House committee will investigate alleged threats, retaliation by Gov. Bevin against Democrats

10/05/2016 05:59 PM

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo appointed an investigative panel on Wednesday to explore allegations that Gov. Matt Bevin retaliated against a Democratic lawmaker who declined to join the Republican Party by delaying a road project in his district.

The announcement drew a swift rebuke from Gov. Matt Bevin’s office, with Chief of Staff Blake Brickman dismissing the newly formed group during an impromptu news conference as “a political farce” weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 elections.

The House Investigatory Committee on Executive Actions will take particular interest in the $11 million East Brannon Road project, which Bevin’s office has said was delayed due to utility and right-of-way issues. But Rep. Russell Meyer, D-Nicholasville, contends that his refusal to switch parties put the project in Bevin’s crosshairs.

The delay cost the state $625,000, with another $850,000 due to the contractor if work doesn’t begin by May 1.

“It raises serious questions as to the retaliation that may have been used by the administration concerning a duly elected official not doing what the governor forcefully asked him to do,” said Stumbo, who added that laws regarding official misconduct and abuse of public trust might have been broken.

Stumbo appointed Democratic Reps. Jim Wayne, Joni Jenkins and Arnold Simpson to the panel as well as GOP Reps. Jim Stewart and David Floyd, although Stumbo said he had yet to hear from Floyd.

However, Floyd will not serve on the committee, according to House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover. The retiring lawmaker is caring for his daughter as she battles cancer.

“He’s facing the challenge of trying to save his daughter’s life, and the speaker comes out and puts him on a committee that David Floyd’s never talked to the speaker about, so that’s troubling that he would do that,” said Hoover, R-Jamestown. “I do know the speaker contacted several other Republicans trying to get them to agree to serve. They all that spoke to him said no.”

Both Hoover and Brickman attributed the panel’s formation to politics.

Brickman played for reporters a voicemail sent from Stumbo to Floyd that seems to downplay the accusations raised against Bevin, with the speaker saying he’s “sure the story’s not as bad as it was portrayed.”

The voicemail can be heard here:

“Desperate people do desperate things,” Brickman said. “Very desperate people do very desperate things. Very, very, very desperate people pull stunts like Speaker Stumbo just did.”

He again said Bevin did not threaten any Democratic lawmakers who were thinking about switching parties. The governor vehemently denied a report by CNHI News in July that he threatened Rep. Kevin Sinnette during a meeting in the basement of the governor’s mansion.

“I’ve been in every single one of those meetings,” Brickman said. “Never any threat whatsoever. In fact, Rep. Sinnette left that meeting, and he told us that he would tell us the next day whether he was going to switch parties or not.”

Brickman also said that Meyer approached him and John Roach, a former Supreme Court justice who acted as general counsel on Bevin’s transition team, about getting a position in Bevin’s administration, then asked about a job for his wife. He then settled on becoming a Republican until he changed his mind, Brickman said.

Roach, in a phone interview with Pure Politics on Wednesday, said that matches his recollection of events.

“Those were discussions that we had at some point,” he said, adding that he’s known Meyer since their youth. “… In the meetings I was in, it was always cordial.”

Roach, former general counsel to Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said he was saddened that Meyer did not keep the meetings private as they originally agreed.

But Meyer called Brickman’s account of their meeting “the creation of an overactive imagination and bears no resemblance to what was actually discussed.”

“I invite him to come go door to door with me and explain to my constituents why he and the Governor chose to punish the people of Jessamine County by canceling a previously approved road project simply because I refuse to cower down to their political bullying,” Meyer said in a statement.

“Mr. Brickman should be prepared to explain to the taxpayers why he wasted over a half million dollars of tax payers money when he cancelled the road project in Jessamine County. If he does decide to come and go door to door please tell him not to bring the State Police like he did at the Retirement System Board meeting.”

Stumbo has floated Hoover’s name as an attendee at meetings between Bevin and House Democrats, but the House Republican leader gave no indication when asked about those meetings on Wednesday.

“That’s up to those members that’s having that dispute with the governor,” he said. “I’m not getting into that. I’m answering that.”

Stumbo said the investigative panel will have subpoena power and that he’s authorized them to contract with outside counsel. He hopes to have a report by the time the General Assembly reconvenes in January, giving the committee just a few months to complete its work.

Brickman and Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, accused the speaker of trying to deflect attention from the bribery scandal surrounding Tim Longmeyer, Rep. John Short’s emergence in a vote-buying trial and other recent troubles.

But Stumbo said the panel won’t be a political prop for Democrats as the look to defend their 53-47 majority in the House this fall.

“What it has to do with is the integrity of this chamber, the independence of this chamber, and the potential wasting, really, of $625,000 of taxpayers’ money,” he said, noting that the state will be on the hook for $850,000 more if work doesn’t begin on East Brannon Road in May.

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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