Somerset-area legislators decry Beshear’s restrictions at Chamber meeting with little use of masks or social distancing

L-R: Sen. Rick Gidler, Reps. David Meade and Ken Upchurch, unopposed House nominees Josh Branscum and Shane Baker (Photos by Caleb Lowndes, the Commonwealth Journal)

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Chafing under Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive orders, several Republican legislators said Thursday evening that the General Assembly will rein in the emergency powers that the Democratic governor has used to fight the novel-coronavirus pandemic.
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The lawmakers from the Somerset area spoke to “a packed house” that included “a whole host of the community’s business and political leaders,” reported Chris Harris of the Somerset Commonwealth Journal. The newspaper’s editor, Jeff Neal, told Kentucky Health News that “There wasn’t a whole lot of social distancing, and since they were eating, there were not a lot of masks being used.”

Most “who took the microphone asked the legislators questions about how the Kentucky House and Senate could address or repeal Beshear’s numerous executive orders,” the newspaper reported.
“I’ve heard from all of you,” said Sen. Rick Girdler of Somerset. “A ‘state of emergency’ was not put in to have somebody in charge for six months. It was put in for an earthquake or a tornado or something where there were no communications for four or five days. We don’t need, Republican or Democrat, somebody up at the office deciding for six months or a year that that’s what we’re going to do. We are three branches of government, and we need to use all of our three branches of government.”
Leaders of the legislature’s Republican majorities have said Beshear should have consulted with them before making major moves, such as his July 9 order to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when six feet of distance can’t be maintained. The governor has said Republicans dislike the highly public role he is playing and are politically motivated.
Girdler said of his leaders’ request, “Some people say that’s political. No, that ain’t political. The political part is coming from the other side. We’ve meant to be a part of this conversation, and we’ve not been a part of it.”
Girdler was joined by Reps. Ken Upchurch of Monticello and David Meade of Stanford, who is House speaker pro tem, at Lee’s Ford Marina on Lake Cumberland for an event sponsored by the Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, the newspaper reported. Josh Branscum of Russell Springs and Shane Baker of Somerset, Republicans who are unopposed for seats being vacated, also attended.

“We’ve got to do some things that pull back that power of the governor,” Upchurch said. “I’m fairly confident . . . that you’re going to see some pretty powerful legislation that’s passed in both houses that can do that.”

The newspaper reported that Girdler endorsed a pre-filed bill that would limit governors’ emergency orders to two weeks and ban them from suspending any laws, and limit to three weeks anti-disease actions of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services — unless the governor starts a special legislative session.

Girdler said he also favors a constitutional amendment that would let the legislature call itself into session, the newspaper reported.
“I get calls all the time, I get text messages asking me, ‘Why are you all staying at home? Why don’t you go up there and do something?’ I wish I could,” Girdler said, adding later, “We’ve got to have the legislators involved in making the decisions based upon economic development, tourism. . . . I really believe we have to take our state back.”

Meade said, “I didn’t feel like the shutdowns were necessary because I truly believe that the people of Kentucky are smart enough and intelligent enough to make the decisions for themselves in order to protect themselves.”

The legislators and would-be legislators sat together, without masks. “All the Chamber workers and Harbor Restaurant workers were masked,” newspaper editor Neal said, adding later, “You have to remember that in this neck of the woods, no one pays much attention to the virus. People here are rabid anti-maskers. And our numbers are rising. Go figure.”

Photo provided by the Commonwealth Journal
The event concerned Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, a retired Somerset physician who heads Health Watch USA, which focuses on infection control in health care.
“Events like this are very problematic,” Kavanagh told Kentucky Health News. “They usually have many cases or none. With the number of individuals present and the prevalence of the virus in Pulaski County, the odds are nothing will happen, but if the virus was present at the event it can be catastrophic. . . . This could be a super-spreader event.”
Bobby Clue, the chamber’s executive director, did not return a call from Kentucky Health News. He told the Commonwealth Journal, “We’ve said for months now that it was time to get back to business. I believe people are starting to agree with us on that philosophy. We think that people can come out to events, that we can do that in a safe and responsible way, and we have to live our lives at some point. This is a tremendous turnout with over 100 people here tonight, and I’m very confident that we’re going to see more and more people start coming out to events.”
He added, “If people aren’t comfortable, that’s why we still have virtual options: the Facebook Lives, the Zoom.” He added, “The virtual component for us is important and we’re going to keep that in place indefinitely moving forward at all Chamber events.”
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