Governor Matt Bevin poked a hornet’s nest last year when he fired the entire University of Louisville Board of Directors via executive order and appointed ten new members, reducing by seven the total members of the Board and seeking to remake it in his image all while asserting his power.
The challenge for Bevin, though, was that these actions were on legally dubious ground, an observation that anyone with even a casual understanding of jurisprudence could recognize on the surface of this issue:
Ruling that Gov. Matt Bevin had illegally acted as “judge, jury and executioner” in abolishing the University of Louisville board of trustees and appointing his own, a judge on Wednesday permanently set aside Bevin’s orders.
In another blow to Bevin’s executive powers, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said Bevin’s June 28 actions were “entirely without precedent.”
Shepherd wrote in a 17-page opinion that Bevin “maligned the integrity and competence” of the former board members by calling them “operationally dysfunctional,” then broke the law by giving them “no recourse whatsoever” to contest his “unilateral fiat.”
“Unilateral fiat” is the perfect summary of the Republican approach to governing; this is especially true now that Republicans have a firm grip on both the legislative and executive branches of government. After warnings by accreditation officials last fall that Bevin’s actions could jeopardize the university’s standing, Bevin dismissed these concerns, gambling that a newly elected Republican majority would rubber-stamp his actions and codify them into law.
Following their “unilateral fiat” approach to government, the Republican majority this weekend rushed through a piece of legislation that would do just that:
The bill, approved on a largely party-line vote, closely mirrors Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive orders from last summer in which he attempted to scrap the 20-person board and replace it with a 13-person board. But it also gives the state Senate the ability to confirm a governor’s appointees to the board…
The bill approved Thursday would still result in the remaining U of L board members losing their seats without due process.
Accreditation officials, in a letter released today, were not amused by the Republicans’ parlor games:
In a Jan. 11 letter, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools President Belle Wheelan said U of L has failed to demonstrate it is free from undue political influence. She said Bevin’s executive actions abolishing the board of trustees in June 2016 “demonstrate the board is functioning with considerable external control and influence,” and that such a move jeopardizes the board’s “capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing sound education program.”
Wheelan goes on to say that four of SACS’ accreditation standards were violated by Bevin when he signed that executive order sacking the current board.
“The governor dismissed board members without adequate due process in accordance with existing Kentucky statutes and policies,” Wheeland said. “Board reorganization efforts appear to have been used to circumvent the use of and adequate and fair process for the dismissal of board members.”
There is little daylight between an executive action that extends the power of the Governor beyond reasonable constitutional limits and a piece of legislation that does the same. And it’s alarming that Governor Bevin and Republicans in the legislature are willing to jeopardize the educational footing of Kentucky’s second largest institution of higher education.
And equally troubling is the fact that these actions embody the modus operandi for Republicans fresh off a power grab. They always overplay their hand. Congressional Republicans did it in 2004 after George W. Bush’s re-election, going for broke on a medieval immigration bill, attempting to privatize Social Security, digging in their hills on Iraq. And they’re doing it now, salivating over the prospect of a President Trump serving as their personal rubber stamp.
The irony of all this is, of course, that their extension of executive and legislative (and, yes, even judicial) power when they control those branches of government is ideological out of sync with their self-avowed “conservative” views on governing. The reality is that Republicans only favor “limited-government” when it isn’t their power being limited.
The policies they prioritize, then, run counter to the promises so common in their campaign themes. And by overplaying their hand, they remind us how out-of-step they are with the people they purport to represent. That’s why holding them accountable now is more important than ever–in Washington and in Frankfort. Hopefully when voters see first-hand the perils of granting Republicans such power (and when we remind them of those perils), it will be easier to make the case that our Commonwealth deserves better.