By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – John R. Steffen, head of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, is leaving the post in mid-May to become head of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Steffen, 48, of Georgetown, will replace at the registry Sarah M. Jackson, who retired last fall. The registry administers Kentucky’s campaign finance law and ensures public access to campaign financial data and reports.
The ethics commission, which is to meet May 4, will determine who will replace Steffen at the independent agency which oversees ethical standards that govern the conduct of all executive branch employees.
Steffen’s annual salary at the ethics commission is $97,488. Jackson’s salary when she left the registry was $121,182.
During his seven years as executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, Steffen has been involved in several heavily publicized cases, including investigations of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the state Fish and Wildlife Department, nepotism involving property valuation administrators and the state merit system.
“I’m very excited about this new opportunity but I will miss the people I’ve been working with at the ethics commission,” Steffen said in a phone interview Monday.
Steffen was general counsel of the ethics commission from 2004 to 2008, before being named director.
He also is a major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, where he has been a reservist since 2000. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving in active duty form 2003-2004 and 2008-2009.
Before his service at the ethics commission, Steffen was assistant general counsel for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet and staff attorney for the Public Service Commission and the Labor Cabinet.
“John is uniquely qualified for the position of executive director at the registry,” registry chairman Craig Dilger, a Louisville attorney, said in a statement.
“His range of experiences will quickly prove to be a tremendous resource, not only for registry members and staff but also for candidates, committees, the media and the public.”
Steffen has a law degree from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree in history and government from Centre College.
“Kentucky Tonight,” a weekly public affairs show on the Kentucky Educational Television network, will start on March 30 its candidate programs for the May 19 primary elections.
Hosted by Bill Goodman, the programs will begin at 8 p.m. on KET and will also stream live at KET.org/live and be archived online.
The scheduled candidates are:
Republicans for State Treasurer
– Allison Ball
– State Rep. Kenneth Churchill Imes
Democrats for State Treasurer
– Neville Blakemore
– State Rep.Rick Nelson
April 20 (two-part)
Republicans for Attorney General
– Lawrence County Attorney Michael T. Hogan
– State Sen. Whitney H. Westerfield
Republicans for Commissioner of Agriculture
– State Rep. Richard Heath
– State Rep. Ryan F. Quarles
KET plans to announce its programs for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor after April 10.
KET said candidates appearing on these programs have “demonstrated satisfaction of KET’s candidate invitation criteria, published at www.KET.org/candidate-invitation-criteria-2015.”
Live primary election night coverage from KET begins at 7 p.m. on May 19.
Prior to that, additional election coverage and analysis continues on “Comment on Kentucky,” and the topic of the May 18 Kentucky Tonight program will be the election.
Kentucky Tonight is a KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Goodman is host and managing editor.
KET serve more than one million people each week via television, online and mobile.
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Monday a bill that will provide the University of Kentucky with $132.5 million in state bonds for a six-story medical research center.
“This projects represents the potential to improve the lives of so many, both within Kentucky where our health outcomes are so poor, and beyond,” Beshear said at a Capitol news conference with several legislators and Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president of research.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto was not able to attend because of a stomach virus.
House Bill 298, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, authorizes spending $5.6 million on debt payments for the bonds this year and $11 million in subsequent years.
UK will provide another $132.5 million for the project through research contracts and private donations.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the project is personal to him since he has had many relatives and friends treated at UK for cancer.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the ramifications of the center are “wide-ranging.”
Stumbo also apologized to Capilouto, saying he initially thought Capilouto was “not up for the job” to be UK president but that Capilouto has proved him wrong.
The center, which would house researchers from several disciplines, is to be built on UK’s campus near South Limestone and Virginia Avenue.
UK plans to begin construction by the end of the year.
The health challenges those researchers will address include cancer, heart and pulmonary disease, stroke and other preventable illnesses.
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear invite Kentuckians to attend the 2015 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast March 17 at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author and executive director of Blessed Earth, will deliver the keynote address.
The breakfast dates back to 1965 and includes representatives of all three branches of government.
The nondenominational gathering provides Kentuckians an opportunity to give thanks for blessings and ask for strength to lead Kentucky toward a better future, said a release from the governor’s office.
“For decades, the prayer breakfast has provided people the opportunity to slow down for a moment, take a deep breath and reflect on how to grow and serve during the upcoming year,” said Beshear.
