FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s two most powerful politicians lasted two weeks without insulting each other, a streak that ended Friday with a harshly worded news release and a preemptive news conference that reignited one of the state’s most enduring political feuds.
The verbal scuffle started with a news release from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s office saying Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear was “shirking his duty” by not “vigorously” defending in court a recently enacted state law that requires a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion.
A few hours later, Beshear held a news conference to publicly respond to the governor’s recent request for records concerning the Attorney General’s Office staffing and caseload.
Such requests are not unusual - Bevin has requested information at least five times from the Attorney General’s office in the past - but Beshear’s decision to respond by calling a press conference was a new tactic in the ongoing feud.
“By providing it in this way I think the information can’t be taken out of context,” Beshear said. “They can’t take just one line from a letter and use it in a way that would mislead people.”
A Bevin spokeswoman said the governor requested the information “because we wanted to know the answers.”
The exchange highlighted just how much the relationship between Bevin, the state’s chief executive, and Beshear, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, has deteriorated since both men took office.
The result is they have not worked with each other on issues that would seem to require their cooperation. Bevin is expected to lobby the legislature for an overhaul of the state’s criminal code this session, a proposal that was vetted by a committee of experts he established earlier this year. But that committee did not include anyone from the Attorney General’s office.
Recently, Bevin has directed his anger toward what he describes as Beshear’s lackluster defense of the state’s new abortion law after the American Civil Liberties Union sued to overturn it. Specifically, he noted Beshear’s office took no position on the ACLU’s request for a temporary restraining order halting the law’s implementation.
“I find it tragically ironic that while Attorney General Beshear boasts about protecting Kentucky’s families and children, he is shirking his duty when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us,” Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said.
Beshear noted he has filed motions to dismiss the Attorney General’s Office and the State Board of Medical Licensure as defendants in the case. Friday, he said would not say whether he thought the law was constitutional, saying the courts would have to decide that. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Louisville.
Friday, Beshear said his office was “defending itself” against Bevin, who has called the office “an embarrassment.” Beshear noted his office has responded to 380 appeals to open records requests, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. He said attorneys’ in his office Uninsured Employers’ Fund are handling 232 active cases while its Administrative Hearings Branch is presiding over 30 administrative actions before state agencies and boards. Overall, he said the Attorney General’s Office staff is down 25 percent from 1999.
The feud seems unlikely to end soon. Both men have three years left on their terms, with a possibility of Beshear challenging Bevin for re-election in 2019.
“Getting along takes two people,” Beshear said. “I’m always willing to do it, but you’ve got to understand it takes a willing governor and at the moment we don’t seem to have one.”
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