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Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board


Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board

Apr 16, 2024 | 3:43 pm ET
By Liam Niemeyer
Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters the Senate vetted appointees to be sure they weren't out to retaliate against Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm. (LRC Public Information)
The four Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission appointments the Senate confirmed are:
  • Jeff Raymer of Morgantown, representing the 2nd Commission District, filing a vacancy.
  • Matthew Rhodes of Prospect, representing the 3rd Commission District, filling a vacancy.
  • Charles “Chuck” Meade of Staffordsville, representing the 7th Commission District, replacing Paul Horn.
  • Walter Robinson of Russell Springs, representing the 9th Commission District, replacing Karl Clinard. 

FRANKFORT — The GOP-dominated Kentucky Senate confirmed nearly all of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s appointments to a board governing the state’s wildlife management department following pushback from sportsmen’s groups over the Senate failing to do so in past years.

Senators in the final hours of this year’s legislative session Monday confirmed four of the five appointments made by Beshear this year to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission, a nine-member board made up of volunteer hunters and anglers overseeing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). 

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters Monday evening the Senate decided to confirm the four appointments after “lots of discussion, lots of review, lots of research” — and that a priority for the Senate was protecting Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm, the department’s chief executive.  

“There was a comfort level that this would not be some type of retaliatory appointment to get rid of commissioner Storm.”

“There’s been a lot of friction between the governor and the commissioner,” Stivers said. “We think the commissioner has done a really good job in fish and wildlife.” 

Gary Greene of Greenup was the only Beshear appointee not confirmed by the Senate.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, had sponsored a resolution to confirm Greene, which the Senate did not vote on.

Stivers said he believed Greene’s social media comments about “particular members of the state Senate” led to Greene not getting confirmed. 

Greene in a Lantern interview said he hadn’t made “any political posts” on social media since he was appointed by Beshear in January. But he said he was active on social media last year supporting Beshear’s reelection, which he believed shouldn’t be a consideration of whether to confirm his appointment. 

“The bottom line is: what’s that got to do with my ability to sit there and make a rational decision to run fish and wildlife? Just because I don’t bow and kiss the ring of the Republican Party,” Greene said.

Greene said he spoke with Beshear for “about 20 minutes” in his office when he was appointed, and Storm never came up in that discussion. Greene was also appointed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to the commission in 2015, only to also not be confirmed by the Senate then.

Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board
The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) spends most of its life pecking the forest floor for food and is a “highly revered” game bird, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. (KDFWR photo)

The commission, by state law, is supposed to be bipartisan with “not more than five of the same political party” sitting on the nine-member board. 

Greene said he was disappointed with not being confirmed and that he had wanted to help protect and promote small game in Kentucky, particularly the ruffed grouse

“I feel like I’ve let a lot of people down who supported me,” Greene said.

The commission, by state law, is supposed to be bipartisan with “not more than five of the same political party” sitting on the nine-member board. 

Edwin Nighbert, the president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen representing thousands of hunters across the state, has been one of several critics of the Senate not confirming past commission appointments. Nighbert told the Lantern he was glad the Senate decided to confirm most of Beshear’s appointments. 

Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board
Edwin Nighbert (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

“That’s what the sportsmen wanted,” Nighbert said. “We can get back to doing the business and the commission do what the commission’s mission is, and that is to make the department accountable across the board.” 

Senate refusals to confirm appointments had left the nine-member board with three vacancies, which will now be down to one vacancy after Monday’s confirmation votes.

The process for appointing commission members begins in district nominating meetings of Kentuckians who hold a hunting or fishing license. The governor then appoints a commission member from the top-five vote getters at the district meetings. Finally, the Senate has to confirm that appointment.

Leadership of groups representing sportsmen and wildlife conservationists have previously accused senators of weaponizing the Senate confirmation process against the voices and votes of sportsmen, saying they have refused to confirm commission appointments for partisan political reasons, including the Senate’s desire to protect Storm who has clashed with the Beshear administration over a number of issues. The board has the power to hire, and potentially fire, a KDFWR commissioner. 

Politics swirl around who will oversee Kentucky Fish and Wildlife

Beshear’s administration and the KDFWR have fought over the length of Storm’s contract as commissioner — at one point stopping Storm’s paychecks due to the dispute  —  and over executive branch oversight of how the KDFWR implements procurement and conservation easements.   

Beshear in March urged the Senate to confirm his commission appointments, urging the Senate  to “stop protecting leadership of what I think is the most corrupt part of state government.” When asked what he thought was corrupt about the KDFWR, Beshear during a press conference that same month pointed to a special examination of the department by a former Republican state auditor in late 2018 criticizing practices and spending at the department, along with how Storm was controversially hired as commissioner in early 2019.

“If leadership in an organization only answers to you on a board, you’ve got to be an active board. You got to make sure things are running right,” Beshear said in the press conference. 

A review by the Lantern of Greene’s public Facebook posts shows he had asked  people to call senators in support of his appointment to make sure the 8th commission district isn’t left vacant, leaving hunters and anglers “without their rightful representation.” Greene also wrote posts in the past three years, before he was appointed by Beshear, criticizing the Senate for refusing to confirm past commission appointments.

Kentucky Senate confirms four of Beshear’s five appointees to Fish and Wildlife board
Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson. (LRC Public Information)

Webb, the senator who sponsored Greene’s confirmation resolution, in an interview said she was “aggrieved” Greene wasn’t confirmed believing he didn’t get a chance to talk about his social media use with senators, ideally in a public committee hearing. In past years, senators have brought forth some, but not all, commission appointments to a committee hearing to ask questions of appointments before a potential confirmation vote. 

Webb said she had a floor speech ready in case the Senate again rejected most of Beshear’s commission appointments. She said she plans to work on improving the confirmation process in an effort to avoid vacancies on the KDFWR board. 

Webb said she was relieved the Senate confirmed most of the the appointments.  

“If we would have left that much of Kentucky’s population of sportsmen go without representation, I was to going to go a little nuts,” Webb said. “I want the sportsmen to maintain a vote, maintain a voice in this, but I want everybody to do their due diligence that’s involved in the process and do it in a timely fashion to prevent vacancies.” 

Webb was a vocal opponent against a Senate bill that didn’t become law which would have stripped Beshear of his power to appoint commission members and given it to Republican Agriculture Commissioner Jonathan Shell.