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Judge Urges Gov. Bevin And Lt. Gov. Hampton To Iron Out Differences

Ryland Barton

Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton appeared in court Monday as she sues Gov. Matt Bevin for firing two of her staffers, which she says was illegal.

The lawsuit is the latest development in the growing rift between the two Republicans after Bevin decided to not run with Hampton during his bid for re-election.

Bevin has downplayed his frayed relationship with Hampton.

During the hearing, Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt described the conflict as a “minor disagreement between two friends.”

Following the proceedings, Hampton disputed Pitt’s characterization.

“My friends don’t treat me this way, I’ll just say that,” Hampton said.

Hampton is suing Bevin over his administration’s firing of two of her employees earlier this year — Chief of Staff Steve Knipper in January and deputy chief of staff Adrienne Southworth in May.

Bevin fired Knipper after he filed to run for secretary of state, citing a policy requiring employees to resign if they run for elected office.

Bevin’s chief of staff Blake Brickman said he authorized Southworth’s firing, saying that she “repeatedly demonstrated poor judgement.”

Hampton argues that Bevin doesn’t have the authority to fire her employees because the lieutenant governor’s office is a separate position outlined by the state constitution.

But the office has few duties following a 1992 constitutional amendment that stripped most of the lieutenant governor’s powers and made candidates run on a slate with those running for the governor’s office.

Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt said that Hampton doesn’t need two more staffers to complete her duties before she leaves office in December.

“There’s no real evidence here today of any particular projects that the governor has given her to do that she has to finish up in the next two-and-a-half months that she needs two additional employees to do,” Pitt said.

Hampton’s lawsuit was heard in Franklin Circuit Court on Monday morning. Judge Philip Shepherd issued no ruling in the case, but urged Bevin and Hampton to try and resolve their differences to avoid a protracted lawsuit.

Following the hearing, Hampton echoed a tweet she posted in late May publicizing the firing of her deputy, saying that she was still battling “dark forces.”

“I’m fighting dark forces because who in their right mind would decide it’s a good thing to leave a sitting, active lieutenant governor with one staffer and carve off the people who were instrumental in helping her serve Kentucky,” Hampton said.

Hampton is the first African-American elected to statewide office in Kentucky. Before her successful campaign with Bevin in 2015, she was a packaging industry executive, Tea Party activist in Bowling Green and unsuccessful candidate for the state House of Representatives.

Hampton said she was “insulted” by the firings of her staffers, but that she still supports Bevin’s bid for re-election.

“I absolutely support his re-election, but he’s got to get out there and make the case for himself. I have not been asked to campaign for him at all,” Hampton said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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