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Legislators call for investigation into pardon given to brother of man who hosted Bevin fundraiser
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
LOUISVILLE (CFP) — Outrage is building in Kentucky over more than 400 pardons and commutations issued by former Republican Governor Matt Bevin before he left office, with the GOP leader of the state Senate now calling for a federal investigation and a victim’s family member quoted on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper saying Bevin “can rot in hell.”
Among those pardoned by Bevin: A man serving a 23-year sentence for raping a 9-year-old girl in Kenton County; a man serving 20 years for killing a Bowling Green motorist in 2014 while driving 90 mph down a two-lane road with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit; and a woman serving a life sentence for dumping her newborn baby in an outdoor toilet in Grayson County in 2003.
But the pardon drawing the most scrutiny was given to Patrick Ryan Baker, who was serving a 20-year sentence for his role in a 2014 home-invasion homicide in Knox County — and whose brother and sister-in-law hosted a fundraiser for Bevin that raised more than $21,000 to pay off debt from his 2015 gubernatorial campaign.
Baker’s two co-defendants did not receive a pardon from Bevin; Baker, who was the triggerman in the slaying of Donald Mills, will now be released from prison, over the strenuous objections of prosecutors who put him there.
In its story on the Baker pardon, the Louisville Courier-Journal used as a headline a quote from a member of the Mills family: “Matt Bevin can rot in hell.”
Even U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — in Frankfort to file the paperwork for his 2020 re-election bid — weighed in on the pardons when questioned by reporters, calling Bevin’s actions “completely inappropriate.”
But Bevin, who called the evidence against Baker “sketchy at best,” is fighting back against criticism of the pardons, tweeting that “myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process are both highly offensive and entirely false.”
“Not one person receiving a pardon would I not welcome as a co-worker, neighbor, or to sit beside me or any member of my family in a church pew or at a public event,” Bevin said. “No community is either more or less safe now than it was before the pardons and commutations given over the past four years.”
The pardons are but the latest in a slew of controversies that dogged Bevin’s single term in office and placed him among the nation’s least popular governors. Despite Kentucky’s Republican tilt, he was defeated for re-election in November by Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who took over on Dec. 10.
In all, Bevin issued 428 pardons and commutations between his defeat on Nov. 5 and when he left the governor’s post. Because a governor’s power to issue pardons is absolute, there is no way to overturn them.
However, Senate President Robert Stivers — like Bevin, a Republican — is calling on federal prosecutors to investigate the pardons, which he called “a travesty and perversion of justice.”
“Our citizens, and especially the crime victims and their families, deserve better,” he said.
Democratic legislators have also called on incoming Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron to look into the pardons after he takes office next week.
Alan Simpson, the lawyer for the family of Jeremy Pryor, the victim in the Bowling Green DUI murder case, said in a statement that the pardon “screams of either a complete lack of empathy for other human beings, willful ignorance to the truth or outright corruption.” He said Pryor’s family would also press for an investigation, according to a report in the Bowling Green Daily News.
Michael “Drew” Hardy was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison after for crashing his Jeep into the back of Pryor’s vehicle after a day of heavy drinking in 2014. According to trial testimony, his blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, and he was driving 90 mph down a two-lane road at the time of the crash.
In the paperwork accompanying Hardy’s pardon, Bevin wrote that he did not believe his continued incarceration serve any purpose and that he “will arise each day for the rest of his life with a debt that he cannot possibly repay,” according to the Daily News.
In the Mills case, Baker and two other men impersonating police officers forced their way into a home in Knox County to rob it, with Donald Mills and his wife and children inside. Baker, who shot Donald Mills, was convicted of reckless homicide and robbery and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Bevin did not offer an explanation for why he pardoned Baker but not his co-defendants.
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Beshear inaugurated in Frankfort after ousting Republican Matt Bevin in November vote
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky’s new Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, took office Tuesday with a plea for unity after the tumultuous tenure of his predecessor, calling on Kentuckians to “come together for the common good.”
“I am now the governor of all of the people of Kentucky,” Beshear said in his inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol in Frankfort, amid an early winter chill. “I will be a governor just as much for those who voted against me as those who voted for me because I view this election as an opportunity — an opportunity to heal wounds, an opportunity to work together instead of angling for political gain.”
Beshear said “we have have to begin looking at each other as teammates, as fellow Kentuckians, not as Republicans and Democrats, not as liberals and conservatives, not as rural or urban.”
Watch Governor Beshear’s inaugural address at bottom of this story.
“Today gives us a change to get this right — to be a lighthouse in the storm, to be a beacon in the night,” he said.
As is tradition in Kentucky, Beshear had already taken his oath of office at midnight, when the term of his predecessor, Republican Matt Bevin, officially ended, before repeating the oath in the afternoon ceremony.
The new governor said one of his top priorities would be to give an across-the-board $2,000 raise to state teachers, who clashed with Bevin amid protests over pay and pensions over the past two years. In one of his first acts as governor, Beshear replaced the entire State Board of Education to uproot Bevin’s appointees.
Beshear’s lieutenant governor, Jacqueline Coleman — also sworn in to office Tuesday — is a public school teacher and will also serve as education secretary in Beshear’s Cabinet. In his inaugural address, Bevshear noted that “Jacqueline has gone from being locked out to lieutenant governor.”
Beshear also said he would sign an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 felons who have served their time for non-violent offenses.
“They deserve to participation in our great democracy,” he said. “By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone in Kentucky counts — we all matter.”
Beshear, 42, served four years as attorney general before defeating Bevin by 5,100 votes in November’s election. He took the oath of office as his father, Steve Beshear, who served as governor from 2007-2015, looked on.
In addition to clashing with teachers and public employees over pension reform plans they opposed, Bevin also had run-ins with his fellow Republicans who control the state legislature and his own lieutenant governor, heading into re-election bid with the lowest approval ratings of any U.S. governor.
He wrapped himself in the mantle of President Donald Trump, who carried Kentucky by 30 points in 2016 and came to the Bluegrass to campaign on his behalf. But in the end, Bevin’s association with Trump did not save him, although Republicans swept the other five statewide offices on November’s ballot.
Video of Beshear’s inaugural address
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Fairfax also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney of involvement in a scheme to make charges public
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — After seven months of publicly fighting politically damaging allegations of sexual assault, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has struck back with a $400 million defamation suit against CBS, accusing the network of abandoning “sound, standard journalistic practices” when it aired interviews with Fairfax’s two accusers in April.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Fairfax’s lawyers also accuse CBS of bias in pursing the story because of its “own significant problems with #MeToo scandals” involving three prominent figures forced out at the network over allegations of improper conduct.
The complaint also accuses Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — a fellow African-American Democrat and political rival of Fairfax — of being involved in the effort to make the women’s charges public, an allegation a spokesman for the mayor dismissed as “offensive.”
For good measure, Fairfax also dragged former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe into the fray, accusing him in the lawsuit of having an interest in derailing Fairfax’s political career and noting he was the was the first major official in Virginia to call on Fairfax to resign after the allegations surfaced.
The complaint said Fairfax is suing “to restore his reputation and clear his name, ensure the truth prevails, [and] stop the weaponization of false allegations of sexual assault against him.”
Because Fairfax is a public figure, winning a defamation lawsuit against CBS will be extraordinarily difficult. He will need to prove not only that the allegations are false but also that CBS knew or didn’t care that they were false — a legal bar that’s almost impossible to clear.
In response to the lawsuit, a CBS spokesperson issued a brief statement saying, “”We stand by our reporting, and we will vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
A lawyer representing Vanessa Tyson, one of Fairfax’s accusers, accused the lieutenant governor of “victim-blaming” and called again for the legislature to hold public hearings on the allegations, which Fairfax and legislative Democrats have resisted.
The sexual assault controversy began in February when Tyson, now a college professor in California, went public with her allegation that he sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where both were working.
The story first broke on a conservative website Big League Politics, based on information from a private Facebook post made by Tyson.
At the time, Governor Ralph Northam was under pressure to resign after racist photos surfaced on his medical school yearbook page, which would have a made Fairfax Virginia’s governor.
Days later, a second woman, Meredith Watson, came forward to say Fairfax had raped her in 2000, when both were students at Duke University.
CBS anchor Gayle King interviewed both women for segments on network’s morning show, which were heavily promoted and drew significant media attention when their aired in April.
Fairfax has admitted having sex with both women but has insisted the encounters were consensual. His lawsuit alleges that the assault charges were a “politically motivated” tactic to keep Fairfax out of the governor’s chair.
The lawsuit alleges that Tyson allowed her friend Adria Scharf to make the Facebook post public, which got the ball rolling on the assault allegations. Scharf’s husband, Thad Williamson, a former key aide to McAuliffe, is an adviser and close friend of Stoney, as well as a friend and former classmate of Tyson, according to the lawsuit.
Stoney “views Fairfax as a political rival who has been positioned to delay Stoney’s desired run for Governor” in 2021, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also alleges that Fairfax had been warned in 2018 that if he ran for governor in 2021, “Stoney, Williamson, and Scharf intended to promote a supposedly damaging, uncorroborated accusation against Fairfax involving Tyson in an attempt to harm Fairfax personally and professionally and to derail his political future.”
A spokesman for Stoney told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the allegations in the lawsuit were “100 percent untrue and frankly, it’s offensive.”
If the lawsuit ever gets to trial, one of CBS’s own lawyers, who was a classmate of Fairfaix and Watson at Duke, may be a key witness in the case.
According to the complaint, after Watson went public with her allegations, the lawyer had text message conversations with Fairfax expressing the view that her charges were false, based on information from someone else whom Fairfax says was an eyewitness to their consensual encounter.
However, the lawyer, who is not named in the suit, did not actually witness the encounter, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges that CBS ignored exculpatory evidence provided by Fairfax’s legal team before the interviews aired and “sought to visibly align itself on the side of perceived victims to improve its public image” in the wake of its own #MeToo scandals.
Three high-ranking CBS figures — Les Moonves, the network’s CEO; Jeff Fager, the executive producer of “60 Minutes;” and morning anchor Charlie Rose — all resigned amid allegations of misconduct.
Northam resisted calls to resign and remains governor. However, under state law, he can’t see re-election in 2021, opening up the seat for competitive primaries in both parties.
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Cracks are starting to show in the wall of Southern opposition to Medicaid expansion
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
After Obamacare made its way through Congress in 2009, triggering the Tea Party rebellion, Republican-controlled Southern statehouses became a redoubt of opposition to what critics saw as meddlesome socialist overreach.
When, three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration couldn’t force states to enact a key Obamacare provision — expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income residents — most Southern states took advantage of the decision and didn’t.
Today, nine of the 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid are in the South, leaving more than 2.3 million low-income Southerners who would qualify for Medicaid without health care coverage, according to researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But there are some signs that the blanket opposition to expanding Medicaid in the South may be retreating, albeit slightly and slowly.
Louisiana and Virginia expanded Medicaid after electing Democratic governors in 2017. In Arkansas and Kentucky, where expansion passed under Democratic governors, it has endured despite their replacement by more skeptical Republicans.
In Florida and Oklahoma, petition drives are underway to put expansion on the ballot in 2020, doing an end-run around recalcitrant GOP leaders. And in Mississippi, a Democrat is trying to use expansion as a wedge issue to end a 16-year Republican lock on the governor’s office.
In states with expanded Medicaid, low-income people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — about $17,000 for an individual — can get coverage. In states without expansion, the income limit for a family of three is just under $9,000; single people are excluded entirely.
Most of the singles and families who are not eligible for traditional Medicaid don’t make enough money to get the tax credits they need to buy insurance on the Obamacare insurance exchanges. According to estimates from Kaiser, 92 percent of all Americans who fall into this coverage gap live in Southern states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including nearly 800,000 people in Texas, 450,000 in Florida, 275,000 in Georgia, and 225,000 in North Carolina.
The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion; states must pick up the rest. Republican leaders who oppose the idea have balked at making a financial commitment to such an open-ended entitlement, which Congress could change at any time.
But that argument didn’t hold in Virginia after Democrats campaigning on expansion nearly took control of the legislature in 2017. When expansion came up for a vote, 18 House Republicans who survived that blue wave joined Democrats to pass it.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who issued an executive order on his first day in office to expand Medicaid, is now running for re-election touting that decision; voters will give their verdict in October.
