Attorney General Beshear challenges Gov. Bevin's decision to revamp pension, UofL boards

06/22/2016 07:58 PM

FRANKFORT — Attorney General Andy Beshear and Gov. Matt Bevin will square off again in Franklin Circuit Court after the governor’s moves on Friday to reconstitute the Kentucky Retirement Systems and University of Louisville board of trustees.

Beshear announced on Wednesday that he planned to intervene in a lawsuit filed against Bevin by ex-KRS board chairman Thomas Elliott, challenging his removal from the pension board via executive order.

Bevin later reorganized the KRS board, and he said his decision to revamp the UofL board came because the body had become dysfunctional in recent years.

But Beshear contended that the governor violated state law in remaking both boards.

“Where does this end?” Beshear asked during a Capitol press conference. “Yesterday the governor claimed quote ‘absolute authority’ end quote over all 400 plus state boards. That, my friends, is dangerous.”

The attorney general said Bevin’s reasoning that the UofL board had fallen into disarray was not a valid excuse to dismiss trustees at the university.

“What is it that the UofL board of trustees can’t get along with or arguing? They’re arguing the amount of tuition that’s going to be increased,” Beshear said. “They’re arguing about the future of a president. Board of trustees shouldn’t just fall in lockstep, and sometimes it requires that they have even aggressive disagreements, but ultimately, that’s why board of trustees can vote, and my understanding of why there hasn’t been certain votes on this board of trustees is they were waiting for appointments from this governor.”

Beshear said he had not spoken with Elliott or any of the former university board members. Bevin appointed a three-member panel to serve the institution in the interim while he seeks potential appointees within two weeks of his executive order.

Bevin’s office dismissed Beshear’s decision to intervene in Elliott’s lawsuit as “political” and “frivolous,” saying that the attorney general is trying to divert attention from former aide Tim Longmeyer’s guilty plea to federal bribery charges in April.

“Sadly, this court room circus act is what the people of Kentucky have come to expect from him,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement.

“It is more than a little hypocritical, however, considering that Attorney General Andy Beshear’s own father relied on the exact same statutory authority to reorganize similar organizations in state government more than 100 times in eight years. Governor Bevin’s executive orders stand on solid legal ground.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky also noted that UofL trustees and Elliott had contributed to Beshear’s campaign for attorney general as well as campaigns of his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear.

When asked about the contributions by the university trustees, Beshear said those dollars were not a factor in his decision to intervene.

“I know people on both sides of that, and indeed on this three-person board, I have friends and had support at least through some of their families, so absolutely not,” he said. “The sole reason for bringing this lawsuit is to ensure that the checks and balances that make sure that the governor does not control, directly control the $16 billion in assets of KRS or can directly make the decisions of the university.”

Beshear said he expected to argue parts of the case in Franklin Circuit Court. The judge in the case, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, had previously likened Bevin’s decision to overhaul the Worker’s Compensation Nominating Commission to dropping “a neutron bomb,” according to a report by The Associated Press.

Beshear, who was unsuccessful in his lawsuit challenging Bevin’s current-year cuts to higher education before Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, said he wanted to intervene to get all legal questions on Bevin’s board moves before a single judge. He has asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear his appeal on Wingate’s ruling.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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