Starting with his inaugural address, when he told people to pick up trash as they left, Gov. Matt Bevin has enthusiastically adopted the bully pulpit to admonish Kentuckians to be better people and citizens.
This is what makes it so hard to understand why Bevin causes so many problems for himself, and by extension Kentucky, by holding himself above question, outside the normal range of inquiry and reflection.
The most recent case is the controversy over the mansion Bevin bought from a friend in the Louisville suburb of Anchorage.
Bevin did a perfectly ordinary thing in buying a larger home for his family, one closer to his new workplace in Frankfort, when early this year he bought a rehabilitated historic mansion from Neil Ramsey, a friend and political supporter. Ramsey does business with the state and Bevin appointed him to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board.
Bevin — who has been more secretive about his personal financial dealings than any governor in modern history — not only didn’t announce the purchase and move, he and his office stonewalled a reporter who learned of the deal.
Even after it was reported the Kentucky State Police had spent $39,087 on security for the mansion, apparently before the deal was even complete, Bevin insisted it was none of the public’s business where he lived.
But Bevin’s secrecy ignores that he chose to be a public figure when he ran for governor. People like to know who is leading their state and learning about their business and personal dealings is part of it.
Thanks to veteran Louisville Courier-Journal state government reporter Tom Loftus, we eventually learned that Bevin paid $1.6 million for the house and 10 acres, far less than the $2.975 million the Jefferson County property valuation administrator had on the house plus 19 acres at the time, and the $3 million Ramsey had certified the property was worth in 2013.
The chase Bevin led through his stubborn secretiveness over the house resulted in two complaints — that he may have used his office for personal gain in acquiring the house below the assessed value from someone he had appointed to a state board — to the executive branch ethics commission and a reevaluation by the Jefferson County Board of Assessment.
Bevin did well in both venues, with the commission dismissing the complaints and the board accepting the governor’s assessor’s value of $1.39 million for the house and 10 acres.
But Bevin hasn’t “won” this case.
He’s shown that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that when journalists ask serious questions it is in the interests of the citizens, voters and taxpayers he is supposed to represent. Instead, he resorted to personal attacks on professionals doing the work the First Amendment requires of them.
Worst of all, Bevin has shown that when he exhorts people to do and be better, he carves out a special exemption for one person: himself.