Kentucky voters decided in November that they had had enough of the heavy-handed tactics and autocratic tendencies of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, and replaced him with Democrat Andy Beshear.
Now, with Beshear in office, Republican legislators have decided to pick up where Bevin left off. The GOP majority in the state Senate has passed a bill that would strip control of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet from Beshear and place that big-money department solely under its own rule.
The vote was 25-8. Republicans voted yes, Democrats voted no.
In doing so, the legislature is following the lead of Republican state legislators in Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina, who firmly supported a unitary executive right up until their guys lost the gubernatorial elections, and then they quickly stripped powers from the governors’ offices.
More than just hypocrisy, the new bill smacks of an attempt to open the Transportation Cabinet up for a whole new level of corruption. In addition to the possibility of buying votes with blacktop, the secretary would be selected by the some of the very people who get state road contracts.
Under the bill approved by the Senate, Beshear could only appoint a Transportation Secretary from a list of three candidates chosen by a nine-member board selected by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky League of Cities, and the Kentucky Association of Counties. But what if the legislature doesn’t like the board members those groups select? It can veto them.
And if the legislature doesn’t like the candidate Beshear chooses from the list the board members offer? It can veto that, too.
Beshear would have no recourse but to appoint a secretary that Republicans in the Senate choose. And once appointed, the secretary would serve at the pleasure of the board, not the governor.
But Beshear will still have the power to veto the bill, right? Wrong. Overriding a governor’s veto requires only a simple majority of the legislature, both houses of which are controlled by the GOP.
While legislators seem to think a Democratic governor can’t be trusted with the checkbook for road work, does anyone really think a legislative body that makes such a blatant power grab will fix roads and bridges in counties represented by Democratic legislators, Democratic judge/executives, or Democratic magistrates?
If this bill becomes law, and it is virtually certain that it will, there is a very real danger that your tax dollars will become an election slush fund for Republican candidates, and that any transportation secretary chosen will be beholden to corporate interests, not voters.
Want the state highway in front of your house fixed? Vote the way you’re told and it’s a done deal. Didn’t vote for the right candidate in the election? Good luck with that crumbling bridge you have to cross every day. How about county road aid? If your judge is the right party, you’re gold. If not, better get used to potholes.
Voters, many of them teachers whom Bevin insulted and belittled as he tried to take away their pensions, took the former governor to school during the last election. It seems the legislature has a lesson to learn as well.