With Executive Power Expansions, Gov. Bevin Draws Lawsuits

Jun 20, 2016

Credit wkyt.com

Only six months into his first term in office, Gov. Matt Bevin is involved in an array of lawsuits, some of which may have ramifications long beyond his administration.

Executive orders made by Bevin have raised legal questions about the limits of the executive branch’s power in the state — power that has been flexed more by some governors than others.

Former Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson said Bevin is set on reestablishing the “preeminence” of the governor’s office.

“He seems to be trying to assert power in a way that the last couple governors didn’t,” said Grayson, now CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

That assertion of executive power has drawn plenty of critics, some of whom are suing the administration.

A group of labor unions and injured workers have sued Bevin for his executive order overhauling the Worker’s Compensation Nominating Commission — a group that recommends judges who rule on worker’s compensation claims to the governor.

Bevin has reorganized several other boards and commissions, including the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, the Kentucky Racing Commission and the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees. The overhauls have involved abolishing the boards along with their appointed members, then reinstating the organizations with new appointees and — in some cases — different structures.

Attorney General Andy Beshear has also sued Bevin for budget reductions the governor made to the state’s current-year funding of Kentucky colleges and universities.

Grayson said the ultimate decisions — which are currently working their way through the courts — will help draw lines over the governor’s authority and power.

“I get the sense that Gov. Bevin wants to go right up to that line,” Grayson said. “If he’s got the power, he wants to use it to try to effect change. And that’s not something we’ve seen in Frankfort for awhile.”

Bevin is just the second Republican governor of Kentucky elected in the last four decades. His GOP predecessor, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, faced a similar legal challenge from then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo, now the Democratic Speaker of the House, over the executive branch’s powers.

Johnathan Miller, who was state treasurer during Fletcher’s tenure, said despite the charged political atmosphere, the challenges help solve important legal questions.

“The public might not like to see officials fighting, but when it’s done in a civil way, it really can help clarify how government should work,” Miller said.

The litigation could have political repercussions in contested elections for 65 state House of Representatives races this fall. But when it comes down to how much the lawsuits could help or hurt Bevin or influence voters, Miller said the battles would ultimately depend on the governor’s record.

“When the outcome is decided, and if it gives Bevin more flexibility to exercise power, I think voters will judge how he uses that power, and that will be the deciding factor,” Miller said.