Thayer says GOP urged Bevin not to call special session
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — One of Kentucky’s top legislative leaders said Friday that Republicans “tried very hard” to convince Gov. Matt Bevin not to call them back to Frankfort the week before Christmas to vote on a pension bill that had recently been struck down by the state Supreme Court.
Bevin called the special session anyway, but lawmakers adjourned without passing any bills. Taxpayers were left with a bill of about $120,000 for the two-day session.
Since then, Bevin has published an op-ed where he said the special session failed not “due to a lack of planning, rather, but due to a lack of legislative will.” Friday, Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer told The Associated Press he wanted to “set the record straight.”
“I agree with Gov. Bevin on the severity of the pension crisis, and I appreciate his sense of urgency in trying to solve it. But I think it’s important to set the record straight that legislative leaders tried very hard to convince him not to call that special session,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer told The Associated Press in an interview. “We thought the timing was bad right before Christmas and the lame duck aspect of it.”
Thayer called Bevin “an answer to my prayers since I got involved in Republican politics,” but said the legislature and the executive branch are “co-equal branches of government.” Thayer compared Bevin to President Donald Trump in that the Republican president is a businessman with no prior legislative experience and “has learned that he’s got to work with (U.S. Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell.”
“I would hope going forward that (Bevin) would consider our collective experience in the legislative process. That when we give him advice he ought to consider it,” Thayer said. “On controversial issues, it takes a collaborative effort to try to get to the required number of votes to pass bills. Those of us who have been doing it for a long time should be respected.”
Bevin called Thayer “a friend and passionate legislator,” but added “his statement simply is not true.”
“Many legislators, including members of leadership, were in favor of solving our pension crisis during a special session, but they ultimately failed in that effort,” Bevin said. “Every legislator is entitled to their own opinions and comments. But personal opinions and inaccurate comments will do nothing to fix the pension crisis. Only legislative action will.”
Incoming Republican House Speaker David Osborne, who was part of the negotiations with Bevin about the special session, has said lawmakers weren’t able to muster enough votes to pass a bill because the bill proposed by the governor’s office was not what they expected.
In his op-ed, Bevin called that a “weak excuse,” noting the governor does not “have the authority under the Kentucky Constitution to draft, sponsor or pass the legislation.”
Friday, Osborne said his comments last month were “pretty clear about how we viewed it.”
“I’m not going to dispute anything that leader Thayer said, but I don’t need to say any more than I said (earlier),” Osborne said.
Thayer’s comments, days before lawmakers are scheduled to return to Frankfort on Tuesday, is the latest sign of strain between Bevin and Republican legislative leadership as the governor heads into his re-election campaign. Last year, lawmakers overrode Bevin’s veto of the GOP-crafted two-year state spending plan.
The legislative session ended with an extraordinary rebuke from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which approved two resolutions condemning Bevin’s comments that teachers who closed schools to protest at the state Capitol had caused students to be sexually assaulted because they were left home alone during the day.
One thing Bevin and Republican lawmakers did agree on was passing a law making changes to Kentucky’s struggling public pension systems, which are among the worst funded retirement plans in the country. The state Supreme Court struck down that law last month, ruling the legislature did not follow the correct procedure when passing it.
Osborne and Thayer said they don’t think the fallout from the special session will hurt the legislature’s ability to work with the governor this year.
“The advice I’ll give our members is, look, we weren’t happy about the special session. It happened; it’s over; it’s done. It’s time to move on,” Thayer said. “I think the governor knows that, like he has for the past three years, we’re all more successful when we work together. I don’t see any issues with that.”