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Court hears arguments in case pitting Bevin against Beshear

Posted at 1:32 PM, Apr 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-12 15:51:37-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The latest round in the feud between Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear played out Friday before Kentucky's Supreme Court, which heard arguments in a case challenging Bevin's executive action overhauling several education boards.

Besides the weighty legal issue, the court battle is tinged with politics. The Republican governor is seeking reelection this year and Beshear is among Democrats running to oust him. The case is the latest in a series of Beshear lawsuits challenging Bevin's executive actions.

Beshear told the justices on Friday that the independence of those boards is at stake. Bevin's attorney, Steve Pitt, countered that governors have wielded such executive authority for decades to make changes to state boards and commissions.

The case revolves around the governor's authority to use a state law to reshuffle the membership of state boards and commissions — specifically boards overseeing public education — when Kentucky's legislature is not in session. It has far-reaching implications on the interpretation of state law giving the governor authority to change boards and commissions that regulate government services and oversee some of the state's largest industries.

After the hearing, Beshear told reporters that the governor abused his power "to ignore statutes, to ignore the General Assembly and to rule on his own."

"That's not democracy, and we've got to keep it from happening," he said.

Pitt said the reorganization process for those education boards — which includes legislative oversight of the executive actions — has worked.

"Governors are elected every four years," Pitt told reporters. "And they are elected to supervise and have authority over boards and commissions, so that someone will be ultimately answerable for what those boards and commissions do."

Beshear told the justices that the case is crucial in the fight to preserve separation of powers between legislative and executive branches of government. He told reporters that Bevin has tried to exert "absolute authority" over the education boards.

"The governor shouldn't be king over all of our public education system," he said.

That control is why teachers could potentially face disciplinary action for using sick days to protest at the state Capitol, Beshear said. Those "sickouts" forced multiple school districts to close earlier this year while the GOP-dominated legislature was in session.

Pitt said Beshear "speaks out of both sides of his mouth" on the issue. Beshear has used those executive powers to make changes in the attorney general's office, Bevin's attorney said.

Beshear is among four Democrats running for Kentucky governor this year. The others are state House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, former state Auditor Adam Edelen and frequent candidate Geoff Young. Bevin's GOP challengers are state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods and Ike Lawrence. Kentucky's primary election is May 21.