- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Matt Bevin released emails on Friday in an attempt to discredit Democratic state Rep. Russ Meyer’s claim that the governor delayed a multimillion road project in his district as punishment for not switching parties.

The Kentucky House is the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats, and Republicans need to pick up just four seats in November to win a majority for the first time since 1920.

Bevin said he delayed the East Brannon Road project in Jessamine County earlier this year because the state still had not acquired all of the land necessary to begin construction. The delay forced taxpayers to pay the contractor a $625,000 penalty.

Bevin blamed the delay on the prior administration, saying it rushed through the project. But Meyer said Bevin purposefully delayed it to punish him for not agreeing to become a Republican before the start of the 2016 legislative session in January. To back up his claim, Meyer released a voicemail in August from Bevin. In it, the governor said Meyer’s decision would impact him and his district.

On Friday, Bevin released emails from state transportation officials that say Meyer knew about the problems with the road project as early as October 2015, before Bevin was even elected.

Rep. Meyer has been keeping close tabs on the project as well,” wrote Russell Romine, who was then the deputy secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. “That said, he recognizes the need to clear (the right of way) before letting the project. He also understands we made some last minute adjustments/accommodations, and those things don’t happen without impact to schedule.”

Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman called on Meyer to apologize.

Meyer did not dispute the emails, but said if the land acquisition was such a problem for the contract “why did they award the contract in the first place?” The Bevin administration signed the contract on Dec. 10, two days after Bevin took office. But nearly all of the contract work, including awarding a bid to the contractor, took place under the previous Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.

Transportation Cabinet chief of staff Asa James Swan said he was the only Bevin appointee in office when the contract was signed.

“I didn’t even have a computer yet,” he said. “For Russ to say that we signed it is ridiculous because everyone who is involved in that process either had been appointed by Gov. Beshear or was already working here as a professional employee.”

Meyer also said the state still has not started construction even though it has since acquired all of the land it needs.

“I invite Gov. Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman to come go door-to-door with me in the 39th District and hear for themselves just how outraged people are over the unnecessary cancellation of the East Brannon Road project,” Meyer said.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Ryan Watts said while the state has acquired the land, it has not yet taken care of the utilities, including relocating gas and water lines so construction can begin. Swann also said the project has been put on hold, along with numerous other projects, because the road fund does not have enough money.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has appointed a committee to investigate Bevin and the circumstances surrounding the road project. The committee is holding its first hearing Friday. Democratic Party chairwoman Sannie Overly said Bevin was “using his office to play politics.”

Meyer “should also call on Speaker Stumbo to call off his silly investigation and stop wasting taxpayer money on political theater less than three weeks before the elections,” Brickman said.

Meyer, who is finishing his first term in office, is facing Republican Robert L. Gullette III.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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