A national watchdog group has named Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear one of its "Worst Governors in America."
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released the list today. Beshear's inclusion is based on the firing of Division of Mine Permits Director Ron Mills in 2009, and what the group calls the "improper influence" of the coal industry on Beshear's official appointments.
Mills claimed he was fired because he wouldn't enforce the state's "33 1/3 policy" that was instituted during Governor Ernie Fletcher's administration. The policy said that mining companies need to have the legal right to enter only two-thirds of the land being permitted, but Mills said it was illegal and state law actually required companies be legally able to access all of the land being permitted.
From CREW's report:
State Energy and Environment Secretary Len Peters denied firing Mr. Mills at the behest of the coal industry or Gov. Beshear. Instead, Mr. Peters said he decided on his own to fire Mr. Mills because he was not meeting performance expectations. Mr. Mills’ personnel file, however, did not include any documentation of performance issues. In a deposition, [Natural Resources Commissioner Carl] Campbell said he was “shocked” by Mr. Mills’ firing, agreed the 33 1/3 rule was illegal, and had never heard Mr. Peters complain about Mr. Mills’ job performance. Mr. Campbell said no one ever told him directly that Alliance Resource Partners wanted Mr. Mills fired, but “industry representatives voiced the opinion that we were taking too long to do the permit reviews” and “if you don’t make the decisions that they want to hear, they tend to try to get you moved out of those positions.” Mr. Campbell was fired in 2011, shortly after Gov. Beshear won re-election. Mr. Campbell, who had worked for the state since 1978, said he did not know why he was fired.
Mills sued the state for wrongful termination; the lawsuit was settled last year for $270,000.
CREW's report also takes Beshear to task for appointing others with ties to the coal industry. It cites evidence that Alliance Resource Partners influenced Beshear's appointments to a federal panel on mountaintop removal mining, as well as appointments to state boards.
The Beshear administration has appointed other officials with ties to Alliance Resource Partners. Roughly a month before Mr. Mills was fired, Gov. Beshear reappointed [Raymond "Rusty"] Ashcraft, [Alliance manager of environmental affairs and mine permitting] to the Kentucky Geological Survey Advisory Board. Gov. Beshear appointed Alliance Resource Partners CEO Craft to his Kentucky Climate Action Plan Council, tasked with helping Kentucky work toward “energy independence” while lowering its carbon footprint. In March 2012, Jerry F. "Freddie" Lewis, Sr., a former safety director at Alliance Resource Partners, was named the new executive director of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing.
In all, 18 governors made the list. CREW divided those into six it calls "ringmasters" and deems "the worst of the lot," six "clowns" whose "conduct raises serious questions about their leadership," and six "sideshows" who "engaged in some action suspect enough to suggest their decisions merit close scrutiny." Beshear is included in the "clowns" group. Other governors that made the list include Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Jan Brewer of Arizona, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Rick Perry of Texas and Andrew Cuomo of New York.
Sixteen of the governors on the list belong to the Republican party. Beshear and Andrew Cuomo are the only Democrats on the list.
Beshear's office declined to comment on the report.