FRANKFORT (AP) — Saying Gov. Matt Bevin had declared war on him and his family, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear responded with a blistering critique of the new administration on Wednesday that included allegations of “selling state government to the highest bidder.”
Beshear said Bevin bullied college and university presidents to agree to budget cuts, saying he would not approve agency bonds for any institution that refused. He said Bevin threatened to cancel road projects in the districts of some Democratic state representatives unless they switched to the Republican party. And he said Bevin has fired state employees simply for making political donations to Democrats.
The news conference came one week after Bevin announced he had evidence that the Beshear administration had coerced state workers to donate to Democratic candidates and that Beshear used his authority to award valuable, no-bid contracts to agencies that benefited his friends and donors. Bevin said he would spend public money to hire a private law firm to investigate.
“He has bullied the legislature, he has bullied our universities, he has bullied you in the media and he has bullied organizations that rely on state funding,” Beshear said. “But he’s not going to get away with bullying me.”
Bevin was in Europe on Wednesday as part of a five-day economic development trip his office announced Tuesday. His spokeswoman, Jessica Ditto, said Beshear was just trying to protect his legacy after Tim Longmeyer, one of Beshear’s former Cabinet secretaries, pleaded guilty last week to federal bribery charges that include Longmeyer’s time in the Beshear administration.
“Every wild, baseless accusation he has attempted to levy is not corroborated by any facts whatsoever,” Ditto said in a news release. “Gov. Bevin is focused on the job the people of Kentucky elected him to do, which is to restore fiscal responsibility and create economic opportunity. He will let the investigation take its course and has said all he intends to say about this matter.”
Beshear said Wednesday he did not learn of the bribery charges against Longmeyer, his former Personnel Cabinet secretary, until they were announced by the U.S. Attorney. He said Longmeyer betrayed him, adding if he had any inkling of Longmeyer’s activities “he would have been fired on the spot.”
Beshear denied ever pressuring state workers to donate to his or other Democrats’ campaigns, and said he and his administration officials followed the law when it came to awarding state contracts, denying Bevin’s characterization of Beshear’s policies as “pay to play” and “pay to stay.”
He then accused Bevin of traveling the state to raise money from “anyone who wants something from state government” to help him retire his campaign debt.
“Folks if that is true this would amount to a sitting governor selling state government to the highest bidder and putting the money in his own pocket,” Beshear said. “Surely, sometime down the road, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission will also look at that.”
But Beshear would not offer specific examples to back up his accusations, telling reporters to go investigate them. He did say the FBI was investigating Bevin. Last week, Bevin said the FBI was investigating Beshear.
FBI spokesman David Habich said he could not confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of any investigation. And University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton declined to comment about whether Bevin threatened to refuse the university’s agency bonds unless President Eli Capilouto agreed to budget cuts.
State Rep. Jim Gooch, who switched to the Republican party last year, said Bevin did not to cancel road projects in his district.
“Are you telling me a former governor is making that kind of accusation?” Gooch said. “That’s just absurd.”
Wednesday marked the second time since leaving office that Beshear has publicly criticized Bevin, sparking a rare public feud between two governors. Beshear has also started a nonprofit organization dedicated to criticizing Bevin’s health care policies.