Politics

Former Gov. Steve Beshear has accused Gov. Matt Bevin of coercing state employees into helping pay off his campaign debt.

The allegations come a week after Bevin claimed that members of Beshear’s administration coerced state employees into making campaign contributions to Democrats.

Beshear said Bevin “started this food fight.”

“… By calling us liars, by criticizing my wife, and now by ginning up a political investigation to try and sully our reputation,” he said.

The feud extends back to when Bevin criticized Beshear’s appointment of then-First Lady Jane Beshear to the Kentucky Horse Park Commission.

Since then, the two governors have lobbed accusations at one another. Bevin has blamed Beshear for leaving the state in a “financial crisis,” creating the glitches in the new health benefit portal Benefind and shaking down state employees for campaign contributions.

Beshear has spent the months after his term ended accusing Bevin of botching the rollout of Benefind and criticizing the new governor’s plans to dismantle the state health exchange, Kynect, and roll back the Medicaid expansion.

On Wednesday, Beshear said Bevin is using accusations to distract from the “catastrophic” Benefind rollout and, in turn, flipped the coercion accusations back at the new governor.

“State employees are being told that they will have a better chance of keeping their jobs if they donate to help Mr. Bevin retire his large personal campaign debt,” he said. “Folks, if that’s true, this would amount to a sitting governor selling state government to the highest bidder and putting the money in his own pocket.”

Bevin loaned his campaign $1.57 million in his successful race for governor; the campaign is allowed to raise funds to repay the loan.

Beshear also accused Bevin of strong-arming Democratic lawmakers into switching parties.

“He demanded that Democratic legislators switch parties and threatened to cancel road projects in their districts if they didn’t comply,” Beshear said. “When they refused, he said he’ll ‘destroy them.’ Folks, I understand that the FBI may be looking into that kind of conduct.”

Two Democratic lawmakers switched to the Republican Party in the wake of Bevin’s election and two others resigned after they were appointed to new lucrative jobs by the governor.

Last week, Bevin announced he was launching a corruption investigation of Beshear’s administration. That day, Beshear’s former personnel secretary, Tim Longmeyer, pleaded guilty to taking about $200,000 in bribes in exchange for funneling state business to a consulting firm.

Bevin’s communications director, Jessica Ditto, said Wednesday’s remarks show that Beshear “is merely trying to protect what is left of his legacy.”

“Every wild, baseless accusation he has attempted to levy is not corroborated by any facts whatsoever,” she said.

Ditto said Bevin “will let the investigation take its course.”

Beshear said it “blew his mind” when he found out Longmeyer was under investigation, saying he had no idea of the criminal activity.

“Obviously, if we had any inkling of his criminal actions, he would have been fired on the spot,” he said.

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