Politics & Government

Bevin says he’s ‘morally obligated’ to call Democratic lawmaker a ‘habitual liar’

State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville.
State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville. Legislative Research Commission

Gov. Matt Bevin does not mince words in his utter disdain for state Democratic Rep. Russ Meyer of Nicholasville.

Bevin posted on his Facebook page Sunday a message he said he felt “morally obligated” to send to voters in the 39th House District, which includes most of Jessamine County and a small portion of southern Fayette County.

Meyer “is a habitual liar,” wrote the Republican governor, who hopes the GOP can take control of the state House for the first time since 1920. “That is a blunt, unequivocal statement and, sadly, it is true. Lies about support for life, lies about road projects, lies about conversations he had about switching political parties. I have no respect for people who lie for personal or political gain. Russ Meyer is such a person.”

Meyer, a former mayor of Nicholasville who is seeking his second two-year term as state representative against Republican Robert L. Gullette III, attributes Bevin’s vitriol towards him to his decision to remain a Democrat.

“The governor’s post demonstrates that he is worried that he is going to have to go under oath and testify why he canceled” a major road project in the district, Meyer said. A special House panel created by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, is investigating the handling of the road project, but Bevin has said it lacks legal authority.

Bevin and his chief of staff, Blake Brickman, have tangled publicly with Meyer since news broke this summer that Meyer rebuffed their offer last December to switch political parties.

Their dislike for Meyer intensified as he claimed that Bevin delayed a multimillion-dollar road project in his district as punishment for not switching parties.

In August, Meyer released a recording of a voice mail message from Bevin last December that he said warns him of the “impacts” of not switching parties.

“I want to make sure you understand, uh, where, where things are in my mind and the decisions I’m going to make, uh, in the days ahead, the weeks ahead, the months ahead,” Bevin says in the recording. “I want you to be very aware of what the impacts of those decisions will be as it relates to you, your seat, your district, etc. — just so we have all the cards on the table.”

Meyer said people in his district are outraged with the Bevin administration’s decision earlier this year to delay the East Brannon Road project in Jessamine County because the state still had not acquired all of the land necessary to begin construction. The project was approved in the waning days of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration. The delay forced taxpayers to pay the contractor a $625,000 penalty.

Bevin blamed the delay on the prior administration, saying it rushed to bid the project before the necessary land had been acquired. But Meyer said Bevin purposefully delayed it to punish him for not agreeing to become a Republican before the start of the 2016 legislative session in January.

“I’ll stand up to the governor, and I’ll stand up to my own party to get the right thing done for our people,” Meyer says in a TV ad. “If you vote to re-elect me, I’ll continue to stand up and fight for East Brannon road.”

Meyer said he wonders why the Bevin administration continues to keep the project on hold since all the rights-of-way were obtained in May.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Ryan Watts said Monday the cabinet is reviewing “how this project measures with other projects competing for valuable state funding.”

“Due to the domino effect of acquiring right of way, utilities cannot be moved until right of way is secured,” Watts said. “The cabinet has not moved forward on utility relocation due to the aforementioned right-of-way issues.”

Bevin claimed in his Facebook post Sunday that Meyer “came to my administration looking for a job as a way to increase his income and his pension. I made it very clear that this was not going to happen. Russ Meyer then wanted to discuss the possibility of switching parties for fear that he might otherwise lose his seat.”

Bevin said Meyer was repeatedly told “there would be no personal incentive offered” for him to switch parties. “His blatant misrepresentation of those discussions is reprehensible,” Bevin said.

Not true, said Meyer: “Representatives of the Republican Party came to me.”

Meyer also said Bevin is misrepresenting his opposition to abortion.

“I’m just trying to stick to the issues and what I want to do for this community,” he said.

His attention, Meyer said, is on bringing more high-paying jobs and infrastructure projects to the district and improving funding to education.

Gullette, though, argues that Meyer has no chance of helping the district, which has 15,553 Democrats and 14,411 Republicans.

“Russ has so poisoned the well with the governor’s office that Jessamine County is not going to have a voice in Frankfort with him,” Gullette said.

He noted that the 39th District last year overwhelmingly voted to elect Bevin.

“I must believe that this was because the voters share, as I do, his vision for the future of the commonwealth,” he said. “Jessamine County will gain more with me.”

The most important issue facing Kentucky, Gullette said, is the state’s ailing retirement systems. He said Meyer has not done enough to solve the problem.

“I’ve been in office only two years and am doing all I can to improve the retirement systems,” Meyer responded.

Gullette also takes issues with Meyer’s TV ads that criticize him for representing a drug dealer as a defense attorney.

“Everyone has the right to counsel,” said Gullette.

Meyer said Gullette “can choose whoever he wants to represent. I just know the drug problem is tough in this district, and I want to do everything I can to stop it and not help it.”

Bevin’s opposition to Meyer has not hurt the lawmaker in raising campaign funds.

The latest campaign finance reports show Meyer has raised nearly three times as much money as Gullette.

Meyer has taken in about $129,000 compared to Gullette’s $44,000.

“Do people give to me because the governor likes me? Some do,” said Gullette. “With any campaign, I’d prefer more money than less, but I believe I have the money to run the race I want to run.”

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics