By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE (Reuters) - Kentucky's Republican governor on Tuesday called for an investigation into how his Democratic predecessor awarded state contracts and solicited campaign contributions, opening a new round in the feud between the two political families.
Governor Matt Bevin said he has asked for the hiring of a law firm to determine whether Steve Beshear's administration coerced state employees into donating to political campaigns.
The call by Bevin comes just over a week after Beshear's son Andy, Kentucky's attorney general, sued Bevin in an effort to block funding cuts to public universities that he said are illegal.
Bevin on Tuesday said his administration also has concerns about contracts, some issued through a no-bid process, that may have rewarded family members of Beshear’s staff. The law firm would have the ability to subpoena witnesses and records, and work closely with the state inspector general, he said.
“These discoveries ... raise questions that must be answered in an open and transparent way,” Bevin, who is the just second Republican elected to the state’s highest office since 1971, said at a press conference. “Only then will the citizens of the commonwealth begin to have confidence in their government.”
Beshear, who was barred from seeking reelection due to term limits, strongly denied the charges in a Facebook post.
"There was never any attempt to pressure employees to make political contributions, and we followed both the spirit and the letter of procurement laws," he said, adding Bevin's move was a "pathetic spectacle."
Andy Beshear said Bevin was not properly pursuing the issue.
The attorney general said in a statement Tuesday that he agreed issues such as no-bid contracts should be scrutinized, including a pair awarded by Bevin's administration.
"The governor is once again overstating his authority," Beshear said, adding that the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission and not the cabinet was the appropriate agency for any such probe.
Before taking office in December, Bevin called Steve Beshear's appointment of his wife to an unpaid seat on the state horse park commission an "embarrassment." Meanwhile, the former governor has launched a campaign against Bevin's healthcare initiatives.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Ben Klayman and Leslie Adler)