Judge strikes down bill limiting Beshear’s state fair board appointments

·3 min read
DAVID STEPHENSON/LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Governor Andy Beshear gained a victory this week against Republicans in the legislature and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles over who has authority to appoint more members to the Kentucky State Fair Board.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Mary Shaw ruled on Monday against portions of a bill passed by the legislature that gave Quarles, a Republican, exclusive authority to appoint a majority of the state fair board and prohibited the Democratic governor from making appointments in 2021. She said that those provisions in particular went against the state constitution, infringing on the governor’s role as “chief magistrate.”

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit Beshear filed over the summer against the Kentucky General Assembly, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Kentucky State Fair Board Chair Dr. Mark Lynn.

“While the legislature can transfer appointment powers between constitutional executive officers, at some point such transfer becomes unconstitutional when it infringes upon the Governor’s power as chief magistrate,” Shaw wrote. “HB 518 does just that.”

Passed by the General Assembly, controlled by a veto-proof supermajority of Republicans, the bill would have given Quarles nine appointments to Beshear’s five on a board of 14.

In a statement, Quarles wrote that he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling, and that he plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

A spokesman for Quarles said that the defendants have filed a motion seeking a stay order, likely to be heard next week in Jefferson Circuit Court, that would prevent the ruling from taking effect until the planned appeal.

“The court’s ruling significantly limits the General Assembly’s ability to enact public policy as it sees fit,” Quarles wrote. “... Taken to its logical conclusion, this decision means the Governor will control all levels of executive functions, including those of separate, independent constitutional offices.”

Beshear has previously tussled with Republicans over the limits of his executive authority on COVID-19 policy and the commissioner appointment to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Beshear’s efforts to block limits to his emergency executive powers during the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately failed in a unanimous Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.

Beshear signaled at a press conference on Thursday that he agreed with the Jefferson Circuit Court ruling because it protected the authority of the governor’s office. He said that allowing such a bill to become law would open up the possibility of a legislature dominated by one party to strip too many powers from any constitutional office with which it doesn’t align politically.

The governor added that provisions of the bill would “virtually eliminate the system that our constitution is designed to create, which puts guardrails on that.”

Beshear also said that he hoped that the legislature would “move beyond” such efforts to limit his power.

“Are we really going to do this stuff in the next session? I hope not,” Beshear said. “We can all do good things in the roles that the constitution has set for us.”

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