Tom Eblen

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin had a very bad week. Blame some of it on his worst enemy.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin launches video attack against ProPublica and Courier Journal.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin attacks ProPublica, an investigative journalism non-profit that has won four Pulitzer Prizes, and the Louisville Courier Journal after they announce plans to investigate a state agency.
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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin attacks ProPublica, an investigative journalism non-profit that has won four Pulitzer Prizes, and the Louisville Courier Journal after they announce plans to investigate a state agency.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s worst enemy is his own mouth. You would think he would have learned that by now, but he seems to be a slow learner.

Either that, or Bevin thinks Trumpian tantrums will shore up his political base when he runs for re-election next year as one of the nation’s least-popular governors.

Trouble is, for people who don’t share Bevin’s right-wing ideology and Republican tribalism, he just comes off as unhinged. That’s not good, because with the kind of week Bevin just had, he needs all the help he can get.

Bevin’s bad week began Monday when the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy issued a report that undermined his narrative that anti-labor GOP policies have created an economic boom in the state. In reality, job growth in Kentucky has slowed and now lags the South and nation.

Bevin’s spokeswoman didn’t dispute any facts in the report; she just dismissed its authors as “liberal.” Funny how facts often have a way of being “liberal;” maybe that’s why Bevin and so many other conservatives have an aversion to them.

On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously threw out Republicans’ overhaul of the state’s public employee pension system that Bevin signed into law last year. All seven justices said the General Assembly’s GOP leadership violated the state constitution in the sneaky way they passed the benefit-stripping law.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin reacts to the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision to overturn the controversial pension law.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd had ruled the same way in June, prompting Bevin to call him an “incompetent hack.” Rather than being shamed by the Supreme Court’s unanimous agreement with Shepherd, Bevin attacked the high court’s ruling as a “power grab by activists judges.”

No Kentucky governor in modern history has so blatantly attacked the judiciary. But just like his buddy in Washington, Individual-1, Bevin is a wealthy business tycoon with no legal training or previous government experience who thinks he knows everything and can’t tolerate criticism.

Gov. Matt Bevin posted a Facebook video launching explosives into the air, saying there is "no room in Kentucky for corruption, overburdensome red tape, pay-to-play politics and inside deals." He later responded with this video.

The night before his Supreme Court spanking, Bevin posted two tweets and a video attacking ProPublica, the investigative journalism non-profit. Earlier in the day, ProPublica had announced a reporting partnership with the Courier Journal for a yearlong investigation into an unidentified state government program.

In its 11 years of existence, ProPublica has won four Pulitzer Prizes and a slew of other awards for accurate, fact-based investigations exposing corporate and government corruption by both Democrats and Republicans. But Bevin tried to smear it as “a left-wing activist group funded by the likes of George Soros.”

“Don’t take my word for it! Check out the links below for more info,” Bevin tweeted, linking to opinion pieces in two right-wing websites, The Daily Caller and the Washington Examiner.

Bevin’s comments and video made him a laughingstock and prompted coverage in USA Today, The Washington Post, Esquire magazine, The Hill and even The Guardian in Great Britain. His tweet about Soros drew special attention.

The liberal billionaire is a popular boogeyman for conservatives, just as Bevin’s patrons, the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, are for liberals. (ProPublica says Soros’ Open Society Foundations provides less than 2 percent of its funding; it has more than 34,000 contributors.)

Soros also is a holocaust survivor and frequent target of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. “The phrase ‘the likes of George Soros’ is a classic anti-Semitic dog-whistle,” ProPublica President Richard Tofel told the Washington Post.

Whatever does or does not come out of the ProPublica-Courier Journal investigation of state government should be judged on its merits, not on Bevin’s hysterical smear tactics. Maybe he was just auditioning for a job in the Trump administration.

Bevin, who has lived in and around Louisville since moving to Kentucky in 1999, has long held a grudge against his “hometown” newspaper. Perhaps that is because of its reporting on the low tax assessment of his Anchorage mansion, or its reporting on how Bevin hired an Army buddy for a top state job and gave him a $215,000 raise.

Bevin doesn’t like the Herald-Leader, either, or any fact-based journalism that challenges his words, actions or policies. He also doesn’t like to be reminded that, unlike every other Kentucky governor for two decades, he refuses to release his tax returns so voters can see his potential conflicts of interest.

Bevin does everything he can to avoid taking questions from journalists. Instead, he tries to limit his media exposure to Fox News and fawning conservative talk show hosts who never ask a hard question.

But the more he talks and tweets and makes attack videos, the more Bevin looks like a fool to everyone but his die-hard fans. He just can’t seem to help himself.

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Tom Eblen, the Lexington Herald-Leader’s metro/state columnist since 2008, writes opinion and feature columns. A seventh-generation Kentuckian, he was the Herald-Leader’s managing editor from 1998-2008. Eblen previously worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Associated Press. He is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.


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