A popular slogan in political campaigns is to “run government like a business.” Undoubtedly, our political system, at both the state and federal levels, is unsatisfactory.
Governor Matt Bevin, a successful businessman, ran on the platform of bringing a business-like approach to Frankfort to cure the ills of political corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude. Upon election, he rode into Frankfort on his white horse to achieve such goals, with little regard to compromise, cooperation or the acknowledgment of law.
Bevin has reorganized parts of state government and completely dismantled various boards and commissions, many of which were appointed by his predecessor and nemesis, Steve Beshear, a Democrat.
Bevin abolished the entire board of trustees at the University of Louisville, indicating it was illegal because it was comprised of 13 Democrats, one Republican and one Independent, thereby violating state statute setting forth a proportional party affiliation.
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It is well documented that U of L’s board had internal dysfunction, as does the institution in regards to financial oversight and accountability. However, the governor’s action creates a dangerous precedent in the use of executive authority and threatens the independence of higher education institutions.
Taxpayers want effective and efficient delivery of services. However, our system of government, including the appointed boards and commissions, is structured to be incremental, to avoid knee-jerk reactions associated with a particular political climate or change in administration.
Boards and commissions need a certain level of autonomy to shield the decision-making process from politics. U of L’s board, albeit dysfunctional, was entrusted with such authority and should be granted some independence.
Higher education institutions in Kentucky should not be micro-managed by any governor, nor should their boards be under constant threat of dismantlement simply because a disproportional amount of its members have Republican or Democratic affiliation.
If Bevin thinks that the makeup of U of L’s board was illegal, he could have simply gone to the courts and sought relief. Additionally, he could have appointed those with similar political affiliation to vacancies on the board.
He ignored such legal remedies. His abolishment of the U of L’s board has created unprecedented instability for the institution and may even affect its accreditation, all of which could have been avoided.
Most alarmingly, reports have recently surfaced that Bevin attempted to intimidate House legislators to switch their party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. Reportedly, their failure to switch was accompanied by what could easily be inferred as a threat of retribution by the governor. While these accusations have yet to be substantiated, Bevin’s unprecedented use of his executive authority lends credibility to such claims.
Bevin ran for governor on the premise of taking a conservative, businessman’s approach to fixing Frankfort. Kentucky politics has been overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats over much of the past century, and Bevin intends to change the balance of power.
However, he should understand that many of those who identify as Democrats in Kentucky are just as conservative as Republicans. Simply because one identifies as a Democrat in Kentucky does not indicate they are a left-wing ideologue as is often the case in Washington.
Unfortunately, Bevin’s actions thus far appear to be entirely focused on gaining a Republican majority in every aspect of state government. Such tactics will only create a more toxic political environment in Frankfort. Moreover, his attempts to intimidate elected legislators into switching their party affiliation, if proven true, could be criminal.
Bevin has either a complete misunderstanding of our government’s checks and balances system, or a total disregard for the rule of law, motivated by political partisanship. Either way, actions taken during the first nine months of his administration, regardless of one’s party affiliation, are deeply troubling.
Brad Parke is a Hindman lawyer.