Records case leads to rare deal between Kentucky’s political rivals

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A public affair led to a rare agreement Friday between the Kentucky Democratic Party and Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron in a legal dispute fraught with race-related innuendos of the governor next year.

Cameron’s office concluded that the state Department of Agriculture violated the Kentucky Open Records Act by failing to respond to a request for records from the Democratic Party. The decision involved likely opponents in the 2023 gubernatorial race – which has already threatened to eclipse this year’s US Senate and Congressional contests.

The Agriculture Department is headed by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who officially entered the gubernatorial race this week. His campaign rivals include Cameron, who filed papers last month signaling his bid for governor in what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the state’s top political office. The Democratic Party frequently criticizes Quarles and Cameron, who both want to overthrow Democratic Governor Andy Beshear.

On Friday, at least, Democrats were trumpeting the decision from Cameron’s office publicly. They made no mention of their obvious interest in a contentious Republican gubernatorial primary, which could benefit Beshear when he meets the winner in a general election bid for a second term.

The Department of Agriculture said late Friday that it had no plans to appeal the decision, and a spokesperson for Quarles said the Democrats’ search for information was politically motivated, ” confirming “that the agriculture commissioner” is their biggest threat” in 2023.

The case stems from a request for documents wanted by Democrats related to litigation involving Quarles or the Agriculture Department. The request, which sought emails and text messages generated or sent to government-owned email accounts and cellphones as well as non-government email accounts and cellphones, was made by the Party’s executive director State Democrat Sebastian Kitchen.

His first request was made in February. The Department of Agriculture said it would not provide records protected by solicitor-client privilege. He asked Kitchen to clarify which litigation he was referring to in his request. Kitchen declined and submitted a new request on April 20.

The Democratic executive branch solicited emails and text messages related to any litigation involving the department during Quarles’ tenure as agriculture commissioner. The department did not respond to the follow-up request, and the Democratic Party appealed to the attorney general’s office.

The AG’s ruling, dated Thursday, said the department violated the state’s open records law by not responding to the April 20 request for records. The ruling also said the department did not commit a violation when it sought clarification on the original February request.

The Democratic Party responded with a press release touting the AG’s opinion and slamming Quarles. The statement said Cameron “agreed” with the party that the Agriculture Department violated the Open Records Act.

“The public has a right to know how Ryan Quarles spends his tax money and why he is in court,” Kitchen said in a follow-up statement.

Offering a starkly different assessment, the Agriculture Department said the AG’s decision shows that “politically motivated cronies cannot file vague, imprecise and baseless claims.”

Under state law, opinions issued by the Attorney General on public records and open meeting matters have the force of law unless appealed to a circuit court.

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