Despite opposition from Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has fired her chief of staff, Steve Knipper.
Knipper, who filed last week as a Republican candidate in this year’s race for secretary of state, said Wednesday that he was notified Tuesday in a letter from the Finance and Administration Cabinet that his job was being “terminated without cause.”
The letter prompted Hampton, whom Bevin announced last Friday would not be his running mate this year in his re-election bid, to file a document with the secretary of state’s office, saying she is appointing Knipper “as my chief of staff.”
Knipper, of Independence, has served in that job since Hampton became lieutenant governor in 2015.
Hampton declined to comment Tuesday on her letter to the secretary of state. She did not respond Wednesday to questions about Knipper’s firing.
“We’re having people to look into the legality” of the dismissal, Knipper said Wednesday.
Lexington attorney Mark Wohlander said Louisville attorney Thomas Clay and he are reviewing the situation.
The Lexington Herald-Leader sent questions Tuesday to Bevin’s communications office about Knipper’s situation but received no response. Katherine Kington North, communications director for the state Personnel Cabinet, later issued a statement to the newspaper.
“We do not comment on specific personnel matters,” North said. “That said, in order to avoid potential ethical conflicts and any appearance of impropriety, the Personnel Cabinet notified all senior governor-appointed employees planning to run for a partisan office in the 2019 election that they would be expected to resign upon official candidate filing. This common-sense directive protects the state and the employee against any claim of misuse of state time or resource.”
Asked what would happen to such an employee who did not resign, North did not reply.
Knipper said it has been known since last August that he would run for secretary of state. “I have kept my job. What’s the difference now?”
At least two state employees who filed to run for statewide office this year have resigned their state jobs.
Former Miss America Heather French Henry, who was deputy commissioner for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, announced last Friday after she filed as a Democratic candidate for secretary of state that she would leave her state job.
Her spokesman, Bob Silverthorn, said Wednesday that Henry was aware of the policy and voluntarily left her job.
Also leaving his job as general counsel for the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet was Andrew English, a Republican who is running for secretary of state.
English said Wednesday that he was aware of the Bevin policy but decided on his own to resign.
Mary Elizabeth Bailey, human resources administration commissioner in the state Personnel Cabinet, notified state managers last Nov. 5 that any governor-appointed non-merit employees who is considering running for a partisan office in 2019 should be advised that it is “this administration’s policy that the employee must provide notice of resignation contemporaneously with his or her filing.”
She added that this policy “will ensure compliance with all ethics requirements and avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
Bailey sent out another reminder on Jan. 22, a week before the Jan. 29 deadline for candidates to file for this year’s statewide races.
Bevin announced last Friday that state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician, would be his running mate this year instead of Hampton. Alvarado does not have to resign his post as a state senator.
Bevin called Hampton a dear friend but did not explain why he did not choose her in his pursuit for another four-year term as Kentucky’s governor.
Hampton, of Bowling Green, has not commented publicly on the governor’s decision.
Adam Edelen, a Democrat who is running this year for governor, was chief of staff in former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration. Edelen resigned that position in September 2010 to run for state auditor in 2011.
Edelen said Wednesday that the Beshear administration did not have a policy that required candidates for statewide office to resign their politically-appointed state jobs.
“But I believe that if you want to be a candidate, you should be truly independent of the governor and that’s why I stepped down as Gov. Beshear’s chief of staff to run for auditor,” he said.