Politics & Government

Bevin texts Beshear: Your office is becoming an ‘embarrassment’

About 6 p.m. Tuesday, Attorney General Andy Beshear received what he called an unsolicited text message from Gov. Matt Bevin.

It said: “I would strongly suggest that you get your house in order. Your office is becoming an increasing embarrassment to the Commonwealth.”

Misleading, Bevin said Wednesday a few hours after Beshear released the text message.

“The attorney general who, it should be noted, is the top law enforcement officer in Kentucky, also manipulated the text he received from the governor and then released the altered version he created to the press in an attempt to mislead them,” said Bevin’s press office in an email.

Bevin said Beshear “conveniently and intentionally” left out of the text message he made public Bevin’s link to a news story Tuesday about allegations of misconduct by an attorney general’s office investigator in Boyle County in a Medicaid fraud case.

“Is it any wonder that multiple employees who work for the attorney general’s office have so little regard for the truth and the rule of law? Their poor example clearly comes from the attorney general himself,” said Bevin’s statement.

The governor’s press office added: “Beshear is once again misleading the media and the people of Kentucky. The governor was correct. The deceitful behavior of the attorney general and a number of his staff are an increasing embarrassment to Kentucky. We all deserve better.”

Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian, in response, said, “The governor has now admitted to sending a nasty text to the attorney general’s personal cellphone. Surely we expect more from a governor. Now caught, his response is to attack.

“The general’s cellphone received the governor’s unnecessary comments in a separate message than the link. The governor can spin his actions all he wants. The fact remains that instead of working with our office, the governor chose to spend his time sending an attacking text to the attorney general instead of governing the Commonwealth. This action is beneath the office of the governor and Kentuckians deserve better.”

The text message is the latest in the war of words between the Republican governor and the Democratic attorney general who is challenging Bevin’s authority in the courtroom.

Beshear now leads 2-0 over Bevin in that increasingly fierce legal war that has become personal.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd sided with Beshear Wednesday, saying Bevin was wrong in abolishing the entire University of Louisville board of trustees and appointing a new board because he believed the university needed a fresh start.

It was Bevin’s second legal loss to Beshear in a week. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that Bevin did not have the authority to cut 2 percent of funds that the legislature gave to state universities and colleges in the state budget for 2015-16. Bevin is weighing whether to ask the high court for a rehearing.

Beshear, a Democrat who has sued the Republican governor three times in the 10 months they’ve both been in office, said after that ruling that he hoped Bevin would “stop attacking, and to instead join me in building a better Kentucky.”

But the public feud rages on between the two men, and no end is in sight.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is challenging in court Gov. Matt Bevin's authority, responded Thursday to a critical message Bevin wrote about him earlier in the day on Facebook.

Since both took office, the two have had a series of legal and personal skirmishes, including Bevin’s decision to hire a private firm of lawyers to investigate the administration of Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear.

One of Bevin’s first acts as governor was to replace Beshear’s mother, former first lady Jane Beshear, on the Kentucky Horse Park Commission. The Bevin administration also took down her name on the Capitol Education Center, a reception building for tourists near the state Capitol.

When Bevin lost last week in the state Supreme Court, his press secretary, Amanda Stamper, issued a statement that lashed out at the attorney general and his father.

A few hours before the U of L ruling Wednesday, Bevin took to Facebook to criticize Beshear, making refererences to his current and former staffers.

“Unfortunately, Kentucky has an Attorney General who issues politically motivated opinions, sues people for following recent legal opinions from his own office, disregards clear conflicts of interest involving himself, appointed a Deputy Attorney General who almost immediately pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges and currently has an investigator on staff who has repeatedly lied and falsely imprisoned an innocent Kentucky citizen,” wrote Bevin.

“All this in just the past few months and we wish that was all. How can Kentuckians trust anything that comes out of Attorney General Beshear’s office?”

Beshear said Wednesday he had seen “about the first three lines” of Bevin’s Facebook message.

“That’s the type of negative attacking behavior that we just don’t need in state government. The governor is such an important figure in Kentucky.”

Bevin hasn’t confined his attacks to Beshear. At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, he aired a video aimed at preempting a 3 p.m. news conference of House Democrats that called on Bevin to release more funding for K-12 schools. Bevin called the Democrats “hypocrites” and “liars,” then veered off into criticizing university presidents for wanting the $18 million restored to them, saying the issue is still tied up in court. Without using any names, he also attacked University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto, calling him “the whiniest of the bunch,” over budget cuts even though he got a 50 percent raise after the cuts were made.

University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss said that when political feuds get this personal, “all bets are off,” in terms of fallout.

“It’s very hard to say how it will play out with the voting public,” Voss said. But, he added, he didn’t think that Bevin had lost much political capital from the court decisions alone because they were not part of any campaign promises that he’d made and been unable to fulfill.

“Did trying for so much and falling short result in bad publicity that will hurt his effectiveness?” Voss said. “It won’t, because he was not operating on campaign promises.”

On the other hand, “while I don’t think Bevin has lost much, Beshear has gained a lot,” Voss said. “He’s successfully using his office to generate a lot of name recognition and credibility that is likely to be able to convert into political capital statewide.”

Voss said the Supreme Court case on budget cuts was particularly important because it gave the office of attorney general legal standing to challenge other state agencies.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics