FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Republican-led legislative panel dismissed two petitions Friday calling for Gov. Andy Beshear’s impeachment but kept alive another effort by citizens seeking the Democrat’s ouster for his restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Kentucky.
The rejected petitions were the latest in a flurry of filings aiming to unseat prominent political leaders in Kentucky, an unprecedented phenomenon in the state's recent history. Another pending petition targets the state’s Republican attorney general.
The two anti-Beshear petitions were dismissed for failing to meet statutory requirements, said Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, the committee chairman.
But the House panel renewed its request for more information from Beshear as it reviews the remaining petition, the first one filed against the governor, Nemes said. Just four Kentuckians signed that petition, though one of them signaled he wants to withdraw. All three petitions claim the governor improperly infringed on individual rights with his coronavirus-related orders.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the governor had the authority to put restrictions on businesses and individuals to try to contain the coronavirus.
The House impeachment panel previously sought information from Beshear on how his virus-related ban on mass gatherings last spring was temporarily enforced against churches, a move that especially angered conservatives. The committee resubmitted its request Friday that the governor turn over emails, phone logs or other communications related to that order.
In his letter to the governor's lawyer, Nemes said the records “may be subpoenaed” if necessary. The lack of those records has “delayed the process,” Nemes said.
Beshear's office said a response will be submitted Monday. His general counsel previously replied that the “extraneous information” being sought “cannot form the basis for impeachment.”
The impeachment frenzy reflects a willingness by some Kentuckians to shatter long-established political norms in an increasingly bitter political divide. It follows closely on the heels of the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.
Beshear says there are “zero grounds” for his removal and maintains his COVID-19 orders have saved lives. He portrays the petitioners seeking his ouster as anti-government extremists.
Information compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows that Kentucky has recorded 87.7 deaths per 100,000 people, the 42nd highest per-capita rate nationally and better than neighboring states.
The House committee met behind closed doors for nearly three hours Friday, continuing its practice of long private discussions to review the impeachment petitions. The panel consists of four Republicans and three Democrats.
“The committee is slow moving, but that’s very necessary because of how serious this task is,” Democratic Rep. Angie Hatton, a committee member, told reporters after Friday's meeting. “We at least are satisfied that we are getting a say.”
The committee also requested additional information from Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. The petition calling for Cameron’s impeachment includes three grand jurors who criticized his handling of the investigation into Breonna Taylor’s shooting death by police last year.
The committee on Friday asked Cameron to produce any audio recording or transcript of his team's instructions to the Taylor grand jury not already released and which he possesses. Cameron’s office declined comment on the committee request.
In the Taylor case, one officer was charged for allegedly firing into an adjacent apartment, but the three grand jurors said prosecutors never gave them the option to consider charges against the officers who fatally shot the Louisville woman.
Cameron has stood by his investigation into Taylor’s death, which fueled protests over racial injustice. He said his team followed the law and presented a thorough case to the grand jury, adding that the petition against him was “so lacking in legal and factual support” it should be dismissed.
The petition alleges Cameron breached public trust and failed to comply with his duties in his handling of the Taylor case and then misrepresented the grand jury’s work to the public.
The House committee set a Monday evening deadline for Beshear and Cameron to submit the additional information. Nemes said the panel will reconvene sometime after that.
Nemes said he didn’t know how long the committee's reviews of the remaining petitions will last, saying the lawmakers are doing their “due diligence.”
“I don’t know how long it will take, how many meetings,” he said. “But we’re working with all deliberate speed to get this very important matter taken care of appropriately.”
The panel had no update on another impeachment petition filed against GOP state Rep. Robert Goforth, a former gubernatorial candidate who was indicted for allegedly trying to strangle a woman. Goforth has pleaded not guilty, and the case is pending.
Impeachment is a card rarely played in any serious way in the Bluegrass State, though Kentucky has had its share of provocative elected officials. Four constitutional officers have been impeached in Kentucky history, but only one was convicted. James “Honest Dick” Tate, a 19th-century state treasurer, was ousted for stealing $250,000 from the state and fled the country.
Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.