Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear has awarded a $55,000-a-year state job to Tim Havrilek, a campaign consultant for Democratic candidates and political blogger from Hopkinsville.
Havrilek, 48, started July 16 as a policy adviser at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Office of the Ombudsman. In an interview Monday, Havrilek said he helps respond to public complaints about assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid.
As a non-merit state employee, Havrilek serves at the governor's pleasure.
Havrilek said his references for the appointment included two of his past campaign clients: state Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, and former state Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway. But he said his political activity did not win him the job. He already had been working part-time at the state Capitol during the last two legislative sessions, as an aide in the House Democratic majority leadership office, he said.
"No, my big political days were back in the '90s," Havrilek said.
"I just got married last July," he said. "My wife said I needed a real job, something a little more steady."
Cabinet spokeswoman Gwenda Bond said Havrilek replaced Susan Dunaway, who was making $66,811 annually when she left in May.
Steve Robertson, chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, criticized Beshear's continued awarding of political appointments at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services while the cabinet slashes its program spending.
Earlier this year, the cabinet announced a series of cutbacks aimed at plugging an $86.6 million hole in its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Among the cuts identified at the time, it froze new applications for a program that provides $300 in monthly assistance to relatives who take custody of abused and neglected children. It also imposed new eligibility limits on its Child Care Assistance program, which gives subsidies to working parents.
"I'm sure there are a lot of social-service providers around the state of Kentucky who could find a better use for $55,000 than creating a job for this guy," Robertson said. "But it's just another example of how the governor is willing to put politics first."
Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson defended the hiring.
"The ombudsman position is a good fit for Mr. Havrilek's prior experience, which includes work in state government," Richardson said. "His hiring was based on his qualifications, not politics."
Havrilek was an aide in the early 1990s to Tom Barlow, a Democratic U.S. representative from Western Kentucky's First Congressional District. More recently, he has provided media consulting for state Democratic election campaigns. From 2007 to 2011, he ran a political blog called The Underground Rooster that sometimes advised Democratic candidates to distance themselves from their party's liberal wing.
"There has never been nor will there ever be a future for a progressive/liberal agenda in Kentucky," Havrilek wrote after the November 2010 election. "Democrats like Rex Smith, Will Coursey and Martha Jane King were all smart enough to champion Christian values, guns, agriculture and veterans. In short, you don't get to hold office and talk about jobs and education until you get right with God and rural Kentucky."