Embattled Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton vowed Tuesday to serve the remainder of her term and said she is “pursuing action” to reinstate two staffers whom Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration fired against her wishes.
In a statement released by her office, Hampton said she will “serve the remaining months of my term as I began it: joyful, faithful, humble.” She said Adrienne Southworth, her dismissed deputy chief of staff, will continue to work for her and will record her time manually until she is placed back in the state’s personnel system.
Her comments come after Blake Brickman, Bevin’s chief of staff, acknowledged over the weekend that he authorized Southworth’s dismissal in May. He accused Southworth of actively advocating that Bevin commute the sentence of an individual serving a 25-year sentence for raping his step-daughter, lobbying lawmakers to provide more leniency for convicted sex offenders who violate their parole and misusing state property.
Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor who has served as an adviser to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, then 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.”
Southworth accused Brickman of “character assassination” and said she had been investigating the earlier dismissal of Steve Knipper, Hampton’s chief of staff.
Knipper was fired in January for not following the Bevin administration policy of leaving state government if running for a public office. Knipper was an unsuccessful candidate for secretary of state in the Republican primary election in May. He is appealing his dismissal to the Personnel Board.
Hampton, whom Bevin did not choose to be on his ticket for re-election, said Tuesday that Brickman “has clearly overstepped his boundaries. Every Kentuckian should be concerned that an unelected bureaucrat appears to have power over the office of the lieutenant governor, a constitutional officer duly elected by the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
“I am perplexed by the vacuous decision to deprive an active, productive lieutenant governor of her staff,” Hampton said. “But after watching politics for over 45 years, I am not surprised by the false allegations and character attacks which have ensued.”
Hampton said no one in the Finance and Administration Cabinet or Personnel Cabinet have responded to her “requests to reinstate Southworth, provide details of the termination order, and supply the forms and procedures necessary to hire. In doing so, they have denied me the privilege every other constitutional officer possesses — control of my own team.”
The lieutenant governor said the two staffers cases “were handled poorly according to standard Human Resource practices. Unlike the private sector where direct supervisors are involved in personnel actions, I was not consulted in either action.”
Hampton said she hired Southworth for her “innate ability” to quickly read and understand legislation and described her as “my eyes and ears in that arena.”
“As my proxy on the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, a working group convened to improve Kentucky’s criminal justice system, Ms. Southworth met with legislators and other stakeholders to research proposed reform bills and help determine their scope and viability,” Hampton said. “Although we both asked several questions on this complex issue, questions do not imply endorsement or advocation.”
She said her office often helped constituents navigate state government but “assistance does not imply endorsement or advocation.”
Hampton said she chose to be “an active, engaged lieutenant governor despite few duties required.”
Hampton thanked the “many prayer warriors praying on my behalf” and quoted Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped.”
Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.