Sleeth heads Blessed Earth, an educational non-profit that inspires and equips people of faith to become better stewards of the earth.
He is a former emergency room physician and chief of hospital medical staff who resigned from his position to teach, preach and write about the biblical call to be good stewards of the earth.
Recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders, Sleeth has spoken to more than 1,000 churches, campuses, and events, including serving as the monthly guest preacher at The Washington National Cathedral.
The 2015 Prayer Breakfast also wil feature music from Larnelle Harris, special readings and a breakfast including bacon, country ham, eggs, grits, hash brown casserole and biscuits.
Doors will open at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time and the program will begin at 8 a.m. Eastern time.
Tickets are $10 each at the door or $125 in advance for a reserved table of 8.
For more information or to a reserve table, go to http://governor.ky.gov/prayerbreakfast.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT —The names of three attorneys were presented to Gov. Steve Beshear Thursday from which he is to choose a replacement to fill the Kentucky Supreme Court seat held by Justice Will T. Scott.
Scott, of Pikeville,stepped down from the state’s highest court Jan. 2 to run as a Republican for governor.
The three attorneys selected by the seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., are David Allen Barber of Prestonsburg, Roger Donald Riggs of Mount Sterling and Janet L. Stumbo of Van Lear.
By Sam Youngman
Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer will begin running his first ad in the Republican primary for governor on Wednesday, touting his record as commissioner and proclaiming himself “a blue-collar guy.”
The ad, shared first with the Herald-Leader, features video clips from Comer’s entrance into the race last September at an event in his hometown of Tompkinsville.
“I represent the farmers, the teachers, the factor workers, all the hard-working middle-class Kentuckians,” Comer says in the introductory ad.
He pledges to run state government efficiently, making reference to his decision to shut down the state-run fuel testing lab established by his predecessor, Richie Farmer.
“After conducting an efficiency audit, Comer found that a previously established fuel lab project was costing Kentucky taxpayers $900,000 per year,” Comer’s campaign said in a news release. “He immediately privatized the project, sold the testing equipment and returned $1.65 million back to Kentucky taxpayers.”
The newspaper headline “Comer returns $1.65 million to state” appears on the screen as Comer says people want leaders who will “actually achieve.”
“You can operate government more efficiently,” Comer says. “We’ve proven that at the department of agriculture.”
Comer’s first ad comes about a year after Republican Hal Heiner, a former Louisville councilman, aired his first introductory ad. Heiner returned to the airwaves several weeks ago with ads that tout him as a “Frankfort outsider” and blast career politicians, who Heiner says “don’t have a clue” about how to create jobs.
Two other GOP contenders, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, have not yet begun airing ads ahead of the May 19th primary election.
Former U.S. Senate candidate and gubernatorial hopeful Matt Bevin appeared on a conservative radio show Wednesday where he continued to needle U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and questioned U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s sincerity in endorsing McConnell.
Bevin, appearing on the Wednesday edition of Wilkow Majority, was asked by host Andrew Wilkow if he watched Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign against McConnell, after the senator defeated Bevin in the primary, and wondered if he could’ve beat her.
“I kid you not — I’d have beaten her more handily,” Bevin said.
Throughout the interview, Bevin levied shots at a number of the state’s political figures, hitting Grimes (“She’s no Hillary Clinton.”), Attorney General Jack Conway (“The embodiment of everything that is wrong with the plastic career politicians in this country.”) and McConnell’s “buzz saw” campaign.
“I’ve been through the buzz saw indeed,” Bevin said. “And I’ll tell you something, I don’t begrudge any of that that went down. That is the nature sadly of what politics has become.”
Wilkow, who joined the group Freedom Works at a Bevin for Senate rally last spring, joked with Bevin about Grimes’ refusal to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama.
“They had clearly not pre-selected the sound-byte that she was to be provided, and it’s a shame,” Bevin said. “Unfortunately, as a result of that, Kentucky didn’t really have it’s best foot out forward perhaps on that side from the Democrats.”
Bevin also appeared to quibble with McConnell’s stewardship of the U.S. Senate since he became majority leader last month.
“The solutions to what is gonna fix America are not coming from the top down,” Bevin said. “You look already, we have majorities now in congress and in the Senate, and look we’re making some of the same excuses we made when we didn’t.”
Josh Holmes, the senior adviser to McConnell’s re-election campaign, said in an email Thursday afternoon that “at some point you have to start asking whether Matt Bevin should be medicated.”
