FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s Republican governor released 13 pages of emails Friday about a disputed road project after the state legislature’s top Democrat sued him for the information just ahead of the November election.
The legal skirmish highlighted the tension surrounding Kentucky’s elections for the state House of Representatives, the last legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority for the first time since 1920.
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has accused Gov. Matt Bevin of delaying a road project in Jessamine County to punish that county’s Democratic state representative for refusing to switch parties and become a Republican. Bevin has denied this, saying the project was flawed and should have never been awarded by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
Stumbo appointed a committee to investigate, and the inquiry has become a re-election campaign issue for Democratic House members. Stumbo asked Bevin’s office for copies of all correspondence between the governor’s office and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet about the project. Bevin released some emails last week, but said 13 pages were “exempt from disclosure” under the law because they were preliminary notes and drafts covered by attorney-client privilege.
Stumbo sued Friday morning, asking a judge to force Bevin to turn over the documents.
Bevin released the emails Friday afternoon. They mostly contain discussions among Bevin’s top aides about how to respond to a reporter’s questions about the project, including strategies on how to discredit claims by Democratic state Rep. Russ Meyer that Bevin delayed the project to punish him for not switching parties.
“It’s tough but necessary given the false and slanderous things he’s saying. Should we point out expressly that he has no credibility?” Steve Pitt, Bevin’s chief attorney, wrote in an email to other aides on Aug. 30.
Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said they haven’t seen the emails yet, adding they “would still need assurance, from the court, that the emails are all of the records.”
Bevin’s attorney Chad Meredith said Stumbo should have first asked the governor to reconsider his decision about the emails or appealed to the attorney general’s office. He said filing a lawsuit wastes taxpayer money and clogs the court system.
Bevin said he delayed the road project because the state did not own the land it needed to build the road. He blamed his Democratic predecessor for awarding the contract without first acquiring the land. But Meyer said Bevin delayed construction to punish him for refusing to switch parties shortly after Bevin took office. As evidence, he pointed to a voicemail Bevin left him in December in which the governor says Meyer’s decision to remain a Democrat would impact him and his district.
Bevin said the voicemail was not a threat. And last week, he released emails that appeared to show Meyer was aware of the project’s problems in October, a month before Bevin was elected.