Politics & Government

War of words explodes in Bevin-Hampton battle, pulls in Mitch McConnell

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell disputed a claim Sunday made by a fired staffer of Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton that he urged Gov. Matt Bevin to replace Hampton as his running mate in this year’s election for governor.

Meanwhile, Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said he authorized the firing of Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth of Lawrenceburg.

Bevin had said earlier this month he had “no knowledge” about Southworth’s dismissal. “People aren’t let go indiscriminately. There’s always a reason but as you would expect and it’s policy we don’t ever talk about specific personnel.”

Southworth’s dismissal in May was the second Hampton staffer this year to be fired by the Bevin administration against Hampton’s wishes. No reason was given for the dismissal.

Hampton’s chief of staff, Steve Knipper of Independence, was fired in December because he bucked the Bevin administration’s policy that no state official could remain on the state payroll and run for public office. Knipper was unsuccessful candidate in May’s Republican primary election for secretary of state and has appealed his dismissal to the Kentucky Personnel Board.

The uproar caused by the dismissals in Hampton’s office is an unwanted distraction for Republican Gov. Bevin as he seeks another four-year term in November’s general election against Attorney General Andy Beshear.

McConnell was dropped into the chaos Saturday when Southworth told conservative activists in Elizabethtown that McConnell was instrumental in replacing Hampton on Bevin’s re-election campaign with state Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester.

McConnell spokeswoman Stephanie Penn said Sunday in an email that McConnell “has never discussed this matter with Gov. Bevin and had no role whatsoever.”

Southworth’s comments were first reported Saturday by Louisville’s Courier Journal.

She said in a telephone interview Sunday that she told the newspaper that she was referring to McConnell when she said during a speech at a meeting of about 60 members of Take Back Kentucky, a conservative activist group, meeting in Elizabethtown that McConnell pushed Bevin to replace Hampton on the re-election ticket with Alvarado after Alvarado got national exposure in speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Southworth said she based her comments on talks with Hampton.

Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, said in a statement given to the Herald-Leader Sunday that he was responsible for Southworth’s dismissal. The Courier Journal first reported the statement late Saturday night.