Throughout my tenure as a member of the Kentucky General Assembly, I have often told new members that one of the best parts of the position is the friendships they will develop with fellow legislators, of all political persuasions, as they bond through their genuine desire to see our Commonwealth improve. There, of course, may be occasional political and philosophical differences on how to achieve that, but, at the end of the day we can all recognize that the vast majority of legislators have those purest of motives as the driving force in their public service.
Since first elected, I have had the pleasure of getting to know many men and women who have served in the same capacity. There have been many wonderful people, but no finer of individuals than Rep. John Tilley and Rep. Denny Butler. That is why it pained me to see the integrity of these two gentlemen called into question and their character impugned by Speaker Greg Stumbo over recent decisions of theirs.
Rep. Tilley has repeatedly received national acclaim for his work with judicial legislation. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he has been a leading advocate for criminal justice reform and legislation to combat the ever-changing world of substance abuse issues. He has been a participant in multiple national panels, including ones with the U.S. Attorney General, on juvenile justice reform issues. Without question, Rep. Tilley is one of our state’s leading experts on justice issues. Governor Bevin recognized that and offered him the position of Secretary of the Justice Cabinet. The fact such an offer was made and that Rep. Tilley accepted is evidence that both of these gentlemen are willing to set aside partisan difference to work for the betterment of Kentucky.
Likewise, Rep. Denny Butler has quickly become a leader in Frankfort. A retired decorated homicide detective with the Louisville police department, Rep. Butler has quickly taken on the charge of legislative issues dealing with our first responders. He has been a tireless advocate for more transparency and ending wasteful spending that could be better be used for additional training and financial resources for law enforcement and fire protection. He may have recently switched his political affiliation, but a person like Rep. Butler develops his character independent of partisan politics.
A change of party affiliation and gubernatorial appointments of legislators is nothing new in Frankfort, nor any other state. And both occur irrespective of what party is in office. Governor Beshear appointed several well-qualified Republican legislators to offices, as Governor Bevin has done with Rep. Tilley. Former Republican legislators like Rep. Milward Dedman and Rep. Melvin Henley switched to be Democrats. While I would have preferred they remain Republicans, I never questioned their character or made derogatory statements about them because I knew them both to be fine, upstanding people. Today, I still consider both of them personal friends, as well as friends to their communities.
So when the Speaker of the House makes public comments stating legislators such as Rep. Tilley and Rep. Butler are “for sale,” that the only motivation for their decisions was financial, and insinuating that their actions were criminal is beyond disheartening. I find such statements to be slanderous and believe the intent behind them to be nothing more than defamation of these gentlemen’s impeccable character. Speaker Stumbo owes each of them, as well as the General Assembly as a whole, a public apology for making such statements.
There is a time for political posturing. I understand that. But questioning the character and integrity of legislators like Rep. Tilley and Rep. Butler is not politics. It is unfounded, unjustified and an egregiously unnecessary personal attack. It is just simply wrong. As Governor Bevin said during his recent inaugural address, “We are better than that.” Or, at least, we should be.
Jeff Hoover is the Republican Floor Leader in the Kentucky House of Representatives.