[Ed. note: This piece was written before the legislature rebuked the governor by adjourning the special session some 24 hours in, saying the issue was too complicated and would be reconsidered during the regular session.]
Gov. Matt Bevin on Monday called an extraordinary special legislative session in order to address pension reform. Democratic members of the legislature, many of whom were physically unable to make the drive in four hours, received virtually no advance notice. There are certainly pension issues to be addressed — adequately funding them, for instance. But with a regular legislative session scheduled to start in just three weeks, many observers were left scratching their heads
Why the rush? Was it because, in the words of former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, speaking to the Lexington Herald-Leader: “This is typical Matt Bevin, he acts like a spoiled middle school kid who did not get his way”?
Or, was it because of a calculated effort to control the politics before the new General Assembly convenes in January?
The session was ostensibly called in order to address pension reform following last week’s Kentucky Supreme Court ruling striking down SB 151, the so-called “Sewer Bill.” Late into the night Monday, reporters and Democratic lawmakers puzzled over events on social media, trying to divine from scraps of evidence what was happening. From the galleries, the voices of teachers and other public employees chanting and singing echoed across the mostly empty chambers.
The senate couldn’t reach quorum. Then it did. There was no bill. Then there was, but Democrats weren’t given copies. The House convened then recessed. On and on into the night, confusion mounted, until it finally became clear that aside from a hurried first reading, no substantive action would be taken until Tuesday, and certainly no public debate.
Republican leadership in both houses have gleefully carried water for a petulant governor whose approval ratings are in free-fall. They claim they are doing what is necessary to put the Commonwealth on solid financial footing.
So why the secrecy? And again, why the rush? First, because any pension reform bill is an appropriations bill, it requires only a simple majority to pass in even-numbered, budget years of the legislature. Next year, a non-budget year, it would require 60 to votes to pass, a significantly higher bar. Secondly, placing pension reform in the regular session would mean a fresh crop of new legislators in action, many of whom ran and won in large part due to public anger over the legislature’s feckless handling of HB 151 earlier this year.
Finally, another good reason to try to rush this so-called “reform” effort through this week rather than just wait a few weeks, is that the agenda for the 2019 session will likely be filled with many of the same anti-worker, anti-public education bills that defined the last two sessions. Bevin and Republican legislative leaders can’t have pension funding distracting them from the very important worker-gutting agenda of the Chamber of Commerce.
But the main reason for the rush and the secrecy: Governor Bevin’s ego. Time and again, Bevin has shown his true colors, shamelessly attacking those who criticize his administration, including teachers; blocking constituents on Twitter; and holding rambling live video sessions in which he trolls the news media and partisan detractors. The man is constitutionally incapable (pun intended) of accepting defeat, let alone using such defeat as an opportunity for self-reflection and an adjustment of his approach to governing.
“I’m not wrong!” he cries, the pages of the unanimous Supreme Court decision overturning 151 fluttering in his clenched fist. “It’s the Democrats, and the media, and the greedy teachers!” It’s a shtick more suited for talk radio than the hallowed halls of the Capitol building, but he pursues it with relentless vigor.
Kentucky’s public employees must now spend yet another holiday season worrying over the future of their retirement, watching their legislature engage in underhanded tactics to once again ram through an unpopular reform bill. Why? Because after a long day of teaching children the proper way to behave when they don’t get their way, Kentucky’s teachers must contend with a governor who hasn’t learned that lesson himself.