Attorneys general should remain elected office in Kentucky, Republican candidate says

09/16/2017 04:43 PM

FRANKFORT – While Sen. Whitney Westerfield called some of Attorney General Andy Beshear’s legal challenges against Gov. Matt Bevin “counterproductive,” the Republican candidate for attorney general doesn’t share Bevin’s view that the office for which he strives should be a gubernatorial appointment rather than an elected office.

Such a move would require amending Kentucky’s Constitution, first through the General Assembly and then ratified by voters. Bevin, who has been sued by Beshear four times, said he believes the legislature should get the ball rolling on a constitutional amendment in response to a question during remarks to the Kentucky chapter of the Federalist Society, according to reports.

Westerfield, a Hopkinsville Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he hasn’t heard any talk from his colleagues in the Senate about such a legislative initiative.

“I’m OK with it being an elected position, and I’m not hearing anybody suggest that we ought to amend the Constitution to change how that position is chosen or filled,” Westerfield, who narrowly lost to Beshear in the 2015 race for attorney general, said Friday.

“But I think he’s right. I think when you’ve got an attorney general that seems to be motivated at least part of the time by political ambition or what have you, and I think that some of these challenges or even the would-be challenge that he’s responded with earlier this week in response to these projected cuts that might have to be made, I think there are some political motives there even more underscored by the fact that we don’t even know what he’s going to do yet, if he’s going to run for the attorney general job again or challenge Gov. Bevin for the office of the governor.”

Westerfield is referencing Beshear’s call for Bevin to rethink a letter his administration sent to many state agencies asking them to plan for 17.4 percent budget cuts to grapple with an expected $200 million budget shortfall and pump $150 million into the state’s Budget Reserve Trust Fund.

Beshear has said if Bevin follows through with that plan, he’ll run afoul of laws regarding when spending reductions can be ordered and how the state’s rainy day fund can receive appropriations. Bevin’s office has said the governor has authority to ask state agencies to consider options ahead of an expected budget shortfall.

Westerfield said he hadn’t reviewed statutes governing those issues nor did he watch Beshear’s press conference on the subject this week, but he said that the attorney general’s “legal analysis is relatively sound.”

“I can’t argue with the arguments that he’s made, but I think he’s jumping the gun,” Westerfield said. “The governor hasn’t ordered these cuts. … The governor, through (State Budget) Director (John) Chilton, was letting people know, ‘This is where we’re going. You need to be looking for places and ways to trim because we’re going to end up being at this point.’”

Westerfield has also taken some recent flack from the Kentucky Democratic Party, which called on him to resign his post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying Thursday that his position there conflicts with his 2019 political aspirations and questioning his temperament after a testy July exchange during a committee hearing on biological paternal rights in adoption cases.

The senator called the KDP’s broadside “a joke” and “silly.”

“You ought to poll members of the Democratic Party in the caucus in the Senate and in the House,” he said. “I reckon you’ll find some that wish I was gone, but as somebody, there was a woman named Alicia Sells who replied some tweets yesterday when I saw that who talked about some of the things that I’ve done, that now (Justice and Public Safety Cabinet) Secretary (John) Tilley’s done. I think I’ve done a pretty good job as chairman of the judiciary committee.”


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