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Bill Straub: Bevin had to know about firing of Lt. Governor’s deputy chief; could come back to bite him


Sayre’s Law postulates that, “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake,” an assertion that perfectly summarizes the ongoing contretemps involving Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton and her one-time running mate and ally, Gov. Matt “Yosemite Sam’’ Bevin.

Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton

The real stakes here are tinier than an atom, given that St. Matt the Divine from New Hampshire decided months ago to unceremoniously dump Hampton from the ticket as he seeks re-election and the fact that it involves the office of lieutenant governor, which traditionally within the commonwealth is about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.

But sometimes a political feud, like the one roiling in Frankfort is just too sublime to pass up, particularly since it involves our old pal Mad Matt, who has exhibited during his three-plus years in office the acumen of a box of rocks, often leaving him to bluster about like Ralph Kramden.

The delicious details:

Last January, Bevin, seeking a second four-year term in November, announced that he was dropping Hampton as his running mate, without offering anything close to a rationale, in favor of state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, who passes as a rising star in the Kentucky GOP.

The switch left some annoyed since Hampton, the first African-American to emerge victorious in a statewide race and the fourth woman to serve as lieutenant governor, was the darling of the Tea Party movement.

So there was rumbling beneath the surface.

Then, also in January, the Bevin administration, through the Finance and Administration Cabinet, fired Hampton’s chief-of-staff, Steve Knipper, who was running for the Republican nomination for secretary of state. The deed was done “without cause,’’ meaning they didn’t have to offer a reason.

The administration subsequently sort of explained that it wanted any administration official running for office to resign from the office they held.

Hampton wasn’t pleased but things died down a bit. That is until May when Hampton’s deputy chief-of-staff, Adrienne Southworth, received her own missive from the cabinet informing her she was joining Knipper in the unemployment line.

Gov. Matt Bevin

Yet again the action was taken without cause.

The firings had the practical effect of adding to the lieutenant governor’s duties – she would have to answer the phone and lick her own stamps hereinafter, adding to her responsibilities infinitely.

Hampton, to the apparent surprise of Mad Matt and his minions, didn’t take the insults lying down. First she asked supporters to “pray for me as I battle dark forces’’ and declared she wanted Southworth to return to her post.

All of this rigmarole raised a rather obvious question – who authorized the firings and why?

St. Matt told WHAS-AM in Louisville that he doesn’t know why Southworth was canned and said he didn’t even know anything about it until he spoke, presumably briefly, with Hampton.

Blake Brickman, the governor’s chief-of-staff, eventually stepped forward and acknowledged that he was responsible for lighting the fuse, maintaining, among other things, that Southworth engaged in unauthorized efforts to lobby state legislators to support leniency for sex offenders who violate parole and of misusing state property.

Southworth called the claims baloney, guessing she was probably dumped for looking into the circumstances of Knipper’s dismissal. And she added yet another chapter to the dispute – Bevin dumped Hampton in favor of Alvarado at the suggestion of our old pal, Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville.

McConnell’s office insisted ol’ Mitch has never discussed the issue with Mad Matt.

Hampton wrapped things up into a neat little package on Tuesday, warning voters that Brickman was “an unelected bureaucrat’’ overstepping his grounds by seeking to control the office of a duly elected constitutional officer. She vowed to continue her efforts, maintaining “We came to Frankfort to be public servants, not political hacks.’’

Ah, fun and games in Frankfort.

Where to begin…let’s go with the obvious.

Anyone who believes St. Matt the Divine is Little Mr. Innocent in all this is a dope.

This is the governor of Kentucky after all. Even if the order to can Southworth didn’t come directly from his lips, no one in the executive office thought it might be a good idea to give him a heads up that the train was coming down the track?

Instead, they allowed Hampton to contact him and complain about something he had been kept in the dark about? Unlikely.

And after it hit the fan, no one filled him in? He didn’t try to get to the bottom of the situation to limit the damage in a campaign year?

Come on.

Sen. Mitch McConnell

There’s preposterous and then there’s this. It’s even worse if he wasn’t aware of the brouhaha, frankly.

It means he’s the odd man out in a renegade government performing all sorts of dubious tasks behind his back and without his knowledge. To have a governor stand there and admit, gee, I don’t know anything about my office sacking the woman serving as my lieutenant governor’s top aide is rather embarrassing.

It certainly would have been easy enough for him to get the information – his staff is right there on the first floor of the Capitol.

And after swearing and screaming at his staff for keeping him out of the loop, Bevin could very easily have seen to it that Southworth returned to her post – she’s leaving in just a few months anyway.

But he didn’t.

What’s more, if you’re going to fire the trusted aide of a duly elected constitutional officer, maybe someone might want to inform said constitutional officer that the terrible swift sword is coming down.

They didn’t.

Is this the way the Bevin administration runs a railroad? No wonder he’s the nation’s most despised governor. It’s ridiculous.

Brickman, or whoever is in charge, didn’t so much as tell Hampton she was being cut off at the knees. Then they have no idea why they’re on the spot.

The McConnell connection is most interesting. It might even be true that McConnell never spoke with Bevin about choosing Alvarado as a running mate. He wouldn’t have to. It would be easy as pie for ol’ Root-‘n-Branch to get word to Mad Matt without whispering a word.

There’s really only one reason anyone would want to serve as lieutenant governor in the Commonwealth of Kentucky – to use the position as a springboard to run for governor at the next available opportunity.

The job has a dearth of duties unless you count ribbon cuttings at store openings that the governor doesn’t want to attend. He or she doesn’t even preside over the state Senate anymore.

The job holder has a lot of time on his or her hands to plan a campaign. Hampton doesn’t fit the old guard Republican vision of a Kentucky governor – too black, too female, too Tea Party. Alvarado fits the bill.

As noted earlier, the job of lieutenant governor is as trivial as they come. But, as Mad Matt is learning, that’s just the sort of thing that will come up and bite you.

Bill Straub

NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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