FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Gov.-elect Matt Bevin vowed Friday to protect a county clerk's religious objections to same-sex marriage and pledged to roll back the state's version of health care reform, potentially removing health insurance for some of the 400,000 people who qualified under the state's expanded Medicaid program.
Bevin spoke publicly about his plans Friday after winning the Kentucky governor's election with more than 52 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He will take office next month as the state's second Republican governor in four decades, calling his election a mandate from voters to enact his policies.
One lingering issue is Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who is locked in a legal battle over issuing same-sex marriage licenses. State law requires county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally qualified couples. That now includes same-sex couples. But Davis believes it would be a sin for her to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. After she refused to do so, a federal judge threw her in jail for five days in September. She now wants to be able to keep her name off of marriage licenses.
Davis has sued current Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear for not accommodating her beliefs. Beshear has said he lacks the authority to remove the names of the county clerks from marriage licenses, arguing only the state legislature can do that. But Bevin and Davis' attorneys disagree.
"The argument that that cannot be done is baloney. We've already changed those forms three times for crying out loud," Bevin said. "We will take the names off those forms. We will do that by executive order. We will do it right out of the gate."
Mat Staver, Davis' lawyer, declared victory Friday, saying Bevin's promise of an executive order is "a clear, simple path to resolving all the legal efforts on behalf of Davis."
"Gov.-elect Bevin's impending executive order is a welcome relief for Kim Davis and should be for everyone who cherishes religious freedom," Staver said.
Bevin also said Friday he would dismantle kynect, Kentucky's state-run health insurance exchange, by the end of 2016. More than 100,000 people have used kynect to purchase private health insurance plans with the help of federal subsidies. Instead, Bevin wants those people to buy health insurance from an exchange run by the federal government.
"(Kynect) adds nothing of value," Bevin said. "It is a redundancy that we as taxpayers in this state are paying for twice."
State health officials disagree, arguing kynect was designed specifically for Kentucky and has helped slash the share of uninsured state residents from about 20 percent in 2013 to 9 percent by 2015.
But most of that reduction came because more people qualified for the state's expanded Medicaid program. Beshear expanded the program's eligibility requirements under the federal Affordable Care Act, allowing 400,000 more people to get taxpayer-funded health insurance.
Bevin said the state can't afford the new program. He would change Medicaid's eligibility requirements, saying "there will be a certain natural amount of attrition that will take place." Some people who had previously qualified for health insurance under Medicaid would no longer be eligible. But Bevin said his goal is to "find an orderly way to accommodate this."
"We are not looking to make draconian moves," Bevin said. "I had no health coverage for my entire life until I was an active duty army officer in my 20s. I know what it's like to live in that world. I know the concerns that people have. We are going to do right by the people of the commonwealth."
Bevin met Friday with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. He said he plans to hire a general counsel and a chief of staff as early as next week. And he said he won't release his personal income tax returns, despite indicating during the campaign that he would release them after he was elected governor.