LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky House of Representatives has convened a committee to consider a petition from four Kentucky men asking for Gov. Andy Beshear’s impeachment. The disputed petition accuses Beshear of multiple violations of law and cites his pandemic-related executive orders among other items.
House Speaker David Osborne said Monday that four Republicans and three Democrats will sit on the committee. Louisville Republican Jason Nemes will serve as its chair.
Osborne said the Kentucky Constitution requires the committee to be formed but it doesn’t require much action beyond that. “It doesn’t even require a vote,” Osborne told reporters Saturday. “It just requires that the committee act. And the committee's action could be to do nothing.”
In an interview with Spectrum News 1 Monday, Jacob Clark, one of the four men who brought the petition, criticized Osborne’s comments and threatened to field a primary campaign against him if he’s “not going to take this seriously.”
“If he thinks that no action will be acceptable by the founders who put that in our Constitution, then he needs to be removed,” Clark said.
Osborne has also been criticized for taking the petition too seriously, with some arguing that the formation of the impeachment committee was not necessary.
Professor Ken Katkin of Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law said the Kentucky Constitution would also allow for the petition to be sent to one of the House's permanent committees. "It wouldn't be uncommon to do something like just refer it to the Judiciary Committee, if a petition like this comes in," he said. Katkin said a federal district court has ruled that such action is a "perfectly appropriate way for the legislature to deal with a petition like that."
On Monday, Osborne said House Republicans interpret the Constitution differently: "We’re just following the process that we believe is prescribed for us."
The petition, delivered to the House on Friday, accuses Beshear of multiple violations of state law, the state Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution. It cites Beshear’s pandemic-related executive orders limiting in-person attendance at religious services, restricting travel, and altering voting procedures ahead of last year’s primary and general elections.
In November, the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected similar arguments against the constitutionality of Beshear’s executive orders. In a unanimous decision, the court wrote, "The Governor’s orders were, and continue to be, necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of all Kentucky citizens.”
Beshear cited the Supreme Court decision Monday when asked about the petition at his daily press briefing. “The impeachment petition has zero grounds,” he said. “It cites actions the Kentucky Supreme Court says are lawful. I understand the Speaker’s position that the law requires they form a committee, but going anywhere on it would be trying to undo a valid election — mine from a year ago.”
“We don’t need it," he said. "Shouldn’t go anywhere. Don’t anticipate it’ll go anywhere."
Conservatives in Kentucky have been discussing impeaching Beshear for months. In December, as lawmakers were flooded with online petitions demanding his impeachment, two proponents of impeachment told Spectrum News 1 that Beshear’s actions to limit crowds at churches and restaurants were worthy of his removal.
But Clark on Monday emphasized another alleged Constitutional violation that he says has gone largely overlooked. It relates to the state taking a zero-interest federal loan for $865 million to shore up the ailing unemployment system.
“The General Assembly has the power of the purse, not the governor,” Clark said, citing Section 49 of Kentucky’s Constitution. “So he violated that when he borrowed $865 million from the federal government. And it was supposedly to fix the unemployment debacle, which it did not.”
Section 49 says that the “General Assembly may contract debts to meet casual deficits or failures in the revenue.” But Katkin said the statute granting the governor emergency powers likely gives him authority to take out the loan. Among other emergency powers, the law says the governor may "request any assistance from agencies of the United States as necessary and appropriate to meet the needs of the people of the Commonwealth."
Still, Katkin said, "I don't think it's super clear cut and I would say this is something that could be litigated on either side."
Clark, a Libertarian who ran for state representative last year, expressed disappointment with Republicans for failing to stand up to Beshear more forcefully. After increasing its super majority to 75 members in November, he said the party has no excuse for failing to achieve a “Republican utopia of liberty in Kentucky.”
He explained that he felt compelled to bring the petition because, despite the number of Republicans in Frankfort, “we don't really feel like, judging by their actions in the last 10 months, that they are going to be on the front lines for liberty.”
Editor's Note: Adam K. Raymond is married to Kentucky Representative Josie Raymond who represents District 31 which covers portions of Jefferson County.