Gov. Matt Bevin moved to Kentucky in 1999 so he missed BOPTROT, the political scandal of the early ’90s that gave rise to, among other reforms, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
And he missed the call for an even stronger executive ethics code in 1993 when Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones refused to identify the business partners of his horse farm, calling instead on the public to just trust him that there were no conflicts of interest.
But Bevin was settled in Kentucky in 2007 when an Executive Branch Ethics Commission entirely appointed by Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher had the job of acting on charges against him.
And that’s why he should know his executive order giving himself the exclusive power to choose all the ethics commissioners is a really, really bad idea.
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Even if commissioners honor ethics over loyalty to the governor who appoints them, any decision they make will always have a political taint.
After the Fletcher dilemma the commission recognized this problem and recommended legislation to enhance its independence by changing the appointment process.
The proposal was that the governor would continue to make all appointments but only the first of three would be entirely of his or her own choosing. The governor would make the second appointment from a list of three provided by the attorney general, the third from three sent up by the state auditor. With the next opening, the rotation would start again. A legislature mired in political infighting failed to act on the suggestion.
Steve Beshear beat the scandal-weakened Fletcher in the 2007 race for governor and, a few months after taking office, adopted the Executive Branch Ethics Commission’s suggestions through an executive order. Beshear chose to diminish his own power as governor to enhance that of the ethics commission.
Now Bevin, with his executive order returning all the appointments solely to himself, is choosing to enhance his own power at a cost to the independence of the commission.
Oddly, considering this governor has not honored the General Assembly’s decisions on a range of things, most notably its primary job of enacting a budget, a Bevin spokesperson defended the move by saying it returned the ethics nomination process “to the original legislative intent.”
But inconsistency aside, if Bevin wants to deliver an administration that is both ethical and appears to be ethical he can’t get there by grabbing all the power to appoint the arbiters of ethics for himself.
It’s a bad decision, one that ignores Kentucky government’s long, ethically-challenged history.