FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky's Democratic governor on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to move past an impeachment effort that targeted him for his actions to combat the spread of COVID-19, saying it's time to renew respect for “the role of government and how it works.”
Gov. Andy Beshear said a legislative panel made the “right choice” Tuesday night when it recommended that no action be taken on a remaining petition calling for his removal from office. From the outset, the governor denounced that petition and others as meritless.
“Now I hope that in Frankfort we can all be adults in the room and move forward and leave it behind,” Beshear told reporters Wednesday.
The committee wrapped up its review of a flurry of impeachment efforts targeting the top levels of Kentucky government in Frankfort. It recommended that the governor and the state's Republican attorney general — another impeachment target — not face removal from office.
The panel’s recommendation that no further action be taken on petitions against Beshear and Cameron will be submitted to the Republican-dominated House. The petitions — filed by a few people weeks ago — took aim at Beshear for his coronavirus-related restrictions and Attorney General Daniel Cameron for his handling of the Breonna Taylor death investigation.
While both leaders denounced the petitions, others saw the Bluegrass State impeachment frenzy as reflecting the bitter political divide dominating public discourse nationally. Beshear touched on the issue in urging lawmakers to put the impeachment effort to rest.
“With everything we’ve seen that’s going on in our country, it’s time we get back to treating each other right and to respecting the role of government and how it works,” Beshear said Wednesday.
The House Impeachment Committee reached its decision late Tuesday after the latest in a series of long meetings, mostly behind closed doors.
“The committee has found that none of the allegations made against the governor nor the attorney general rise to the level of impeachable offenses,” said GOP Rep. Jason Nemes, the panel's chairman.
The petition against Beshear accused him of constitutional violations for his restrictions to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Beshear says his virus-related orders have saved lives, and he portrayed the petitioners seeking his ouster as anti-government extremists.
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 impeachment panel's report said its conclusion that no allegations rose to the level of impeachable offenses doesn't mean all its members agreed with the governor's actions. The panel consists of four Republicans and three Democrats.
“But it means that this committee does not believe the proper response is impeachment, but rather for the legislature to enact policies to address its disagreements and for the people to weigh in by voting during the next gubernatorial election,” the panel's report said.
The state's Republican lawmakers enacted measures recently to limit the governor's emergency powers, contending that Beshear overreached with restrictions on businesses and individuals. Beshear immediately sued, setting up a legal fight on the constitutionality of the new laws.
The legislative panel previously dismissed other impeachment efforts against Beshear.
The petition against Cameron included three grand jurors who criticized his handling of the investigation into Taylor’s shooting death by police last year. 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 Taylor.
In its report, the impeachment panel said the outcome of grand jury proceedings depend “on the decisions of the jurors themselves.” If the jurors had wanted to dig deeper into other possible charges, “they had the ability to do so,” the report said.
The petition also alleged 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 impeachment panel rejected those claims, saying: “Even if the committee were to find that the attorney general made a misstatement (which it does not), the committee would be hard pressed to find that a public officer could be impeached for merely misstating information at a voluntary press conference, perhaps inadvertently.”
Cameron stood by his investigation into the Black woman’s death, which fueled protests over racial injustice. He says his team followed the law and presented a thorough case to the grand jury, adding the petition against him was "lacking in legal and factual support.”
After the committee's actions late Tuesday, Nemes said “our work is concluded.” One matter is still pending — Beshear and Cameron can submit expenses their offices incurred in responding to the impeachment petitions, which could be submitted to the petitioners.