FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's Republican governor ran into turbulence over his use of taxpayer-owned aircraft, creating another distraction for a reelection campaign already dogged by feuds with teachers, struggles over state pensions and a legal fight with his lieutenant governor.
Gov. Matt Bevin tried to defuse the air travel controversy late Thursday by having his office release a log disclosing the purposes of his official trips on state-owned aircraft. Bevin's office said the disclosure goes beyond what Kentucky law requires. But the state Democratic Party called it a stunt because it does not address his use of state aircraft for political and personal trips.
The log, which you can read at the bottom of this article, shows the purposes for more than 140 flights Bevin took as governor. The reasons include business recruitment, policy conferences, community forums and meetings with White House officials. Bevin's office called it an "unprecedented move to further transparency."
"Since the start of our administration, we have been 100% committed to financial integrity and to ensuring that we are good stewards of taxpayer resources," Bevin said in a statement. “This was, unfortunately, not the case under previous governors. Although it has not been required, or even asked, of previous administrations, we are very happy to release documentation showing the purpose of official travel so that taxpayers can have full confidence that state resources are supporting official travel to further economic development, business expansion, attracting tourism, and other key initiatives undertaken by our administration. Taxpayers deserve nothing less from any of their elected officials.”
Bevin's critics said the list failed to document trips taken on state aircraft by the governor for political purposes and other reasons unrelated to his duties as governor. Kentucky Democratic Party spokeswoman Marisa McNee called the log's release a stunt.
"The governor needs to stop hiding the ball and show Kentuckians the respect they deserve," she said in a statement. "This is our plane and we deserve straight-forward answers about where he is flying it and why, including all personal and political travel."
Bevin has worked to make himself a national player in conservative Republican circles, and he is in a tough reelection fight against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of Steve Beshear, a former two-term governor who preceded Bevin in office.
Looking to capitalize on the controversy, Andy Beshear said Friday that if elected he will disclose the purpose and funding for every trip he takes on state aircraft, telling Kentuckians: "It is your property and your business to know how your governor uses it."
"The fact that he responded with this log shows that they're feeling the heat," longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said Friday.
Bevin's office said Thursday that his use of state-owned aircraft has fully complied with state law, including reimbursements for unofficial trips. Past governors also used state-owned aircraft for personal or political purposes, with the same reimbursement requirement.
The Lexington Herald-Leader noted that in 2011, Steve Beshear refused to disclose why he took certain trips on the state plane that were reimbursed by the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, Bevin used a state-owned plane to fly to Wisconsin, Chicago and Miami in July and August for reasons that have not been disclosed, the Courier Journal reported, citing state police flight logs and other public records. Bevin's list also does not include the purpose and location of more than 10 trips taken from late February through April, including flights to Washington, D.C., Lynchburg, Va., St. Simons Island in Georgia and Indianapolis, plus seven different political campaign events throughout Kentucky, the Louisville newspaper reported.
Bevin said that he has either paid himself or had outside organizations pick up the tab when he used state-owned aircraft for personal reasons.
"The information is out there," Bevin told the Bowling Green Daily News. "The people can see all of the flights that have been taken and can see where the money came from."
But the governor also added: "The real question is: Why does it matter what the purpose (of the trip) is? Did taxpayers pay for it? If they did, then they should know the purpose. If they didn't pay for it, it's none of their business."
The Kentucky governor's race is being watched closely heading into the 2020 elections.
You can read the entire list from Governor Bevin's office below: (If viewing on a mobile app, click the link to see additional content.)