The bizarre and heated war of words between Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton and Gov. Matt Bevin’s top aide continued Monday morning, as Hampton issued a lengthy statement blasting the governor’s chief of staff Blake Brickman for the “unauthorized” firing of her own deputy chief of staff Adrienne Southworth.
Despite the volleying accusations over the past three weeks, Hampton stated that she will serve out the remaining six months of her term as lieutenant governor, adding a special thanks to the “many Prayer Warriors praying on my behalf” since Southworth was fired without her input or knowledge.
“Brickman has clearly overstepped his boundaries,” stated Hampton. “Every Kentuckian should be concerned that an unelected bureaucrat appears to have power over the office of the Lieutenant Governor, a constitutional officer duly elected by the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Hampton added that she is “perplexed by the vacuous decision to deprive an active, productive Lieutenant Governor of her staff. But after watching politics for over 45 years, I am not surprised by the false allegations and character attacks which have ensued.”
Southworth’s firing was first announced by Hampton in a tweet on May 31, who cryptically called for “PRAYER WARRIORS” to “pray for me as I battle dark forces.” Stephen Knipper, Hampton’s former chief of staff who was fired over her objections in January, suggested to Insider that morning that Bevin’s office had ordered the firing.
Bevin initially said he had no knowledge of Southworth’s firing but cited a policy that the administration does not publicly discuss personnel decisions.
However, Brickman issued a statement to the Courier Journal on Saturday indicating that he personally authorized the firing because of her “remarkably poor judgment” and inability meet the administration’s high standards.
He cited specific examples of Southworth allegedly repeatedly advocating for a gubernatorial commutation of a convicted rapist’s sentence and “unauthorized lobbying” of legislators to pass a bill providing leniency for convicted sex offenders who violate their parole, in addition to a vague reference to “her misuse of state property.”
Southworth told the Herald-Leader on Sunday that Brickman’s remarks amounted to “character assassination,” trying to make her constituent referral to the governor’s office for information on commutation sound like “something sinister.”
The lieutenant governor’s statement indicated that although she and Southworth both asked questions and spoke with legislators in their roles on the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, “questions do not imply endorsement or advocation.”
Noting that her office “has also helped several constituents navigate the labyrinth of state government,” she added that “assistance does not imply endorsement or advocation.”
Hampton’s statement also touted her decision “to be an active, engaged Lieutenant Governor despite few duties required,” highlighting her work with STEM scholarships, visits to schools and work to combat youth suicide. She added that she and her staff “came to Frankfort to be public servants, not partisan hacks, and our accomplishments speak for themselves.”
The lieutenant governor also made clear that she will ignore calls for her to resign and will serve out her term continuing such work — along with Southworth.
“I will serve the remaining months of my term as I began it: joyful, faithful, humble,” stated Hampton. “Ms. Southworth will continue to assist me, tracking her time manually until she is back in the personnel system. I am pursuing action to reinstate my staff soon.”
Hampton concluded her statement with “special thanks to the many Prayer Warriors praying on my behalf. Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped.”
The fighting between the governor’s office and Bevin’s running mate from his successful 2015 campaign comes in the middle of his tough re-election fight against Attorney General Andy Beshear. Not only have polls have shown Bevin to have a low approval rating, but he struggled to narrowly win a majority of votes in the Republican primary last month, indicating soft support among his party base.
After many months of speculation, Bevin announced just before the candidate filing deadline in January that he would dump Hampton from his 2019 ticket, instead choosing state Sen. Ralph Alvarado as his running mate. Hampton, who was a Tea Party leader in Bowling Green before she ran for office with Bevin in 2015, remains popular with such affiliated conservative political groups, which have criticized the governor for how she has been treated.