A state judge has thrown out a lawsuit against Kentucky’s Republican governor, giving Matt Bevin another victory over former Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled on Wednesday that Stumbo can’t sue the governor because Stumbo is no longer a member of the legislature. Stumbo lost his bid for re-election in November, a casualty of a Republican wave that gave the GOP control of the state House for the first time in nearly 100 years. The case likely won’t be appealed since the current speaker, Republican Jeff Hoover, is a Bevin ally.
Stumbo’s lawsuit challenged Bevin’s vetoes of the state’s two-year, $68 billion operating budget. Bevin used his veto pen to erase an expanded preschool program, $9.4 million in community college scholarships and $1 million for a colon cancer screening program, among other cuts. Bevin said the state couldn’t afford those programs because of its mounting public pension debt. But Stumbo argued the vetoes were not valid because Bevin did not file them properly with the Secretary of State. Bevin said Stumbo sabotaged the vetoes by ordering the House clerk to lock them in her office to make Bevin miss the filing deadline.
The lawsuit was just one of many disagreements between the two political firebrands, who clashed repeatedly on the campaign trail. Stumbo vowed to make the election a referendum on Bevin’s first year in office, even launching a formal investigation into whether Bevin delayed a state road project to punish a Democratic lawmaker for refusing to switch parties. But on election night, Republicans ousted 16 Democratic incumbents — including Stumbo — to win a 64-36 super majority in the state legislature.
In an interview, Stumbo said he did not think the lawsuit was “adversarial” but was simply trying to settle a matter of law.
“If the legislature doesn’t pursue it, it’s probably a step backward for legislative independence,” Stumbo said. “If the legislature truly wants to be independent, it has to know these things.”
The lawsuit was one of five legal challenges Bevin has faced in his first year in office, with most of them in Shepherd’s courtroom. Shepherd has ruled against Bevin several times, prompting Bevin to call him “a political hack” and Shepherd’s judicial circuit “a joke.” A Bevin spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Hoover, who was sworn in last month, has not said whether he would keep the lawsuit alive, and his spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
A motion filed last month by the former House speaker’s lawyer asked the court to substitute Hoover for Stumbo in the case. Shepherd did not rule on the motion, instead dismissing the case because “Hoover has not sought to continue this action or to be substituted as a plaintiff.”