Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says Gov. Matt Bevin should be investigated for allegedly halting a road project as political punishment for a state representative who refused to switch political parties.
Rep. Russ Meyer, a Democrat from Nicholasville, released audio of a voicemail he received from the governor in December in which he says Bevin threatened retribution for not switching political parties.
“I want to make sure you understand where things are in my mind and the decisions that I’m going to make in the days ahead, the weeks ahead, months ahead,” Bevin says in the voicemail. “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 that we have all the cards on the table.”
According to a story by CNHI News reporter Ronnie Ellis, Meyer said the voicemail was left on Dec. 17, 2015, shortly after he told the governor’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, that he wouldn’t be switching parties.
Then in March, the Transportation Cabinet delayed an $11.2 million contract for a road project in Nicholasville, according toThe Courier-Journal. Meyer said that the move was “absolutely” payback for not switching parties, according to that article.
Because of the delay in the project, the state was required to pay a contractor $625,000 in damages.
Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said Tuesday that state and federal officials should investigate Bevin’s actions.
“If we paid $625,000 just because a threat needed to be carried out against a legislator, then that is a deplorable act and rises not only to the level, in my opinion, of criminal activity but is an impeachable offense,” Stumbo said.
In a statement, Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto slammed Meyer, saying his motivations for releasing the voicemail are political.
“Rep. Meyer was worried about the governor supporting a Republican opponent against him this year and expressed an interest in changing parties because Jessamine County is now a Republican county and trending more so,” Ditto said. “The fact that Rep. Meyer would release a nine-month-old polite and personal voicemail two months before an election is proof of his continued insecurity about keeping his seat.”
Brickman said in an email that Meyer’s allegations were false and that the decision to pull the road project was made by the state Transportation Cabinet.
Meyer has not responded to requests for comment from Kentucky Public Radio.
Republicans have accelerated their campaign to take control of the state House of Representatives since Bevin was elected in November. They have 47 seats in the chamber and Democrats have 53.
Meyer is the second Democratic representative to come forward with claims that Bevin threatened them after they refused to switch party affiliations. Ashland Rep. Kevin Sinnette told CNHI News that Bevin had invited him to the governor’s mansion and told him to switch to Republican or Bevin would “take [him] down.”
Bevin’s voicemail was made around the same time two Democratic lawmakers switched their party affiliations to Republican: Rep. Denny Butler of Louisville and Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence.
In the weeks following his inauguration, Bevin also appointed two Democratic lawmakers to positions in state government: John Tilley, now secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, and Tanya Pullin, now an administrative law judge.