LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – Kentucky’s state government is soon to duke it out in court. Many members of the executive branch were sued Thursday by the Beshear administration over a bill lessening the governor’s power.

On the surface, it appears the governor is trying to stop a bill about accountability and taking it out on the executive branch. Beshear sees it as another swipe at the office’s power. The bill was first vetoed and overridden by the legislature, the lawsuit is the next step if he wants to stop it.

“It’s not really a suit against them for anything they’ve done, it’s a suit against their office because of the power that’s been given to it, perhaps inappropriately,” Dr. Stephen Voss told FOX 56. Voss is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Kentucky and a specialist in Kentucky politics, elections, and voting behavior.

Voss explained House Bill 334 shifts the governor’s ability to appoint members to the state ethics commission and spreads it around the executive branch.

However, Voss argued there’s likely more at play.

“If this were only about the ethics board it wouldn’t be a big deal but we’re in the middle of a major shift in power from the governor’s office to the legislative branch,” Voss said. He explained in theory the legislation isn’t necessarily aimed at Beshear, specifically, because it would limit any future governor’s power, not just Beshear. However, Voss said the General Assembly could change the law under a new governor if its members choose. The Beshear Administration offered a different assessment.

Crystal Staley, a spokesperson for the Governor’s office, released the following statement to FOX 56:

“Since the day Gov. Beshear came into office, the General Assembly has relentlessly tried to strip the Office of the Governor of powers that every previous governor has exercised, regardless of party. The Governor has a responsibility to protect the separation of powers and the Office of the Governor from these power grabs. The officials defending this latest move should be asked why the appointments stripped from the Governor went only to Republican constitutional officers and intentionally left out the Democrat Lieutenant Governor.”

Crystal Staley, spokesperson for the governor’s office

In a statement, Secretary of State Michael Adams called the legislation, “a good-government bill that prevents a governor from stacking the ethics commission with his cronies by allocating appointments among the constitutional officers.”

“The constitutional officers are playing up these lawsuits as though they are personal to allow them to sort of spread the message that governor Beshear is governing through lawsuit rather than through compromise. It’s really more of a messaging thing,” Voss said.

Traditionally, lawsuits of this nature must name officers the policy falls under, and in this case it’s every Republican constitutional officer. Voss said that’s likely the only reason they were sued.   

“We’ll see how the lawsuit plays out in the courts, but the in the court of public opinion I’m thinking the Republicans have the stronger case and they’ll win the battle of perceptions here,” he said.

Voss also pointed out that this case is starting out in a local county court, meaning if the governor wins on that level it’s not a guarantee the ruling won’t be appealed to a higher court.

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