Whitesburg KY

The role of Ky.’s lieutenant governor used to come with authority, but not anymore


If Gov. Matt Bevin is fretting about the turmoil that Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton has triggered over his administration’s firing of her staff members, he won’t get any sympathy from Julian Carroll.

Carroll, a Democratic state senator today, was governor in 1978, when, while he was travelling out of state, Lt. Gov. Thelma Stovall called a special session of the General Assembly.

Stovall, also a Democrat who was running for governor at the time, called the session to cut taxes.

Stovall had the power to do it back then.

But that was all changed in 1992 when voters approved an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution that — among other things — deleted a constitutional provision that bestowed all the powers of the governor on the lieutenant governor whenever the governor stepped outside the commonwealth.

Today, the power of Kentucky’s lieutenant governor is limited.

“The Kentucky lieutenant governor has really no constitutional authority and very little statutory authority,” said Sheryl Snyder, a partner with the Frost, Brown Todd law firm in Louisville, who has been involved in cases dealing with the Kentucky Constitution and state government for decades.

The Kentucky Constitution provides that the powers of the governor be transferred to the lieutenant governor if the governor dies, resigns, is removed from office after impeachment or is declared unable to discharge the duties of the office by the state Supreme Court.

Otherwise, the constitution says, “The duties of the Lieutenant Governor shall be prescribed by law, and he shall have such other duties as delegated by the Governor.”

As for being delegated authority by the governor, Bevin has by executive order appointed Hampton as a member of the Kentucky Emergency Response Commission.

The duties prescribed by state law say that the lieutenant governor will serve on on five state boards (including the State Property and Buildings Commission, Kentucky Turnpike Authority and Kentucky Housing Corp.) and serve as “a member of Kentucky delegations” to six interstate groups (including the Southern Growth Policies Board, Breaks Interstate Park Commission, and Falls of the Ohio Interstate Park.)

Hampton has clashed with Bevin for months, first when Bevin indicated he would not retain her as the candidate for lieutenant governor on his reelection ticket, and then when his administration fired her chief of staff.

But the conflict erupted into an open war of words after the administration’s recent decision to fire Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth, leaving Hampton with just one staffer.

Hampton has demanded that Southworth be reinstated with back pay. But, Snyder said, “I don’t think the lieutenant governor has any authority to order reinstatement of an employee who’s been terminated by the office of the governor. Unless the Bevin administration has a change of heart and agrees to reinstate her, the lieutenant governor’s action is not going to result in back pay for that person.”

The lieutenant governor used to have some constitutional muscle.

Prior to passage of the amendment in 1992, Kentucky’s lieutenant governor served as president of the Kentucky Senate with the ability to cast tie-breaking votes.

Prior to the amendment, lieutenant governors were elected independently from the governor. But beginning with the 1995 election, a governor candidate and lieutenant governor candidate have run as a ticket.

That amendment also deleted the constitutional provision that transferred all powers of a governor to the lieutenant governor when a governor was out of state.

Reflecting back on his clash with Stovall, Carroll said, “One difference is that I didn’t choose Thelma Stovall. (Bevin) chose his running mate. For him not to have a relationship that enables him to have a conversation with her, I find rather ridiculous.”

State Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, filed a constitutional amendment in this year’s legislative session to abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

“We have to watch every dollar and that move would save money,” Meredith said. “The office has no constitutional responsibilities, and the duties the office has, such as serving on various state boards, can be divided among others.”

Meredith said, “It is no reflection on our current lieutenant governor or those who served before her.”

Meredith’s amendment put the president of the Senate first in line for gubernatorial succession. The bill did not move during the 2019 session. He said he’ll try again in 2020.

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