In Mississippi, Attorney General Jim Hood is also making expanded Medicaid the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign this year, arguing that his state, with the nation’s highest poverty rate, is cutting off its nose to spite its face by refusing to extend coverage to people who would benefit from it.
In Arkansas and Kentucky, where Democratic governors managed to push through expansion in 2014, the Republicans who replaced them have left the programs essentially intact, although they have fiddled at the edges by imposing premiums and work requirements on recipients. (Federal judges have blocked those changes.)
Die-hard Obamacare opponents have not been able to scuttle the program in either state — even in Arkansas, where the program has to be reauthorized annually by a three-fourths majority in both houses of the legislature.
In Florida and Oklahoma, supporters of expansion — including groups representing doctors, nurses and hospitals — are trying to put constitutional amendments expanding Medicaid coverage on the ballot in 2020.
Those ballot measures will be a key test of whether the public mood is more sympathetic to the idea of expansion than are the states’ conservative leaders, who have argued that the program is unaffordable and discourages people from seeking employment to secure health care.
However, the strategy of pursuing ballot initiatives is of limited use in the South because among states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, only Florida, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow the public to put measures on the ballot via petition. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina do not.
In Florida, the ballot measure will also need to get approval from 60 percent of the voters to pass.
The question to be answered this year and next is whether the fiscal and philosophical arguments against expansion will hold against the argument that low-income Southerners — rural and urban, black and white — deserve health care coverage and will benefit from it, in spite of its association with Obamacare.
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Northam needs GOP support to pass gun control measures in the wake of Virginia Beach mass murder
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
RICHMOND (CFP) — Just four days after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 people dead, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has launched a renewed push for gun control.
But he needs Republican support to get anything through the legislature — and GOP leaders are giving a frosty reception to a sure-to-be contentious initiative from the commonwealth’s politically wounded chief executive.
Saying “no one should go to work, to school or to church wondering if they will come home,” Northam announced at a June 4 news conference that he will call state lawmakers in a special session to consider gun control measures, including universal background checks and limits on ammunition magazines.
“We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve,” Northam said. “I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
However, Republicans control both houses of the legislature, and GOP leaders quickly pushed back.
House Speaker Kirk Cox called the special session “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” — a not-so-subtle reference to Northam’s ongoing political troubles since a photo surfaced in January of a man in blackface on his medical school yearbook page.
Northam has since resisted calls for him to resign, including from a number of fellow Democrats.
The Republican Party of Virginia denounced Northam’s “gun-grab session” as “craven” and accused him in a statement of trying to “take advantage of this tragedy to try and boost his own disgraced image.”
Cox also noted that while the governor can summon lawmakers into special session, “he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work.”
“We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums,” he said in a statement.
Northam has previously vetoed bills establishing mandatory minimum sentences for criminal offenders, which he says disproportionately affect people of color.
Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 majority in the Senate, which means Northam’s gun control proposals would need at least two Republican votes in each chamber to pass.
The governor said he would propose bans on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, bump stocks and silencers; universal background checks; new “extreme risk” protective orders to keep guns out of the hands of people who might be violent; and a limit on purchases of handguns to no more than one a month.
Those proposals failed to pass in the last regular session of the legislature, but Northam said he would try to pass them again because “it is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques into battlefields.”
According to police, the shooter who killed 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building had legally purchased his weapons and had no criminal convictions or mental health issues that would have resulted in a protective order.
He did, however, use a silencer, which may have contributed to the death toll by delaying the law enforcement response to the sound of gunfire.
The murders in Virginia Beach marked the second time the commonwealth has been rocked by mass violence.
In 2007, a mentally ill Virginia Tech student killed 32 people in two campus buildings, in what remains the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
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Jenean Hampton’s power struggle with Matt Bevin’s administration accelerates since she was dumped from his re-election ticket
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
FRANKFORT, Kentucky (CFP) — Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton has fired off an angry letter demanding that Governor Matt Bevin‘s administration stop firing members of her staff, as the relationship between the state’s two top political leaders continues to deteriorate.
