Bevin should learn from legal setback

Gov. Matt Bevin
Gov. Matt Bevin

Gov. Matt Bevin’s power grabs keep backfiring. A judge on Friday dismantled Bevin’s rationale for upending the University of Louisville Board of Trustees, which should serve as a wake-up call: If Bevin hopes to accomplish his goals, he will have to stop undermining them by overreaching his authority.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd’s rejection of Bevin’s arguments was total, but not surprising.

The governor’s unprecedented unilateral action was at odds with several state laws, the state constitution’s separation of powers and the terms of U of L’s accreditation. Shepherd laid out an exhaustive case for granting Attorney General Andy Beshear’s request for the injunction, which restores the board that Bevin abolished until the full case is heard.

Shepherd also said James Ramsey’s resignation as U of L president could stand since it was submitted to the illegally constituted board before the injunction was in force. But Bevin’s actions, no matter how well intended, have worsened the turmoil roiling U of L.

Bevin also is in court defending his unilateral reorganizations of the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission and the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and his mid-year budget cuts to higher education.

Shepherd wrote: “The theory of executive power advanced by the Governor grants one person unlimited discretion to completely restructure every public institution in the Commonwealth, to vitiate statutes setting forth requirements for governing boards, and to suspend statutes without any meaningful or judicial oversight.”

The judge noted that Bevin had “numerous management tools” at hand to address U of L’s problems, tools that earlier governors used effectively.

Indeed, Kentucky governors have far-reaching power without flouting the law. The administration said it will appeal. But if Bevin wants more than court battles and conflict, he instead should use the tools he already has.