GOP lawmakers lead dispute over Davis statue removal

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FRANKFORT, Ky (AP) — Two Republican lawmakers in Kentucky complained Tuesday that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was removed from the state Capitol last month by a firm with political connections to the governor without bids.

Kentucky state Sens. Stephen Meredith and Paul Hornback argued during a legislative committee hearing that the presence of the 15-foot (4.5-meter) statue in the rotunda was not enough of an emergency to justify a no-bid contract for its removal last month. They said other companies should have had a chance to compete for the $225,000 job.

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“It’s silly,” he said. “I didn’t know the company’s name or who they were until I showed up the day they were removing it.”

A spokeswoman for Beshear said he had no role in awarding the contract to American Industrial Contractors of Lexington. She said the firm was the only one that could complete the job within the time frame and the contract was not practical to bid because of the limited number of companies that could do the work.

During a Government Contract Review Committee hearing, Meredith called for further investigation by the U.S. attorney general because of connections between the firm and Beshear’s 2019 campaign. Jane Bennington, the wife of American Industrial Contractor President Tom Bennington, contributed $750 to the governor, according to Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records.

Rep. Charles Booker, a Democrat, dismissed the claim that the statue’s removal was not an emergency.

“I don’t appreciate the fact that this has been diminished and turned into a political game,” said Booker, whose bid for his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate fell short last month. “That statue needed to go, they followed the procedures they needed in order to get in done immediately, and it was justified.”

The joint committee of senators and representatives voted to refer the matter to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the U.S. attorney general for further investigation. Cameron, Meredith and Hornback are all Republicans, and the GOP controls both chambers of the legislature.

The Davis statue had stood in the Kentucky statehouse since 1936 but was removed June 13. It occupied a corner of the rotunda near a bronze likeness of Abraham Lincoln, his Civil War adversary and the president who freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were Kentucky natives.

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Piper Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.