Beshear sues for changing law on ethics commission selections


Kentucky’s Democratic governor filed suit Thursday to block a new state law that gives Republican officials the power to appoint a majority of members to a key ethics commission.

Gov. Andy Beshear’s legal challenge warns that reconstituted members of the state’s Executive Ethics Commission could launch politically and baseless investigations. The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville, claims the measure violates the Kentucky constitution.

The legal battle comes a year before Beshear is on the statewide ballot to seek a second term in an increasingly Republican-dominated state. It’s the latest in a series of legal showdowns over Republican-backed laws that would weaken the Democratic governor’s executive authority.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron on Thursday called the new ethics commission law a “good government measure” and said it was constitutional. Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said that prevents a governor from “stuffing the ethics committee with his cronies.”

During their recently concluded session, GOP lawmakers passed the measure — over Beshear’s veto — to revamp the membership of the ethics commission. The measure, House Bill 334, gave statewide Republican office holders the power to select five of the seven members of the newly expanded commission. The governor would appoint two members. Previously, the governor appointed the five members.

Beshear’s lawsuit claims the governor would become “subordinate” to the new commission.

“Under HB334, the commission could initiate politically motivated investigations without any basis, and make findings and impose civil penalties in such matters, and the governor has no authority to remedy such conduct and s ‘ensure that the law is faithfully executed,’ the lawsuit said.

Under the measure, five statewide office holders — currently all Republicans — would each make an ethics commission appointment. These officials are the Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor, and Commissioner of Agriculture.

“By depriving the governor of his executive power to appoint the majority of the members of the commission and giving it to officers who are not the chief magistrate, HB334 prevents the governor from faithfully executing the laws” as mandated by the constitution of the State, the costume mentioned.

Beshear’s lawsuit noted that he issued an executive order giving others a role in selecting commission members. Under the order, two of his appointments were made from a list of candidates provided by the attorney general and the state auditor, according to the lawsuit.

Republican officials were quick to defend the governor’s challenged measure.

“This bill is a measure of good government that keeps partisan politics out of the Executive Ethics Commission,” Cameron said in a statement. “And it is constitutional. I am disappointed that the Governor has taken legal action to undermine the independence of this important government agency.

Adams praised the measure of awarding appointments among constitutional officers statewide.

“The governor is at his best when he comes out of his partisan bunker, recognizes that we are a bipartisan state, and treats others with respect,” Adams said in a statement.

The suit seeks a temporary and permanent injunction blocking the application of the new law. She calls for an expedited review, since the measure is expected to come into force in mid-July. At that time, the terms of the current members of the commission will expire and the new members will begin their terms.

Beshear’s lawsuit also challenges the removal of commission member David Karem before his term expired. Karem, a former longtime Democratic lawmaker, joined Beshear as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.


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