Politics & Government

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

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin introduces his new running mate

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, announced Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in the Capitol Rotunda that his new running mate this year will be state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician.
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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, announced Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in the Capitol Rotunda that his new running mate this year will be state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician.

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.

“The governor’s office typically does not comment on personnel matters. However, in light of repeated misleading insinuations and blatant lies about Adrienne Southworth’s termination, it is important to set the record straight,” said Blakeman. “As chief of staff, I authorized Troy Robinson (in the Finance Cabinet) to dismiss her because she demonstrated remarkably poor judgment in a number of ways, not the least of which were repeatedly advocating that the governor commute the sentence of an individual who is serving a 25-year sentence for raping his own step-daughter, her repeated, unauthorized lobbying of legislators in an effort to pass legislation that provides more leniency for convicted sex offenders who violate their parole, and her misuse of state property.

“The bottom line is, she was an at-will employee, and I lost all confidence in her ability to faithfully serve the people of the Commonwealth. This administration holds itself to a high standard, and she repeatedly failed to meet that standard.”

Southworth said Sunday that Brickman “has things mixed up” and that he is trying to participate in “character assassination.” She said she did lobby for House Bill 189 in this year’s legislative session on behalf of Hampton.

The measure would allow the state Parole Board to place certain people at their final parole revocation hearing on treatment for up to nine months without revoking parole. The House passed the bill 100-0 and the Senate 35-2. Bevin signed it into law.

Southworth said she did refer a constituent to the governor’s office to get information on commutation but that she did not know the individual.

“We just wanted to make sure he understood due process,” she said. “Blake tries to make it sound something sinister.”

The fired staffer said she also would like to know where Blakeman gets the authority to fire people.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor who has served as an advisor to McConnell and is a Courier Journal columnist, wrote on Twitter that Hampton “ought to resign and allow Governor Bevin to appoint someone who aligns with his agenda” if her staff and she were lobbying for leniency for rapists.

“And good for Blake Brickman for relieving Kentucky taxpayers of the burden of paying the salary of an apparent apologist for rapists and sex offenders.” Southworth’s annual state salary was $81,000 a year.

The Kentucky Democratic Party, through spokeswoman Marisa McNee, said in an email Sunday, “Matt Bevin is a weak and unpopular bully who has thrown the GOP into chaos. Instead of focusing on the challenges facing Kentucky families, Bevin spends his time starting feuds with teachers and his own lieutenant governor.

“With his chief of staff forced to admit he directed the recent firing, it is clear that Matt Bevin has been dishonest about his role in this growing scandal and he and his new running mate Ralph Alvarado need to stop hiding and come clean. Our ticket is united and focused on the things that matter to people’s lives like public education and affordable health care.”

Hampton, who previously asked for prayers against the “dark forces” at work against her, was mostly silent on Sunday. However, in a Father’s Day Tweet, she noted that her own father, in addition to teaching her a love of green spaces and car repair, “taught me how to handle bullies.”