his district after rebuffing offers to become a Republican, House Speaker Greg Stumbo on Tuesday raised the possibility that the first-year governor could face impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Such an action would depend on the Democrat-led chamber’s makeup, currently 53-47 in favor of Democrats, after the fall elections and likely be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The matter emerged on Saturday, when CNHI News reported that Meyer, D-Nicholasville, blamed politics on the Transportation Cabinet’s decision to delay a $11.2 project in his mostly Jessamine County district after he declined to change his party affiliation.

The contract was awarded on the last day of ex-Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

Bevin’s office, which has denied Meyer’s allegations, released Transportation Cabinet emails on Tuesday that show officials discussing how to handle the delayed project, which The Courier Journal reports has cost the state $625,000 with another $850,000 due if work isn’t begun by May 1, in February.

“There is no way the deadline of March 16 will be met for right of way clearance and utility clearance,” Deputy General Counsel Todd Shipp wrote in a Feb. 11 email to General Counsel Kevin Moore. “I have reviewed the specifications and there is no real simple way to get out of this without some potential loss.”

That followed the revelation of a December voicemail Meyer received from Bevin, first reported on CNHI News on Tuesday. In it, the governor says he “had some conversations since our last conversation — a little disappointed by some of what I’m hearing.”

“I want to make sure you understand where things are in my mind and the decisions I’m going to make in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead,” Bevin says in the message. “I want you to be very aware of what the impact of those decisions will be as it relates to you, your seat, your district, etcetera. Just so we have all the cards on the table.”

Bevin’s office downplayed news of the “nine-month-old polite and personal” voicemail as a “desperate and partisan effort to misconstrue the conversations that (Meyer) initiated” and “proof of his continued insecurity about keeping his seat.”

But Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the governor may have broken the law — and opened himself to impeachment — if Meyer’s accusations are true.

“I would think that either state or federal authorities would look at this and at least give it a look and see,” Stumbo told reporters outside his Capitol office on Tuesday. “There’s certainly very serious allegations about an abuse, the separation of powers.”

He said House Democratic leaders are looking into opening a legislative inquiry into the matter, but he stopped short of saying definitively whether the lower chamber would initiate impeachment hearing against Bevin when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“It’s a short session, and the other problem is of course members who would vote on these things probably, either Senate or House members, don’t need to be tainted by hearing the evidence before it’s presented to the full body,” he said.

Bevin’s office dismissed Stumbo’s talk of impeachment. Spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said that Stumbo, “who doesn’t even live in the district he claims to represent, has lost all credibility with the people of Kentucky.”

“He has spent much of his political career threatening Kentuckians with legal action to the degree that it is difficult for intelligent people to take him seriously,” Ditto said in a statement.

“It is remarkable that House Democrats continue to allow him to serve as their leader. Speaker Stumbo’s erratic behavior and foolish comments are an embarrassment to the Commonwealth. Kentuckians deserve better than such buffoonery from our leaders.”

Stumbo also said he has reason to believe that House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover was present at a Dec. 28 meeting at the Governor’s Mansion to convince Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, to switch parties.

“If that is true, that is a very seriously allegation,” he said. “I would never, ever stand and allow a governor to threaten a Republican member of this chamber, ever. If that is true, Rep. Hoover owes us, I think, a pretty detailed explanation.”

Hoover’s office did not return a request seeking comment.

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, weighed in on the matter, calling the politicization of the delayed road construction “unfortunate.”

“I know Governor Bevin will continue to ensure the state provides a safe and reliable transportation system for this entire community,” Buford said in a statement. “This is a road project I placed into the Road Plan and continue to support. It will be completed as soon as property right-of-ways and utilities are properly secured.”


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