Beshear rejects Senate leaders’ request for private meeting with health commissioner; Stivers criticizes governor’s approach

Robert Stivers

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear and state Senate President Robert Stivers clashed Thursday over the governor’s handling of the novel-coronavirus pandemic and his relationship with the legislature.

Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne have complained about a lack of information and explanation from Beshear, and have talked about limiting the emergency powers he has used against the pandemic.

Asked for an update on that Thursday morning, Stivers said Senate leaders had received no response to a letter they sent Beshear a letter six weeks ago asking for a private meeting with Health Commissioner Steven Stack.

“We need to be very measured in what we do” with emergency powers, Stivers said. “The biggest component of this is having knowledge of what’s being done and why.” For example, he said the state has spent $20 million on tracing contacts of infected people, and legislators would like to see what sort of gatherings are most responsible for the spread of the virus.

Stivers said that when legislators have been able to talk “one on one” with members of Beshear’s administration and “they’ve been very responsive,” but “It seems his internal circle has a bunker mentality.”

Stivers became Senate president when Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear, was governor. “He is not his dad,” Stivers said. “He does not have the ability to communicate or develop relationships like his dad.”

Asked about Stivers’ request, Beshear chose to reply at his 4 p.m. briefing.

“Doctor Stack has testified in front of legislative committees for the past four or five months; he hasn’t been treated very well for a guy that has left a lucrative practice and given his all, heart and soul, every day,” Beshear said. Stack is an emergency physician and a former president of the American Medical Association.

Beshear added that it would be “virtually unprecedented” for a party’s entire leadership to meet privately with a member of the administration “without anyone else there with them. It’s something I would never ask for one of their employees. We are happy to work with them; it’s just got to be in a positive way.”

The governor said several other chief health officers in other states have resigned “because of the way they’ve been treated, and I gotta make sure that doesn’t happen here; he is too valuable, he has given too much.”

He concluded, “We’re happy to various briefings if they are requested in a positive manner, with individual members of the administration that can provide various responses; non willing to play closed-door meetings where gotcha can be played.”

Stivers said earlier that a private meeting with Stack would allow frank discussion of the pandemic without public statements that might alarm people.

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