Kentucky’s governors have always had plenty of undisputed power with which to enact their agendas, and all of that power is available to Gov. Matt Bevin.
Yet, Bevin’s actions have provoked so many legal disputes in so many courts, you need a chart to keep up.
His legal team is busy defending his reorganizations of the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission, the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and the University of Louisville board, as well as his mid-year budget cuts to higher education and his moves to close abortion providers in Lexington and Louisville.
On several occasions we’ve said that Bevin is undermining his own goals, some of them very worthy, by claiming unprecedented — and, seemingly in his view, unlimited — authority to effect changes.
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His appetite for conflict and litigation shows no sign of abating, however, and the University of Louisville is paying the price.
The administration has rebuffed entreaties from Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd to reach a compromise with Attorney General Andy Beshear resolving uncertainty over the U of L board’s makeup. Bevin last week even urged his U of L appointees to convene in defiance of a court order. “They’ve got work to do, absolutely. Their job is to govern, and that is exactly what I think they should do,” Bevin told WHAS radio.
It’s been almost a month since Shepherd temporarily blocked Bevin’s order abolishing and replacing that board, ruling that the governor’s unprecedented action was at odds with several state laws, the terms of U of L’s accreditation and the constitutional separation of powers.
Bevin’s disregard for separation of powers and due process was also noted when Shepherd reinstated Kentucky Retirement Systems board member Thomas Elliott on Monday. Shepherd took Bevin to task for using “lawless, strong-arm tactics” in threatening — through staff members accompanied by uniformed state police officers — to arrest Elliott if he participated in a board meeting.
Yet, Shepherd concluded that Bevin’s reorganized pension board — with four new members appointed by the governor — could continue to operate, with Elliott restored to his seat.
Meanwhile, U of L’s governance remains in limbo. The trustees appointed by Bevin apparently have the good sense not to defy a court order.
Despite the governor’s understandable impatience to get on with important decisions at U of L, his general counsel Stephem Pitt on Tuesday asked Shepherd to delay a hearing because an expert witness on accreditation could no longer testify. Pitt also attempted damage control regarding Bevin’s ill-considered advice to defy a court order. He assured the judge that “the governor recognizes that the court has ruled and has stated, at least temporarily, what the law is.”
Shepherd granted Pitt the requested delay but also said he wants to expedite the case, which Bevin seems determined to fight all the way to the state Supreme Court.
May we suggest a stipulation: U of L’s accreditation is not in immediate danger because accrediting agencies are deliberative and afford affected parties a chance to be heard. In other words, they observe due process.
Also, accrediting standards are based on what’s widely agreed to be best for education. Accrediting agencies have long held that university governing boards should be independent and insulated from direct interference by politicians.
While almost everyone agrees that U of L needs change at the top, Bevin’s autocratic method, if it stands, would create a precedent harmful to Kentucky’s public universities. No governor should want that legacy.