House Speaker Greg Stumbo has launched a panel to investigate “troubling allegations” that Gov. Matt Bevin tried to threaten legislators into switching political parties late last year.
Stumbo focused on allegations from Nicholasville Democratic Rep. Russ Meyer, who claims that Bevin paused a major road project in his district as retribution for not switching parties. Stumbo called the actions “potentially illegal” and said that the committee would have the power to subpoena witnesses.
“We’re not asking them to find anything except the truth,” Stumbo said of the five-member committee made up of three Democratic and two Republican legislators. “We’re asking them to review the facts, we’re asking them to look at the documents. We’re asking them to ask the tough questions as to why.”
In March, the Transportation Cabinet delayed an $11.2 million contract for a road project in Jessamine County, which includes Meyer’s district. Because of the delay in the project, the state was required to pay a contractor $625,000 in damages.
Stumbo said he was asking Floyd to be on the committee because he was a “man of integrity” and could not be “coerced or threatened.” Floyd is not seeking re-election to his seat this year.
Stamper said the voicemail showed that Stumbo “has hit the peak of desperation with his political charade in an attempt to draw attention away from the corruption being exposed in Kentucky’s Democratic Party and his support of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s job-killing agenda.”
Along with Floyd, the committee will include Louisville Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne, Louisville Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins, Covington Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson and Flat Lick Republican Rep. Jim Stewart.
The episode comes as Democrats are trying to defend a narrow 53-47 majority in the state House. Republicans hope to take control of the chamber for the first time since 1921 this fall, when 65 of the House’s 100 seats have contested elections.
The investigation is the second probe launched in Frankfort in recent months. Bevin has awarded a $500,000 contract to an Indianapolis law firm to look into corruption allegations in previous Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.
The governor’s office says the project was frozen because all of the necessary right-of-way procedures hadn’t been completed and had nothing to do with political payback. Transportation cabinet documents released by the governor’s office show officials discussing a delay of the project because of the right-of-way issue.
In a release, Bevin’s press secretary Amanda Stamper called the allegations “ridiculous.”
“…the delay was both legally and appropriately handled,” Stamper said.
Along with Meyer, Rep. Fitz Steele of Hazard and Rep. Kevin Sinnette of Ashland, all Democrats, also claimed that Bevin threatened them.
First reported by CNHI, the Democratic lawmakers allege that Bevin held a meeting in the basement of the governor’s office in an attempt to get them to switch their party affiliations at the end of last year.
Stumbo has suggested that Bevin could be impeached if the allegations are true.
Wednesday afternoon, Bevin’s office released a voicemail from Stumbo left on the phone of Bardstown Republican Rep. David Floyd, who the speaker appointed to be on the investigative committee.
“I think we at least ought to take a look at it and, you know, see what happened,” Stumbo said of the allegations against Bevin in the voicemail. “I’m sure that the story is probably not as bad as maybe it was portrayed.”