FRANKFORT — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear accused Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, on Tuesday of trying to intimidate Republican senators who support Beshear's casino gambling proposal.
"He is using intimidations and threats against fellow senators, including some in his own party," Beshear said.
Williams denied Beshear's claim. He told reporters that he opposes the expansion of gambling in Kentucky, but that he is not punishing senators who support it. No one is losing their committee chairmanships or other choice assignments because they disagree with him, Williams said.
"The governor has been untruthful about this issue for four years, and he continues to be untruthful," Williams said.
Specifically, Beshear tied Williams to a story Tuesday in the Lexington Herald-Leader that raised questions about $208,835 in horse industry consulting fees collected by Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, during 2010 and part of 2011.
Thayer, chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, is expected to sponsor Beshear's casino gambling bill, which could bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's horse industry if voters agree in November to amend the Kentucky Constitution and legalize casinos.
In the story, the Rev. Hershael York of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort said he would file an ethics complaint if Thayer, with his horse industry ties, sponsored the casino gambling bill. York is a friend of Williams, who sometimes attends York's church.
Beshear criticized the newspaper story as "the cheap shot that Senator Williams' buddy and sidekick Rev. York took at Senator Thayer yesterday in an attempt to intimidate Senator Thayer." At a separate event, Beshear called the story "further evidence of intimidation by Senator Williams and others who are against this amendment."
"There's absolutely nothing wrong or unethical about Senator Thayer sponsoring this amendment," Beshear said. "We have a part-time legislature. They all have other jobs."
Thayer has declined to name his horse industry consulting clients, and the Legislative Ethics Commission requires only that lawmakers disclose the names of clients who employ a legislative lobbyist. Thayer told the newspaper Monday that no one who pays him has a legislative lobbyist.
On Tuesday, Thayer called the newspaper story "a hatchet job" and said he was "leaning strongly" toward sponsoring the governor's bill.
Thayer distributed copies of a letter from the Legislative Ethics Commission, dated Tuesday, that said a lawmaker is allowed to sponsor casino gambling legislation even if his employer or clients could benefit financially as a result. It would violate ethics laws only if the lawmaker's employer or clients were the only parties to benefit, the commission said.
"I don't easily intimidate and I'm going to do what I think is right," Thayer said.
Williams told reporters that he had spoken to York about Thayer's role in the casino gambling bill but that he did not encourage York to criticize Thayer publicly.
Williams said he and Thayer remain on good terms. Thayer addressed the Republican Senate caucus in a closed-door meeting Tuesday and assured his fellow lawmakers that none of his private consulting clients "would personally benefit from the passage of this legislation," Williams said.
"I believe him," Williams said.