Quarles files response to lawsuit challenging State Fair Board change

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles has filed a response to the lawsuit filed by Gov. Andrew Beshear that challenged the reorganization of the Kentucky State Fair Board.
“Since the moment this lawsuit was filed, I promised Kentuckians that I would defend agriculture and the will of the General Assembly,” Quarles said. “While a state fair board reorganization bill might seem minor to some, the stakes of this lawsuit could not be higher. The question before the Court is whether the laws passed by the General Assembly matter. Governor Andrew Beshear thinks they do not; I think they do.”
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed House Bill 518, a bipartisan piece of legislation that reformed the structure of the Kentucky State Fair Board
House Bill 518 authorized the Commissioner of Agriculture to appoint a number of members of the board, outlined hiring and management procedures, and allowed the board to elect its own chair, instead of the chair being appointed by a constitutional officer.
After the bill was passed by the General Assembly with both Republican and Democrat support, Governor Beshear vetoed the measure, and the legislature overrode his veto.
On April 19, Beshear sued Quarles, Senate President Robert Stivers, House Speaker David Osborne, and Dr. Mark Lynn, chairman of the Kentucky State Fair Board, over the bill’s implementation.
“Let me reiterate what this case is about: it has nothing to do with COVID-19 or emergency powers; it has everything to do with this Governor’s desire to wield power and his disregard for the General Assembly,” Commissioner Quarles said. “We will defend this law, the will of the people as expressed through the General Assembly, and we will defeat this frivolous lawsuit.”
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.

The fair board legislation was among several bills that Beshear vetoed in March, 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 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.

“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.

At the time, Beshear told reporters 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.”

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.

In April, 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.”

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