Kentucky Politics Distilled: Bevin Goes After Judge, Mitch and Rand At Odds

May 13, 2018

This week in Kentucky politics, Gov. Matt Bevin lashed out again at the judge who hears lawsuits brought against his administration. State lawmakers continued to weigh in on the potential state takeover of Louisville’s public school system. And Kentucky’s U.S. Senators again find themselves on the opposite side of a debate—this time over the nomination of Gina Haspel to be CIA director. 

Gov. Matt Bevin has gone after Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd several times in recent years. Shepherd is one of two trial court judges who hears certain lawsuits brought against the state. Bevin has repeatedly accused him of being a “political hack” because he worked in Democratic Gov. Brereton Jones’ administration back in the late 1980s. 
After Shepherd ruled against a procedural motion filed by Bevin’s lawyers earlier this week, Bevin lashed out at the judge again on 55KRC radio in Cincinnati. 
“I now have the most incompetent hack of a judge, I don’t know if in Kentucky but certainly one of the worst, who happens to be in Franklin Circuit Court. This guy is now legislating from the bench.” 
Shepherd ruled that Bevin’s lawyers wouldn’t be allowed to depose the plaintiffs suing Bevin for the new law that reduces pension benefits for current workers. 
And Bevin went so far as to say the state needs to change the way it selects judges. 
“This is why one of the things we need in this state is legal reform because guys like this who don’t take the law seriously should not be sitting on a bench making rulings.” 
Two years ago, Shepherd ruled against Bevin, saying he didn’t have the authority to unilaterally overhaul University of Louisville’s board of trustees. 
But he also has ruled in favor of Bevin, as he did last year involving the governor’s power to reorganize state education boards. 
No matter how Shepherd rules in the pension lawsuit, the case is expected to be appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court. 
In Louisville, state lawmakers weighed in on whether the state should take over the management the city’s school system. 
Republican State Sen. Ernie Harris, whose district includes part of Louisville, said he wants the state to help the district improve, but shied away from supporting an all-out takeover. 
“I would defer to local decisions better than state decisions. If the state provides oversight, that’s fine. But let the locals figure it out. And then give them time to figure out some of these lingering issues that have been around a long time.” 
Last month Kentucky’s interim education commissioner Wayne Lewis recommended a state takeover, releasing a massive audit of the district that detailed problems with performance, instruction, restraint of students and teacher certification. 
Louisville Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins acknowledged that the district needs help from the state, but said that local officials need to be left in charge. 
“We’re all for state assistance, if they want to come in and help us and give us a little more money, we can do what we need to do here in Jefferson County.” 
The state board of education will likely vote next month on whether to initiate a takeover of the 100,000-student district, one of the largest in the country. 
Kentucky’s junior Sen. Rand Paul doubled down on his opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director. That once again puts Paul in opposition to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator. 
At an event in Louisville, Paul said he disapproves of Haspel’s role in running a controversial interrogation program during President George W. Bush’s administration. 
“To my mind, torturing people is immoral and something we shouldn’t do. It’s against the Geneva Convention and it’s against American principles and I’m against that and I don’t think we should reward someone who was involved with that.” 
Haspel promised she wouldn’t restart the program if she’s confirmed to the position. 
Meanwhile, McConnell doubled down on Haspel’s nomination, saying her more than 30 years in the position make her “uniquely qualified” to run the intelligence agency. 
That’s it for your distilled rundown of the news out of Frankfort this week.