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Commentary: Matt Bevin's Appalling Exit

matt bevin
Timothy D. Easley
The then-governor in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

If you want to know what kind of person the former Kentucky governor really is, read on.

Be warned, though, you may feel dirty after doing so and want to take a shower immediately.

The truth is not pretty.

Defeated by a handful of votes on Nov. 5, the Republican Bevin had to leave office last week and turn over the reins of Kentucky government to Democrat Andy Beshear, the former attorney general and son of former Gov. Steve Beshear.

But before he left Frankfort for good Friday, he left behind a trail of 428 last-minute pardons and commutations to criminals – including many extremely violent rapists and murderers – that tell a very sordid tale of who the former governor considered worthy of freedom.

Some of them will turn your stomach: 

  • He pardoned and commuted the sentences of Patrick Baker, convicted of reckless homicide in 2017. The Louisville Courier Journal reported that Baker's brother and sister-in-law held a fundraiser for Bevin's gubernatorial campaign, raising $21,500 that went directly into Bevin's pocket as payment on a loan he made to his own campaign. Baker served two years of a 19-year prison sentence while his co-defendants are still in prison.
  • Bevin pardoned and commuted the sentences of Dayton Jones, who was convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
  • He pardoned Micah Schoettle, convicted in 2018 of repeatedly raping a Kenton County girl since she was nine years old.
  • Another pardon went to Delmar Partin, who was convicted of beheading a woman and stuffing her body in a barrel.
  • Also pardoned was Kathy Harless of Grayson County, who gave birth to a baby son in the outhouse of a flea market and murdered the newborn by throwing him in a cesspool.
  • Then there was Daniel Scott Grubb, who said he was drunk when he murdered Jeremy Johnson by throwing a cinder block at him. When he found Johnson's body the next day, he panicked and found a friend to help him bury the corpse.

And on and on and on it goes.
This horrific list – which Bevin is defending, loudly – came out shortly after the new governor, Andy Beshear, signed an order giving the right to vote and run for office to 140,000 non-violent offenders who have done their time for their crimes.

It was an order that his father, former governor Steve Beshear had signed years ago.

One of the first things Bevin did after taking office in late 2015 was to overturn Steve Beshear's order.

Before Andy Beshear's executive order last week, Kentucky was one of only two states with a lifetime ban on felons voting.

Now there is only Iowa. 

I happened to be watching social media Friday as word spread of Beshear granting voting rights to non-violent felons.

On Facebook and Twitter, conservative voters – mostly Trump supporters – were all over Beshear claiming he was just trying to create more voters for Democratic candidates in 2020 – voters who would be highly unlikely to back either Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After the news of the Bevin pardons came out, it was crickets on social media from the Bevin/Trump crowd. Complete radio silence.

But the reaction from most major Republican political figures in the Commonwealth was the same as the reaction of anyone else who read the details – complete revulsion and disgust.

Mitch McConnell himself weighed in from Washington, calling the pardons "completely inappropriate."

Kentucky's Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, has called for a U.S. Attorney's investigation into some of the pardons – specifically ones where there may be political connections between Bevin and the people pardoned.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, was the running mate of gubernatorial candidate James Comer, who took on Bevin in the 2015 GOP primary and lost by only 83 votes.

Now, McDaniel, in light of the Bevin pardons, is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would deny a Kentucky governor the right to issue pardons 30 days before a gubernatorial election or between the election and the swearing-in of a new governor.

"I'm not saying we should take away the power of pardon,'' McDaniel said. "But I do believe we should make governors accountable to the voters for the pardons they issue. That's not the case here."

To get his constitutional amendment passed, McDaniel would have to have a 60% vote from both the House and the Senate to place it on the statewide ballot.

"I'd hope we can let people vote on it in November 2020,'' McDaniel said.

In the meantime, Bevin has been trying to defend himself.

Friday afternoon, as the pardons were creating a firestorm from his detractors, Bevin took to Twitter and fired off a barrage of tweets in defense of what he did.

"Not one person receiving a pardon would I not welcome as a co-worker or to sit beside me or any member of my family in a church pew or a public event,'' Bevin tweeted.

"The myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision-making process are both highly offensive and entirely false."

There is nothing wrong with believing in the redemption of souls, but, in the case of rapists and murderers, that should probably come from a higher authority than a defeated governor of Kentucky.

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.