Politics & Government

Bevin phone message shows governor threatened him, lawmaker says

Gov. Matt Bevin and Kentucky State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville.
Gov. Matt Bevin and Kentucky State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville. Ky.gov

State Rep. Russ Meyer, D-Nicholasville, released a recording of a voicemail message Tuesday that he received in December from Matt Bevin in which Meyer says the Republican governor warned him of the “impacts” of not switching political parties.

Meyer said in an interview Tuesday morning that he received the call from Bevin on his cellphone at 8:40 a.m. Dec. 17 after he had informed Bevin’s chief of staff, Blake Brickman, that he wasn’t going to switch parties.

Meyer said he had met with the governor and Brickman on Dec. 15 and talked to Brickman again Dec. 16.

In the tape Meyer released Tuesday, Bevin said he was “a little disappointed by some of what I’m hearing. Would love to speak to you.”

“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. 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,” Bevin said.

Meyer said Tuesday that he thinks a major road project in his district was postponed recently because he decided to remain a Democrat. The Bevin administration has denied that.

The $11 million project was an extension of East Brannon Road in Jessamine County to Tates Creek Road near the Fayette County line. It had been approved by Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, just before he left office in December.

The Bevin administration delayed the project, saying the Beshear administration didn’t secure a necessary portion of land before the deadline to begin work. The state was contractually obligated to pay The Allen Co. $625,000 in damages because of the delay.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters Tuesday that state or federal officials should investigate the matter.

“I would think that either state or federal authorities would look at this and at least give it a look and see,” Stumbo said. “There’s certainly very serious allegations about the abuse of the separation of powers.”

If the allegations are true, Stumbo said, the House would consider pursuing articles of impeachment against Bevin.

“If they canceled that project to retaliate against a member that was duly elected, then that’s a waste of taxpayer money and in my judgment, that’s a theft,” Stumbo said.

Bevin’s director of communications, Jessica Ditto, said Stumbo has lost credibility with the people of Kentucky.

“Speaker Stumbo’s erratic behavior and foolish comments are an embarrassment to the commonwealth,” Ditto said in a statement. “Kentuckians deserve better than such buffoonery from our leaders.”

Asa Swan, chief of staff of the state Transportation Cabinet, said Monday that the state got all of the right-of-ways for the project about a month ago but can’t begin construction because it first needs to remove all the utility lines and pipes in the project’s path.

“This unfortunately was a rushed job,” Swan said.

He said it would be premature to say when construction will begin.

Swan was adamant that the postponement of the project had nothing to do with Meyer. “We just inherited a mess,” he said.

Later Tuesday, Bevin’s office released a Feb. 11 email from Todd Shipp, the Transportation Cabinet’s deputy general counsel, in which he told the cabinet’s general counsel “the project is one that should have never been let much less executed contracts on and a Notice to Proceed issued.”

“There is no way the deadline of March 16 will be met for right of way clearance and utility clearance,” wrote Shipp, a 26-year employee of the cabinet who worked there all eight years of Beshear’s administration.

House Majority Caucus chairwoman Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said it’s not uncommon for a construction project to begin before all utility right-of-ways are acquired. Overly formerly oversaw the House’s road budget and is chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, said the East Brannon Road project will begin when all the requirements are in place.

“It is unfortunate this has become a political issue,” said Buford. “I know Gov. Bevin will continue to ensure the state provides a safe and reliable transportation system for this entire community. This is a road project I placed into the Road Plan and continue to support. It will be completed as soon as property right-of-ways and utilities are properly secured.”

In response to the release of Bevin’s voice message, Ditto said the governor was replying to an inquiry from Meyer.

“Representative Meyer was worried about the governor supporting a Republican opponent against him this year and expressed an interest in changing parties because Jessamine County is now a Republican county and trending more so” Ditto said. “The fact that Representative Meyer would release a nine-month-old polite and personal voicemail two months before an election is proof of his continued insecurity about keeping his seat.”

She called Meyer’s decision to release the recording a “desperate and partisan effort to misconstrue the conversations that he initiated” and said it’s “a discredit to the office he holds.”

Meyer said the Republican Party approached him about switching parties.

Democrats control the House by a 53-47 majority. Republicans are trying to wrest control of the House this year for the first time since 1921.

Meyer is the second House Democrat to say he was pressured by Bevin to switch parties. Rep. Kevin Sinnette of Ashland said that on the day after he told Bevin he wouldn’t switch parties, recorded phone calls went out to voters in his district implying that Sinnette supports abortion and asking voters to call him and urge him to switch parties. Sinnette is opposed to abortion.

Bevin later called that story “an absolute lie.”

Sinnette told CNHI News that Bevin has tried to intimidate at least five Democratic lawmakers to switch parties.

Meyer said his major concerns lie with the people of the 39th House District. He said a project to build a long-term care center in his district that would create 90 jobs has been canceled because of the delay in the East Brannon Road project.

“I feel like the people have been left out of this,” he said.

Reporter Daniel Desrochers contributed to this report.

Jack Brammer: 502-227-1198, @BGPolitics

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