On Wednesday, the Courier-Journal reported that Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton is moving to defy Gov. Matt Bevin's administration for firing her deputy chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth. Hampton has reportedly notified the Bevin administration that Southworth will keep working for her office, and that she expects them to provide her with back pay for the days after she was terminated.
It is the latest development of an increasingly ugly controversy. Southworth was never given a reason for the firing, and says that she has "no earthly clue" why she was dismissed. But her husband has alleged that Bevin personally directed the firing for the sole purpose of making Hampton's life miserable, saying in a Facebook post that Bevin threatened the lieutenant governor with firing Southworth on "a handful of occasions." Hampton herself has asked for prayers for her fight against the "dark forces" running wild in the Bevin administration responsible for her aide's dismissal.
Bevin, for his part, denies any knowledge or involvement in the firing, saying that "We have 30-some thousand who work for state government. And people are hired and people are let go on a regular basis."
Hampton's decision to un-fire Southwarth is a direct challenge to Bevin's administration, which has stated she has no authority to take this action. "Under Kentucky law, it is well settled that an unclassified, governor-appointed employee can be terminated for any reason, so long as that reason is not contrary to some other law," said Bevin's Personnel Cabinet Secretary Thomas Stephens in an email.
Hampton is the first African-American to serve in statewide office in Kentucky, and the third African-American woman ever to serve as lieutenant governor. She and Bevin are both Republicans, and in Kentucky, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected on a single ticket. But Hampton and Bevin have clashed with each other ever since taking office — a tension that culminated with Bevin dropping her as his running mate in his bid for re-election, replacing her with state Sen. Ralph Alvarado. Even if Bevin wins a second term, Hampton will be leaving office next year — a prospect that has only increased the bitterness between them.
Conservative activists in Kentucky, meanwhile, are furious at Bevin for the feud. "Jeanean Hampton is a constitutional conservative. Matt is just a damn Republican," said Barbara Knott of the Owensboro Tea Party. "I'm so upset with Matt Bevin. This will hurt him in November." Scott Hofstra, another right-wing activist, said, "There are a whole lot of Tea Party people who got out and worked for Matt Bevin's campaigns in 2014 and 2015 who will not do that this year."
Bevin's Democratic opponent is state Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has clashed legally with the governor on everything from teacher pay to health care.