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There's A Growing Rift In Kentucky Between The Governor And His No. 2


Now to Kentucky and a growing rift between the governor and his number two. Both Governor Matt Bevin and Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton are Republicans. Both rode a wave of Tea Party support into office four years ago. Now Governor Bevin is running for reelection. He has not asked Hampton to be his running mate. What's more, he has fired most of her staff, and then she fired off a tweet. Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton has the story.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: On May 31, Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton mystified her Twitter followers, calling prayer warriors, Hampton wrote. She said her deputy chief of staff had been fired against her wishes. Pray for me, she said, as I battle dark forces. Hampton has declined interviews about what's going on in her office and what she means when she says dark forces. The Louisville Courier-Journal interviewed that chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth, after she was fired.

ADRIENNE SOUTHWORTH: If the people only understood the rank injustice of our system, there would be a revolution before morning. That's not something I said. That's something that Andrew Jackson said in 1828.

BARTON: Governor Matt Bevin's chief of staff said he authorized Southworth's firing because she had misused state property and lobbied the legislature without permission from the Bevin administration. But Lieutenant Governor Hampton says he overstepped his authority over her office, which technically doesn't have any power in Kentucky, except to fill in if the governor dies or is incapacitated. Meanwhile, Bevin says that he and Hampton get along fine.

MATT BEVIN: All of this supposed angst that exists between the two of us - have any of you ever witnessed or heard any of that? Have you ever heard me say one negative thing about her or her one negative thing about me? No, it's all rumors and things that you all gin up or hypothesize on.

BARTON: Lieutenant Governor Hampton is the first African American to serve in statewide office in Kentucky. Before she was elected, she was a political newcomer but had some powerful friends. She's from Bowling Green, hometown of U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who endorsed her in a failed run for the state legislature in 2014. And she's very popular among Kentucky's Tea Party activists like Scott Hofstra, who's the spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party.

SCOTT HOFSTRA: We're very disappointed that folks within the Bevin administration would do something like that to her. As much good as the governor has done for the state, that kind of leaves a black eye on his administration.

BARTON: Running for reelection this year, Bevin carries a low approval rating after a series of gaffes and inflammatory comments about teachers. Bevin first appeared on the political scene in 2013, when he challenged then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a primary election.


BEVIN: Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Senator. They toll for you.

BARTON: He was the Tea Party favorite, but McConnell crushed him by about 25 points. Bevin came back in 2015 and ended up becoming the third Republican governor of Kentucky since World War II. He dropped Hampton as his running mate this year, instead choosing state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who Republicans think is a rising star. Hofstra, with the United Kentucky Tea Party, lamented the decision, saying Bevin owes much of his success to Hampton's supporters.

HOFSTRA: Now a lot of those folks feel like the attacks on Jenean are just throwing them under the bus as well.

BARTON: Rand Paul went to Hampton's defense as well in an interview with Spectrum News.


RAND PAUL: It's perplexing to me, and I wish it were better. And I think she deserves to be treated with respect, and that's all I would say.

BARTON: Democrats think they have a chance to win back the governor's mansion in Kentucky. And a Morning Consult poll shows Bevin is the most unpopular governor in America. When asked what he thinks Hampton meant when she said dark forces, Bevin said he didn't know.

BEVIN: That's a pretty nebulous term that I don't want to try to define. You'd have to ask her what that means. I - you know, you could ask - every one of us could give a different answer to what that might mean.

BARTON: For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Frankfort, Ky.

(SOUNDBITE OF GAUSSIAN CURVE'S "TOR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.