FRANKFORT, Ky. -- When the Kentucky governor's chief of staff authorized the firing of a top aide to the lieutenant governor he "overstepped his boundaries," Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton said Tuesday, ratcheting up an unsettling election-year dispute for Republicans.
"Every Kentuckian should be concerned that an unelected bureaucrat appears to have power over the office of the lieutenant governor, a constitutional officer duly elected by the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Hampton said in a sharply worded statement.
Gov. Matt Bevin's chief of staff, Blake Brickman, recently told the Courier Journal he authorized the firing of Hampton's deputy chief of staff, Adrienne Southworth, saying she repeatedly demonstrated poor judgment.
Hampton on Tuesday called it an "unauthorized personnel action" and said: "Brickman has clearly overstepped his boundaries."
Bevin's office didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.
The Republican governor dropped Hampton from his ticket in January as he launched his reelection campaign. Hampton, who has strong support among tea party activists, lobbied Bevin to keep her as his running mate but has said little publicly about her removal from the ticket.
But the dismissal of her top deputy intensified her fight with Bevin's administration over staffing shake-ups in her office. Democrats have tried to portray the dispute as a sign that the GOP is splintered as Bevin seeks a second term in Republican-leaning Kentucky. Bevin is being challenged by Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in this year's November election.
Brickman told the Courier Journal recently that Southworth wasn't meeting the "high standard" of Bevin's administration. Brickman's statement to the Louisville newspaper said Southworth was terminated for multiple reasons, including repeated and unauthorized efforts to lobby state legislators in "an effort to pass legislation that provides more leniency for convicted sex offenders who violate their parole" in addition to misusing state property.
Southworth disputed Brickman's reasons, saying she never advocated for leniency for sex offenders who violated parole and hasn't misused state property.
Hampton said Tuesday she was "perplexed by the vacuous decision" to deprive her of her staff. She added: "But after watching politics for over 45 years, I am not surprised by the false allegations and character attacks which have ensued."
Bevin's administration has not responded to her requests to reinstate Southworth and to provide details of the termination order, she said.
"In doing so, they have denied me the privilege every other constitutional officer possesses — control of my own team," Hampton said.
The lieutenant governor continued to say that she intends to defy the dismissal.
Southworth will continue to assist her, tracking her time until she's officially reinstated so she can receive back pay, Hampton said.
The issue erupted late last month, following Southworth's dismissal, when Hampton sent a tweet asking for prayers in her fight against "dark forces." Hampton has praised Southworth's "stellar" work in constituent services and in tracking bills considered by state lawmakers.
On Tuesday, Hampton thanked the "many Prayer Warriors praying on my behalf," and ended her lengthy statement with a Bible verse that includes: "The Lord is my strength and my shield."