After much discussion and debate, the legislature on March 29 enacted an omnibus education bill. Gov. Matt Bevin signed Senate Bill 1 on April 10.
Less than two months later, on June 2, Bevin issued an executive order changing the law. If allowed to stand, Bevin’s order would give him more control than lawmakers intended over the setting of education standards.
This gubernatorial power grab is outside any conventional understanding of the law or the constitutional separation of powers and, despite what Bevin’s people say, it’s not how governors have conducted themselves in the past. This is far from the first time that Bevin has overstepped his authority by upending boards whose compositions and terms were mandated by the legislature.
Bevin has violated the legislature’s authority so many times that even some Republicans are raising concerns. Rep. John Carney, R-Campbellsville, chairman of the House Education Committee, recently told the Associated Press that a “significant number” of the Republicans who control the General Assembly view Bevin’s use of executive orders as a threat to legislative independence.
“It has taken a long, long, long time for the General Assembly to get legislative independence,” Carney said. “You’ve got a Republican governor you want to work with. I mean, we do. But again, at some point the trains are going to collide.”
One of Kentucky’s greatest advances of the last half-century came when lawmakers rebelled against control by governors. Legislative independence is good for Kentucky and should not be lightly sacrificed.
Hats off to Carney for having the courage to question Bevin’s actions. The governor has a history of vindictiveness and personal attacks, including against courts who have ruled against him and a pair of Louisville ministers who recently criticized him.
Carney said lawmakers need to revisit the statute that Bevin cites to override the legislature. But the state Supreme Court may beat them to it.
Over the objections of Bevin’s lawyer, the Supreme Court on Monday decided to hear Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear’s challenge of Bevin’s authority to reorganize state university boards in a case involving the University of Louisville. Bevin’s general counsel argued that the case is moot because the legislature has since granted the governor more power to reorganize university boards. The court’s decision to hear the case signals that at least some justices share concerns that Bevin has abused his power.
Beshear also is challenging Bevin’s recent reorganization of seven education boards or commissions, including the one that was just created.
It’s tempting to view these court battles simply as a political feud. But that’s missing what’s really at stake.
Carney said he’s concerned “simply because of checks and balances.” We all should be concerned. In our system of government, no single office holder is all powerful. Each branch of government — executive, legislative, judicial — is supposed to act as a check and balance on the others. That’s what distinguishes us from dictatorships.
Beshear would probably prefer to not make himself the target of Bevin’s retaliation.
But as the state’s top law enforcement official, the AG has to uphold the laws and constitution — even when it means taking on a governor.