Bevin elected governor, not absolute ruler

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin smiles as he is introduced at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin smiles as he is introduced at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky. Associated Press

There is something almost trivial about Gov. Matt Bevin issuing two executive orders to undo an earlier executive order — as if being chief executive of a state is like running a test kitchen trying to perfect recipes.

But what’s really troubling about his convoluted machinations over the panel appointed to nominate people to serve as judges in workers’ compensation cases is an apparent confusion — or lack of concern — about separation of powers among the government’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.

In this case, Bevin rewrote legislation by executive order — taking on legislative duties — then, according to his spokesperson, decided a judge was simply wrong (“would no doubt be reversed on appeal”) in a decision temporarily blocking his changes.

So, Bevin has asserted his executive power to legislate and blithely concluded how an appeals court would look upon the lower-court decision.

Most historians and political scientists agree the genius of our form of government is that distinct powers are reserved for each of the three branches, creating a system of checks and balances. This was very important to the Founders who lived in a world where many monarchs held almost absolute power.

Bevin’s disregard for the fundamental limits imposed on his power also came into focus in the intimidation tactics his administration used in an attempt to impose control over the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees at a May meeting. The attorney general decision this week ruled that the governor’s delegates violated Kentucky Open Meetings law by threatening to arrest one board member and to initiate an investigation of another, if they did not comply with the administration’s wishes.

Here again, Bevin had employed an executive order to remove the chair, appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear, before his term was up and replace him with his own appointee.

Attorney General Andy Beshear — the former governor’s son elected attorney general last fall when Bevin was elected governor — issued an opinion saying Bevin did not have the authority to remove an appointee mid-term and that the person he wanted to appoint did not meet the legal standards for the position.

Granted, this is a politically charged environment but, rather than appeal the decision through the courts, Bevin sent state police officers, his chief of staff, the secretary of thepersonnel cabinet (who is a member of the KRS board by law) and that cabinet’s legal services executive director to the meeting to enforce his appointment.

With at least three state troopers on hand, the Bevin representatives told the chair that if he attempted to participate in the meeting he would be arrested and imprisoned for disrupting a public meeting.

In testimony cited in the AG’s decision this week, they also told another board member contemplating running for the chairmanship in opposition to Bevin’s appointee that if he were elected chair he would be investigated and documents damaging to him would be released.

Voters chose Bevin last fall, but he was only elected governor. There was no vote to abolish the legislature or dismantle the courts to give him absolute power.

That’s something this governor and his advisers should keep in mind.