Beshear challenges law shifting fair board appointment power

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Gov. Andy Beshear/Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP/WTVQ) – Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has asked a judge to strike down a Republican-backed law that eroded his appointment authority over the state fair board in the latest partisan political battle to make its way into Kentucky courts.

The measure transferred power to appoint a majority of the fair board’s members to the state’s agriculture commissioner. The current commissioner is Republican Ryan Quarles — a potential challenger to Beshear in 2023 when the governor has said he will seek a second term.

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The fair board legislation was among several bills Beshear vetoed last month, only to be overridden by the GOP-dominated legislature, that shifted some of his powers to other statewide offices currently occupied by Republicans.

Beshear and a member of his cabinet filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville last week challenging the changes lawmakers made over appointments to the fair board.

The suit says the majority of appointments to executive branch boards have always been reserved for the governor as the state’s chief magistrate under the Kentucky Constitution.

The new law unconstitutionally deprives the governor of the ability to ensure the board uses taxpayers’ money properly, the suit said.

The board makes decisions regarding the state fair and oversees the Kentucky Exposition Center and Kentucky International Convention Center. Those venues host events with an economic impact of hundreds of millions of dollars for Kentucky.

Quarles, among the defendants in the lawsuit, said in a social media post Monday that the governor “refuses to accept laws” enacted by the legislature. Instead, the governor is “running to a court to seek his preferred outcome,” Quarles said.

“If he’s successful, it will mean the legislature cannot draft laws to steer the state’s policy or set a vision for agencies it creates. This must be defeated,” Quarles said of the suit.

Beshear told reporters Monday the fair board is a “critical part” of Kentucky government and said its management is “absolutely critical.”

“As the chief magistrate, as the only person who has the duty to faithfully ensure the laws are executed, the governor has got to have enough appointments on a board to ultimately be responsible for what that board does,” he said.

The new law gives the agriculture commissioner the authority to appoint nine of the board’s 14 voting members, the suit said. The governor would appoint the other five voting members.

The suit asks a judge to rule that the law violates several sections of the state Constitution. Joining Beshear as a plaintiff is Kentucky Tourism Secretary Mike Berry. The suit requests an “expedited review” of the constitutional issues.

The measure prevents the governor and secretary from ensuring that “the laws are faithfully executed by giving them no ability to ensure the board with an annual budget of more than $50 million and unilateral contracting authority properly uses taxpayers’ money in its operations and properly maintains and operates all of the properties under its custody and control,” the suit said.

It said the law gave the fair board “self-control of its own functions, contracts and property.”

Also named as defendants are Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne. They did not immediately respond to emails sent to their offices Monday seeking comment. A fair board spokesman said the board does not comment on pending litigation.

The suit accused the GOP-led legislature of an “unprecedented stripping” of the governor’s executive authority during the mostly contentious 30-day session that ended recently.

“These actions will effectively prevent the governor from fulfilling his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the suit said.

Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court agreed to take up Beshear’s challenge of Republican-supported laws aimed at limiting his authority to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. That case tests the balance of power between the state’s executive and legislative branches — a constitutional issue now extending to the fair board-related measure.

“There’s only one executive branch and it’s headed by the governor,” Beshear said Monday. “And every time you try to move governance outside of there and let other people make decisions that aren’t accountable to the voters, that will ultimately indebt the commonwealth further, the less responsibility you get.”

The Republican Party of Kentucky reacted to the governor’s lawsuit in a statement released Monday night by party spokesman Mike Lonergan:

“Just as he did when Republican lawmakers overrode vetoes of his executive overreach, Gov. Beshear is once again flailing about in the courts because he isn’t getting his way. This bill passed both houses of the legislature – the governor’s arbitrary and capricious veto not withstanding. We stand with our Republican leaders in their continued efforts to hold the Beshear Administration accountable for their political games, and we hope the courts will agree.”

 

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Tom Kenny joined ABC 36 News in June of 2001 as a General Assignment Reporter. A native of Peoria, Illinois, he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications from Western Illinois University. He currently anchors ABC 36 News at 5pm, 6pm and 11pm. Tom has more than three decades of experience in broadcast journalism. He is the only broadcast journalist in Lexington television history to be honored with a national Edward R. Murrow Award. Tom was recognized for reporting on a story that gave a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of the Federal Witness Protection Program. He has won an Emmy Award for anchoring and another for investigative reporting, exposing the deceit and potential danger of online diploma mills. Tom has ten other Emmy nominations to his credit for investigative and feature reporting. He has won Associated Press Awards for reporting and anchoring. He has won two Addy Awards for excellence in promotional writing. Tom was the first broadcast journalist in Lexington TV history to be awarded the Silver Circle Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is one of the highest honors given by NATAS. It recognizes television professionals who have performed distinguished service within the television industry for 25-years or more. Tom was honored for more than his longevity, he was recognized for making an enduring contribution to the vitality of the television industry and for setting high standards of achievement. He was also recognized for giving back to the community as a mentor, educator and volunteer. Tom also has network broadcast experience in radio and television having worked as a sports reporter for ESPN, Sportschannel, NBC Sports and the Breeders’ Cup. He was also the studio host and halftime producer for CBS Radio Sports’ College Football Game of the Week and covered the NFL for One-On-One Radio Sports. Prior to joining WTVQ-TV, Tom was Vice-President of the Houston Astros Minor League baseball team in Lexington. He was part of the original management team that brought professional baseball back to the Bluegrass after a nearly 50-year absence. Tom has lived in Lexington since 1984. In that time, he has been heavily involved with dozens of charity and civic groups, with a special emphasis on helping Veterans. He can be reached at tkenny@wtvq.com. You can also follow Tom on Facebook www.facebook.com/TomKennyABC and Twitter @TomKennyNews. Just click on the links at the top of the page.