Is Hope of Collaboration Between Beshear and the Legislature Gone?

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Governor Andy Beshear struck a tone of unity during his inauguration speech on Tuesday vowing to go beyond party lines and work with the Republican-led legislature—but could that promise of collaboration already be over just days into his administration?

Republican lawmakers are upset over his reorganization of the Kentucky Board of Education done through an executive order on Tuesday. Beshear campaigned on reorganizing the board and ousting Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis in his first week in the office and replacing them with public education advocates—both of those promises were fulfilled.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, released a scathing statement against the governor’s actions on Friday saying it goes against his promise of collaboration and cooperation.

“Governor Beshear’s rhetoric is not supported by his actions. The legislature didn’t support Governor Bevin changing this board by executive order,” the statement read. “We do not support Governor Beshear doing it either. The new governor has created a board without a single Republican on it and he received no input from Republicans in the Senate, the body that ultimately has confirmation authority over his appointments.”

In 2017, former Gov. Matt Bevin reorganized several state education boards through executive order, his actions were challenged by Beshear as attorney general who argued the governor did not have the power to do so when lawmakers are not in session, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled with Bevin that he did have the authority to do so but the legislature has to approve the reorganization within 90 days of the session ends. In 2018, the legislature did not approve of Bevin’s reorganization of the education board—causing Bevin to issue another executive order. In June 2019, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in Bevin’s favor about the reorganization of boards when lawmakers are not in session.

 Beshear made his executive order on Tuesday based on the ruling from the Supreme Court that he has the authority to temporarily restructure boards while lawmakers are not in session. That has not stopped the former all-Republican board of education members from suing Gov. Beshear over their termination.

The ousted members lost appeals to try and stop a Thursday meeting leading to the resignation of Dr. Wayne Lewis but Judge Wingate did not rule on the merits of their lawsuit which claims a governor cannot terminate an entire board before their terms are up.

Republican lawmakers are accusing Beshear of politicizing the board.

“It has to be protected from political maneuvering and made up of people with a vested interest in our children alone – educators, specialists, and advocates,” House Education Chair Regina Huff said in part in a statement. “When Governor Bevin asked us to give him the authority to make sweeping changes to the Board, the legislature chose not to do so and he made the decision to replace members using the appropriate authority based on the proper timeline. I would hope that Governor Beshear recognizes that something as critical as our state board of education should be free from politics and exempt from the damage it can cause to the institution of education.”

These statements from Republican lawmakers come just a day after Beshear met and spoke with the Senate Majority Caucus at their annual retreat on Thursday. Beshear said the members for very welcoming to him.

“I think everybody since the election has had a time to take a breath and is looking forward to a positive relationship,” Beshear told reporters. “My job is to build real relationships, to get to know the names of people’s kids to learn the most important parts of their communities and to know that we can build coalitions for certain issues that have Democrats, Republicans, Independents, mainly that we’re Kentuckians, and I believe it was well-received and I greatly appreciate the invitation.”

Beshear’s office told Spectrum News 1, “Gov. Beshear appointed a group of individuals with extensive education experience, ranging from a former Kentucky teacher of the year to a former president of the University of Kentucky. State law specifically prohibits a governor from considering party registration in making these appointments. No one’s registration was pulled or reviewed as part of this process. Gov. Beshear is committed to handling this and other issues in a positive and constructive manner.”