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Committee Investigating Bevin Coercion Allegations Nears Collapse

A committee launched to investigate Gov. Matt Bevin is on its last legs after the panel’s chair resigned in protest because he wasn’t given subpoena power to compel an accuser to testify.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo launched the committee in September to look into allegations that Bevin froze a road project in Rep. Russ Meyer’s district in Jessamine County as payback for not switching political parties.

But on Thursday, Louisville Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne stepped down from his chairmanship of the committee because he said Stumbo refused to allow Meyer to be subpoenaed.

“I undertook this assignment with the understanding the inquiry was to be independent, thorough, objective and fair,” Wayne said in a statement. “It now appears the Speaker’s granting of the committee’s power to subpoena witnesses was conditional, making our efforts to arrive at the truth regarding charges against the governor impossible. In short, we are asked to do a job without all the tools necessary to do it.”

Wayne resigned from the committee during a scheduled meeting on Thursday. Covington Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson moved to dissolve the committee but the group didn’t have enough members present to form a quorum.

First reported by CNHI, in August, Meyer released a voicemail that Bevin left on his phone in which the governor said he was “disappointed” by Meyer’s refusal to switch parties and that he wanted Meyer to understand how “you, your seat, your district” would be impacted.

Meyer claimed that Bevin froze the $11 million East Brannon Road project in Jessamine County as payback for not becoming a Republican late last year, a move that would have helped Republicans take control of the state House of Representatives ahead of last year’s legislative session.

Bevin maintains that the project was frozen because it was rushed at the end of the Beshear administration before the proper right-of-way had been obtained by the state. The state had to pay the company awarded the contract a $625,000 penalty for delaying project.

On Thursday, via Twitter, the governor applauded the dissolution of the investigatory committee.

“Kangaroo court assembled by @SpeakerStumbo too incompetent to even disband themselves but sure love the extra $$ they take from taxpayers,” Bevin Tweeted.

Stumbo said he would have approved subpoenas levied at state transportation officials who might know more about why the project was frozen.

“I do expect a report from them from the limited amount of testimony that they took and I’m sorry that they went off on the tangent that they did,” Stumbo said on Thursday.

Bevin’s office argued that the committee didn’t have the authority to issue subpoenas while the legislature isn’t in session.

Republicans won a majority of seats in the state House for the first time in 95 years, unseating 17 Democratic incumbents, including Stumbo.

Incoming House Speaker Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown, would have the opportunity to continue the investigation but it’s unlikely.

Stumbo encouraged his successor to do so.

“It’s unheard of that a legislative committee can’t get state employees to come and testify about state business," Stumbo said. "It’s a violation in my judgement of legislative oversight and authority and it impedes, I think, the independence of the legislature."

The next legislative session starts Jan. 3, 2017.