FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear and his accusers will have a chance to make their case when a legislative panel reviews a citizen’s petition calling for the governor’s impeachment for coronavirus-related lockdowns, a Kentucky lawmaker said Tuesday.
The seven-member, bipartisan committee formed Monday by the GOP-led House will start meeting soon, said Rep. Jason Nemes, the panel’s chairman.
“The governor is going to be given every opportunity to defend himself,” said Nemes, a Louisville Republican. “And the petitioners are going to be given every opportunity to make the case that they put forward.”
Beshear, a Democrat, went on the offensive Monday, saying there’s “zero grounds” for his removal and declaring that attempting to do so would undo his valid election in 2019. The governor pointed to a state Supreme Court ruling last year that said he had the authority to put restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the virus’s spread.
House Speaker David Osborne says he is legally obligated to respond to the petition, which was submitted by just four Kentuckians.
“I don’t think anyone should be overly concerned or excited about the appointment of a committee, which is statutorily required,” Nemes said.
The petition claims the governor violated the state and U.S. constitutions with a series of restrictions he ordered to try to prevent the virus’s spread.
Beshear said Monday he understood the speaker’s position that the law requires the formation of the committee. He urged lawmakers to “put our democracy here in the state above four individuals who are upset.”
Some Republican-led states with more lax responses have been hit much harder by the pandemic, resulting in much higher death tolls, a contrast Beshear has noted in defending the steps he has taken.
Kentucky has surpassed 300,000 COVID-19 cases and is approaching 3,000 deaths since the pandemic began.
Four constitutional officers have been impeached in Kentucky history but only one was convicted: James “Honest Dick” Tate, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Tate, a state treasurer in the post-Civil War era, was impeached after stealing $250,000 from the state, even though he fled the country and was never found.
In a House speech, Democratic Rep. Jeffery Donohue said Tuesday that the petition against Beshear presents a “false narrative.” He urged lawmakers to quickly resolve the matter and work together on COVID-related issues.
“Let’s make sure — which I know we will — (we) come to the correct conclusion on this,” he said.
GOP lawmakers fumed from the sidelines for months as Beshear put restrictions on schools, individuals and some businesses to combat the pandemic. They accused him of overreaching with arbitrary decisions made without consulting with them.
In response, Beshear has noted that the state has substantially lower case numbers than several states that took less aggressive measures.
Republican lawmakers took quick action in the opening week of this year’s session, passing bills to limit the governor’s emergency authority to impose COVID-19 restrictions. The GOP has enough House and Senate members to override any gubernatorial vetoes.