Hampton pushes back on reasons for being dropped from ticket

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton pushed back Friday against Gov. Matt Bevin's explanation for dropping her from his reelection ticket, saying she was unaware of any disagreements about her priorities until the governor discussed their political split at a tea party meeting.

The Republican governor told tea party activists meeting Thursday in Louisville that he and Hampton didn't see eye to eye on where Hampton's time was best spent, the Courier Journal reported.

Hampton, who has sued Bevin for the firing of her two top assistants earlier this year, staunchly defended her work as lieutenant governor and said she was unaware of any concerns about her priorities in office.

"Before last night, Governor Bevin has never expressed any disagreement or concern to me over how I have prioritized my efforts to serve Kentucky, nor have my activities run counter to our administration," Hampton said in a statement.

The rift between Bevin and Hampton has complicated the governor's efforts to win a second term. Bevin is locked in a tough race against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in Kentucky's Nov. 5 election.

Bevin picked Hampton as his running mate four years ago, and she made history as the first black person elected to statewide office in Kentucky. She lobbied him to keep her on the ticket this year, but he dropped her in favor of state Sen. Ralph Alvarado.

Hampton has strong support among tea party activists, and some have come to her defense.

Bevin was asked about Hampton at the tea party gathering Thursday. The governor praised her for doing a good job as lieutenant governor but added that "the things she wants to focus on are not the things that I've mentioned as we look forward," the Courier Journal reported.

The governor mentioned her record of speaking to students, calling it "awesome" but saying such duties "can be done in a lot of other capacities besides lieutenant governor," the Louisville newspaper reported.

Hampton responded Friday that there's "immeasurable value" in nurturing Kentucky's students and encouraging them to "dream beyond their circumstances." Hampton has traveled the state to meet with school groups while promoting entrepreneurship and science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Another of her initiatives has been to prevent youth suicides.

The governor also told the tea party group that he wants a lieutenant governor who digs deeper into issues such as health care or the opioid crisis, the Courier Journal reported.

Hampton took issue with the governor on that front as well.

"I invite the governor to review my own history and resume and refresh his memory as to why he asked me to be his running mate in 2015," she said in her statement. "That history shows that I've never been afraid to look adversity in the eye and take on challenges, nor am I unwilling to do so now."

Hampton has been mostly tight-lipped about being dropped from the Republican ticket, but she told reporters this summer that Bevin told her he wanted someone with legislative experience.

In her extraordinary lawsuit against the governor, Hampton is seeking the reinstatement of her chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. Her assistants were fired by Bevin's administration without her consent earlier this year. Her lawsuit seeks a ruling declaring that the lieutenant governor, as a constitutionally elected official, is empowered under law to hire and fire staff members in the office. A judge denied Hampton's request for a temporary injunction to stop the firings, but a hearing in is scheduled for Oct. 18.

At a hearing in the case, Bevin's lawyer described the dispute as a minor disagreement among friends. Hampton disputed that characterization, telling reporters afterward: "My friends don't treat me this way."

Despite the lawsuit, Hampton said after the hearing that she supports the governor's reelection.

But Beshear's campaign has tried to capitalize on the internal Republican strife.

"Matt Bevin is admitting he dropped his lieutenant governor because she wanted to prioritize 'going into schools and talking to kids,'" Beshear's running mate, educator Jacqueline Coleman, said in a statement Friday. "As a teacher my entire adult life, that's been my job, and you can bet I'll keep doing that as lieutenant governor, too. Public education will be our top priority."

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Information from: Courier Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

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