- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Regina Stivers, the wife of Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, will take on a high-level role in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration as a deputy cabinet secretary.

Starting Monday, she will serve as deputy secretary of the state’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, the administration said Thursday. It’s her latest role working for prominent Republicans after stints as a staffer for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning and ex-Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Sen. Stivers, who will play a key role in determining the outcome of the new governor’s agenda in the Senate, said he had no involvement in the selection process.

He said he “tried to specifically build a Chinese wall from anything related to that.”

“I do not know what the exact nature of her title is,” the Manchester Republican told reporters. “I do not know her compensation. I do not know who she replaces.”

Stivers said that based on his wife’s “sterling professional experience,” he had assumed “this day would come” that she would join a governor’s administration.

Stivers said his wife’s new job would not restrain him from disagreeing with or criticizing Bevin’s administration when he thinks it’s warranted.

“In no way will it compromise my ability to be an independent voice as a state senator and a Senate president,” he said.

Asked if he would recuse himself from bills dealing with the tourism cabinet, he replied: “If there is a need to, I will gladly step aside and allow others to proceed with the functions of the legislative body.”

Stivers’ House counterpart, Speaker Greg Stumbo, said he had no problem with the appointment.

“She’s a very qualified and talented person,” the Prestonsburg Democrat said.

Bevin did not speak to reporters on Thursday after attending an event in the state Capitol.

Before taking office, Bevin was sharply critical when former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear appointed his wife to an unpaid position on the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, calling it “self-serving” and an “embarrassment” through a spokeswoman. At the time, Jessica Ditto, Bevin’s spokeswoman, said “The days of elected leaders treating Kentuckians with disrespect are over. A new day is dawning. It is time for a fresh start.”

Concerns about Regina Stivers’ appointment were raised by Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky, a government watchdog group. Beliles said he respects Sen. Stivers and didn’t question Regina Stivers’ qualifications, but said the appointment creates “an appearance problem” for Bevin’s administration.

Beliles said it also could raise questions about legislative independence from the governor’s office. He said it “might be a good idea” if Stivers recused himself from legislation affecting the cabinet.

“I just think it was a mistake on both sides, for the administration and also for the Senate,” Beliles said.

Stivers said that anyone scrutinizing the appointment would “find nothing there.”

“My wife should not be punished, nor impugned, based on who she is married to, because she is a person of great credentials,” he said.

In announcing her appointment, the cabinet’s secretary, Don Parkinson, said her experience in state and federal government would be an asset for the agency.

“She is exceptionally qualified and will be instrumental in promoting the incredible tourism and cultural assets that we have here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Parkinson said.

Regina Stivers said she’s honored to work in Bevin’s administration and looks forward to helping promote tourism and the state’s arts and heritage culture.

Bevin’s administration did not list her salary.

As its name implies, the cabinet’s focus is on tourism, the arts and Kentucky heritage.

Tourism is a nearly $13.1 billion-a-year industry in Kentucky, according to the cabinet’s website.

Regina Stivers was McConnell’s field director in central Kentucky since 2011. She had a similar position in eastern Kentucky for Bunning and was director of boards and commissions in Fletcher’s administration.

McConnell called her an outstanding staffer and said she’ll be a “great benefit” to Bevin and the state.

___

Associated Press Writer Adam Beam contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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