“In the future, you are not to execute any personnel action involving my staff unless you have my express, written permission,” Hampton said in a letter to Troy Robinson, the head of the governor’s Office of Administrative Services, which was obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
On May 30, Robinson’s office, which oversees human resources for state executive officers, terminated Hampton’s deputy chief of staff, leaving her with just one staff member.
The lieutenant governor then took to Twitter to ask for prayers “as I battle dark forces.”
The firing marks that second time Hampton has seen one of her staff members fired without her assent.
In January, her chief of staff, Steve Knipper, was fired when he filed to run for secretary of state. She tried without success to rehire him by issuing her own executive order.
The reasons for the latest firing remain unclear; Bevin told reporters he was not aware of the staffer’s termination and did not know the reason for the firing.
The personnel dispute is the latest sign of a deteriorating relationship between Bevin and Hampton, who was vaulted to the No. 2 position in Kentucky politics after he selected her as his running mate in 2015.
Earlier this year, Bevin announced he was dumping Hampton — the first African American to serve in a statewide constitutional office — from his ticket in favor of State Senator Ralph Alvarado..
He offered no explanation for the switch other than to say he chose not to run with Hampton “because I chose to run with Ralph Alvarado.”
Hampton, 61, a former Air Force captain from Bowling Green, was a favorite of Tea Party groups, who had lobbied Bevin to keep her on his ticket.
Kentucky is one of 13 states where candidates for governor select a running mate, rather than electing lieutenant governors separately.
The duties of the lieutenant governor are limited to participation on several state boards and taking over in the event a governor cannot continue in office. The lieutenant governor does not preside of the State Senate, as is the case in 26 other states.
In her letter to Robinson, Hampton said she “did not advise or authorize you to terminate employment” of Adrienne Southworth, her deputy chief of staff.
“I was not consulted in this action, and I fail to understand how my staff can be terminated without discussing matters with me, their immediate supervisor,” she said. “Neither you nor anyone other than myself is positioned to determine if the services of my staffers are needed or not.”
Hampton demanded that Southworth be reinstated and that she be provided with the reasons behind her termination.
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Casada, top aide reportedly exchanged explicit, misogynistic messages about various women
NASHVILLE (CFP) — Bowing to mounting pressure to depart after two weeks of lurid headlines about bad behavior by his top aide, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada has announced that he will resign his leadership post.
In a brief statement issued May 21, the Franklin Republican said he would meet with his party’s House leadership in early June “to determine the best date for me to resign as speaker so that I can facilitate a smooth transition.”
The move comes after House Republicans approved a vote of no confidence in Casada and Republican Governor Bill Lee threatened to call the legislature into to special session to remove him as speaker.
Casada, 59, who has served in the legislature since 2003, became speaker in January. He plans to remain a member of the House.
The current speaker pro tempore, Bill Dunn of Knoxville, will become speaker upon Casada’s departure.
Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Gannett newspapers gained access to copies of text messages from a cell phone number used by Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff.
In those messages, sent between 2014 and 2016 when Cothren served as press secretary for House Republicans, he bragged about his sexual exploits, referred to women with obscene and derogatory terms, and solicited sex and nude photos from an intern.
The records obtained by the newspapers showed that Casada was a participant in some of those conversations.
Cothren, 32, who made nearly $200,000 a year working for Casada, told the newspapers that he was “young and dumb and immature” when he sent the emails between three and five years ago.
Cothren also admitted to Nashville TV station WTVF that he had used cocaine at work and sent racist text messages. He said he had “turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms” because of job stress.
The station reported that Casada received at least one of the racist text messages. After first accusing WTVF of using fabricating messages, the speaker later backed away from that claim but said he did not remember receiving the message.
Casada told WTVF that Cothren had sought treatment in 2016 and that he had kept him on his staff because Cothren “deserved a shot at redemption.”
Cothren resigned on the same day the Gannett newspapers published their investigation. Casada resisted calls to step aside, at one point calling his exchanges with Cothren “locker room talk,” but saw his support crumble as national news outlets picked up on the scandal.
Republicans hold a 73-26 majority in the Tennessee House.