The Republicans who control Kentucky’s legislature should quickly explain the “different direction” they have in mind for the director of the Legislative Research Commission and by extension the agency.
The LRC, which serves as the legislature’s nonpartisan staff, is too important to become a political spoil or victim of a partisan power grab.
It’s troubling then that after deciding not to rehire LRC director David Byerman, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne reportedly are opting to install their chiefs of staff as the agency’s interim heads. That’s what Byerman said in a statement Tuesday morning.
By late afternoon Tuesday, Stivers and Osborne released a statement saying, well, not much. They wished Byerman “the best of luck” and said “it has always been our policy not to publicly discuss personnel decisions.”
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The LRC’s full-time staff includes 325 nonpartisan employees and 47 partisan employees who work in leadership offices. The chiefs of staff — Becky Harilson in the Senate and David Floyd in the House — are very much part of the partisan contingent.
The LRC’s nonpartisan character is also its greatest strength, the reason it’s trusted to provide objective, unbiased research and input.
Stivers and Osborne should appoint a nonpartisan staffer to serve as interim director, as legislative leaders did in 2013 after the abrupt retirement of Bobby Sherman in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal.
When the interim director, Marcia Seiler, retired in July 2015, then-speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, and Stivers, a Republican, put their chiefs of staff in charge of the LRC for the two months before Byerman became director.
Stivers and Osborne will no doubt cite that decision as precedent. But a bipartisan leadership team, as was briefly the case in 2015, is very different than putting the agency under the control of a single party.
Byerman said Stivers and Osborne assured him the decision not to renew his contract was not a reflection on his job performance but that they wanted to take the office “in a different direction.”
Democratic Party Chairman Ben Self quickly decried the move to replace Byerman with “partisan staff” and said that the firing is “an obvious move to fully politicize the Legislative Research Commission” shortly before an election.
We hope Self is wrong, though we worry most about the long-term effects. It would be a big mistake to impose any partisan ideology on the LRC’s work.