Their request comes as Beshear ramps up his bid for a second term this year in a state Republicans have come to dominate. A dozen Republicans are competing for a shot at trying to unseat Beshear.
Such a broad-based records request isn't uncommon among political operatives.
The Kentucky GOP wants to dig into pandemic-era correspondence received or sent by Beshear and key administration members. They've asked for communications about school closures, remote learning and nontraditional instruction.
The GOP's request late last year for the correspondence was denied by the governor's office, saying it failed to “precisely describe identifiable records.” The case then landed in the state attorney general’s office, which issues legally binding decisions in open records disputes.
That added to the already considerable political underpinnings of the case, since Attorney General Daniel Cameron is among the Republicans running for governor. Cameron recused himself from the case, but his office said it's required to adjudicate open records disputes under state law.
The attorney general’s office weighed in this week. It said the governor’s office violated state open records law by not turning over sought-after correspondence, which drew a vigorous objection from Beshear's side. The conclusion by Cameron's office was based on a revised records request more narrow in scope — a development to which the governor's office didn't have a chance to respond, Beshear's spokeswoman claimed.
In denying the request, the governor’s office suggested the pursuit of any correspondence related to the school closure-related issues was overly broad. Cameron’s office said the state GOP “clarified” on appeal that Beshear’s office could satisfy the request by searching email accounts of individuals named and using specific search terms.
Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley contended “the rules of the game” were changed during the GOP’s appeal to the attorney general’s office.
“Our office was never given the opportunity to respond to the specific request they (the attorney general’s office) ruled on,” she said in a statement.
Kentucky Republican Party spokesman Sean Southard countered that it's Beshear's office that is “playing politics with government transparency."
Southard said the GOP records request was about accountability.
“Andy Beshear continues to escape scrutiny for how he and his team made decisions related to school closures during the pandemic," he said.
The pandemic caused learning setbacks for many schoolchildren. Test scores released last fall showed fewer than half of Kentucky students tested were reading at grade level. Even lower across-the-board scores were posted in math, science and social studies.
“After presiding over historic learning loss for students, doesn’t Andy Beshear owe parents transparency about who was advising him and how he made decisions?” Southard said.