“The guy has no grasp on reality whatsoever and his delusions of grandeur are simply breathtaking,” Holmes said.
Wilkow described Paul, who endorsed McConnell in his re-election effort, as someone who endorsed the establishment candidate but was torn in doing so, asking Bevin if it was “painful” that Paul did not endorse him.
Bevin said Paul reminded him of “the Violent Femmes song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?'” Wilkow corrected Bevin, noting that it was The Clash who sang that song.
“I know Rand well,” Bevin said, calling Paul’s endorsement of McConnell a “conscientious decision.”
“I’ve known him from the beginning,” Bevin said. “I was one of the people who supported him early on and maxed out when others didn’t.”
When asked if he thought either McConnell or Paul might endorse him in his race to be governor, Bevin said he had every indication both would stay neutral, calling that the “proper thing to do.”
While he largely spared his current Republican opponents, Bevin repeated that his life experience and “knowledge of issues” separates him from the three Republicans running against him.
“I would love to just have a debate at any moment in time with any of the candidates in this race,” Bevin said.
The candidate closed out the show by noting that while much of the audience doesn’t live in Kentucky, they should check out his website and contribute to his campaign.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT —The Kentucky House has called off meeting for the rest of this week and not reconvene until 4 p.m. Monday.
Meanwhile, the state Senate will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday this week and be back at it next week.
If either chamber meets, that constitutes a legislative day. The House has 100 members and the Senate 38, with one vacancy.
So far, legislators have met 13 days this year. The 2015 General Assembly session is to run for 30 working days, with completion scheduled for March 24. The Kentucky Constitution requires 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years to run no longer than March 30.
Lawmakers have not actually met since last Friday. They were off Monday for Presidents’ Day and have been off Tuesday and Wednesday due to the inclement weather.
House Democratic leaders said in a release Wednesday that the combination of record cold temperatures and this week’s heavy snowfall is the reason for their decision for the chamber not to meet until Monday.
“Several members have expressed concern about leaving their families in these conditions, and major highways like I-65 have seen closures because of accidents,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said.
“Therefore, we think it is more prudent to be safe than sorry.”
Stumbo said it would be up to the individual committee chairmen to decide whether to meet prior to the legislative session on Monday, but “the other leaders and I do not recommend any meetings before we gavel in.”
He added that, at this time, they do not expect this decision to alter the session calendar. “We have more than enough time to complete the work before us,” he said.
Senate Republican leaders met Wednesday afternoon in Frankfort and decided to reconvene this week.
“The majority of our caucus members were here on Wednesday prepared to do the people’s work and the rest are on their way,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in an email. “We understand the hardships associated with current weather conditions, but there are plenty of businesses staying open throughout the Commonwealth and the Senate feels inclined to stay open for business as well.”
By convening on Thursday the Senate will not lengthen the 2015 legislative session, but the House will have two less days to consider legislation, said the Senate GOP release.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — At the urging of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a House committee unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to modernize voter registration.
House Bill 214, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville would allow voters to register online to vote and update their voter registration
“Electronic voter registration is more convenient and secure, saves our county clerks time and money, and results in more accurate voting records,” said Grimes, who noted that it already is in use for military personnel overseas.
She added that 20 other states already use electronic voter registration.
The House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs also unanimously passed HB 212, legislation sponsored by Owens and proposed by Grimes to allow voters who are unable to go to the polls on Election Day due to age, disability or illness to vote in the county clerk’s office prior to the day of the election.
“Under current law, these voters may vote only by casting a mail-in absentee ballot,” said Grimes. “But many people cherish the experience of voting in person, and this bill would preserve that opportunity for them.”
The committee also approved two elections bills.
HB 150, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, D-Owensboro, would make any candidate for county government who is defeated in a primary election ineligible to run as a write-in candidate for the same office in the general election.
HB 203, sponsored by Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-Greenup, raises the threshold for campaign finance reporting from $1,000 to $3,000.
All the bills now go to the House for its consideration.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach and state Rep. Martha Jane King, D-Lewisburg, unveiled legislation Tuesday designed to help Kentuckians who lack access to a retirement saving plan at their workplace.
The state official and lawmaker said at a Capitol news conference that 786,000 Kentucky workers could take advantage of the so-called Kentucky Retirement Account Program.
“KYRA will provide an opportunity for them to insure they have enough income to support themselves when they retire,” said Hollenbach.