Kentucky Politics

Gov. Andy Beshear is challenging a new law that shifts control over the State Fair Board from his office to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

House Bill 518, which became law last month, removes the Democratic governor’s power to appoint the chair of the fair board and gives Quarles power to appoint nine of the 14 voting members on the board.

It’s one of several measures passed by the GOP-led legislature this year shifting the governor’s powers to state offices currently controlled by Republicans.

Beshear argues that the law violates the state constitution by giving appointing authority to Quarles, who he says “does not have the supreme executive powers of the Commonwealth, and does not have the constitutional duty to ensure the laws are faithfully executed.”

“HB 518 prevents the Governor and Secretary from ensuring that the laws are faithfully executed by giving them no ability to ensure the board with an annual budget of more than $50 million and unilateral contracting authority properly uses taxpayers’ money,” the lawsuit states.

Beshear also argues that the legislature violated the separation of powers by making the body’s top two Republican leaders non-voting members on the board.

Beshear vetoed the bill last month, but lawmakers easily overrode him during the final days of this year’s legislative session.

Beshear filed the lawsuit against Quarles, House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers in Jefferson Circuit Court. A hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 26.

Quarles responded to Beshear’s lawsuit in a tweet, calling it “unprecedented” and accusing him of interfering with the legislature.

“The Governor refuses to accept laws passed by the legislature and is now running to a court to seek his preferred outcome. If he’s successful, it will mean the legislature cannot draft laws to steer the state’s policy or set a vision for agencies it creates. This must be defeated,” Quarles wrote.

After the new law went into effect, Quarles quickly appointed members to the state fair board. The new version of the panel met for the first time on April 1 and quickly voted to replace Beshear’s appointed chair, Steve Wilson.

Wilson was replaced by Mark Lynn, a Louisville optometrist and businessman who previously chaired the board for seven years.

The fair board governs the annual state fair, which is held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.