For conspiracy theorists, this story has everything.
A close election. A Republican governor loses narrowly to the Democratic Attorney General. Vague rumors of skullduggery that need to be investigated by ... the Attorney General. And overseeing all this voting is a Democratic secretary of state who is under investigation for problems in her office and whose father was recently convicted of campaign violations regarding one of his daughter’s campaigns.
And yet. Gov. Matt Bevin needs to get a whole lot more specific about how he believes 5,000 votes may have been stolen from him, or he needs to bow gracefully out of the picture. Of course, he has every right to check on the basic parameters of the election with a recanvass, and he should. But just alluding to Alison Lundergan Grimes, her father and the history of vote fraud in Magoffin County is not going to work.
After re-canvassing is finished, he should think long and hard about starting a long and contested challenge to the legislature. It sounds as though the GOP-dominated General Assembly already is. As the Herald-Leader’s Daniel Desrochers wrote Thursday, state lawmakers are starting to distance themselves from Bevin and his efforts to paint the election as illegitimate.
This makes a lot of sense. For one, Bevin has always been an outsider who dove into Kentucky politics, first by unsuccessfully challenging boss daddy Mitch McConnell, then squeaking past now U.S. Rep. Jamie Comer in a scandal-filled nail biter gubernatorial election. (Just for context, Comer did not contest the race after a recanvass showed he lost by 83!! votes.)
He also made few friends in the General Assembly. To to his credit, he called on former House Speaker Jeff Hoover and other Republican legislators to resign for covering up sexual harassment allegations. Less to his credit, he insulted legislators when they disagreed with his pension plans, and called a special session on pensions with a four-hour lead time for them to get to Frankfort.
It defies common sense that state House and Senate leaders would want to start the contest process after Beshear is sworn in, bringing the eyes of the national media and everyone else already whispering about attempts to steal the election. Starting that process would also bring more wrath from teachers, who clearly worked hard to make their anger with Bevin pay off at the voting booth. They’re getting more respect these days, at least in the political arena.
Besides, why would Senate President Robert Stivers go to the mat for Bevin? With Beshear as the isolated Democrat in the governor’s office, Stivers becomes the most powerful person in Frankfort, able to easily thwart much of Beshear’s agenda.
Faith in the system
The problem with the current situation is it plays into our uneasiness with election security and the peaceful transfer of power. As I’ve written before, Trump loves to “joke” about staying on past even a second term, but he quite seriously said his loss of the popular vote in 2016 was due to election rigging.
University of Kentucky election law expert Josh Douglas says “it’s really dangerous to suggest an election system is not secure” without presenting evidence.
“It undermines people’s faith in our democracy, and that is dangerous in a democracy that depends on the peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
Former Secretary of State and Republican Trey Grayson said he’s also troubled by Bevin’s allegations.
“I wish people would just accept the results, especially when there’s no evidence of fraud,” he said. “You try to learn the lessons and go on and get ready to govern.”
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, who certainly helped Beshear to victory in several rural counties, said he thinks lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are ready to do that. “ I think people of both parties are ready to move forward — we’re trying to get a sense of bipartisanship on things we can move forward on. That’s what I’m hearing back from Democrats and Republicans, let’s put politics aside, let’s bring people together.”
That’s a much a rosier scenario than is realistic in these hyper-partisan times, but I do think everyone is tired. They’re tired of political cacophony, tired of name-calling, exhausted from trying to keep up with the latest transgressions, real and perceived. Even if it’s unrealistic, they’d like to see politicians play nicely together and get some things done.
For all our sakes, Gov. Bevin, it’s time to move on. And if he isn’t ready to go, Kentucky Republicans should help him pack.