FRANKFORT — This time they got in, into what they call “our house,” the people’s house, the Kentucky state Capitol.
Around 45 members of the Poor People’s Campaign weren’t restricted to two people at a time on Monday after an opinion issued by Attorney General Andy Beshear said that the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin had improperly implemented the restrictive policy without going through the usual administrative regulations process.
“Thank you, Attorney General — yes? Thank you God,” exclaimed Tonya Fogle of Lexington, one of the group’s tri-chairs, as she passed through a typical security check at the front entrance.
But this time she didn’t come alone. No one was turned away.
But they still faced a minor disappointment. When the group walked to the governor’s office to present Bevin with a “list of demands” and a box of toothbrushes — to symbolize those denied dental coverage by Bevin in the wake of a federal court ruling at least temporarily halting implementation of his proposed Medicaid waiver — they were met by two security guards.
When Fogle asked if they could come in or speak to the governor, one of the guards responded that no one was allowed in without an appointment. She asked if that is standard policy “or just today?” the officer answered, “Just today.”
Fogle, however, told the officers she understood that “you are just doing your job. You’ve been very cooperative, and we thank you.”
A member of Bevin’s staff came to the door and spoke with Fogle, accepting the list of demands but declining to take the toothbrushes which were placed into a box and left at the front door to the governor’s suite of offices.
The group is part of a national campaign seeking to bring attention to issues of poverty and racial, economic and environmental justice. Its members began weekly protests on Monday several weeks ago, at first blocking traffic between the Capitol and Capitol Annex and later refusing to leave the Capitol Rotunda at close of business.
Subsequently, Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders announced a new policy restricting members from entering the building in numbers more than two at a time. Sanders said the group refused to seek a permit to protest inside the building and would be allowed in if they did.
That in turn prompted state representatives Attica Scott, D-Louisville, and George Brown, D-Lexington, to seek the opinion issued by Beshear. They were later joined by more than 25 other Democratic lawmakers. That opinion does not carry the force of law, but the Bevin administration chose to follow it Monday.
At a press conference preceding their effort to enter the Capitol, the Rev. Don Gillet, a Lexington pastor and Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches and a tri-chair of the group, called the decision to halt dental and vision coverage for roughly 500,000 covered by Medicaid “cruel and unfaithful” and he called for a “moral revival” in the state and across the country.
Pam McMichael said the administration has not yet responded to its open records requests regarding how the two-by-two policy was formulated, implemented and what groups were subject to the policy. She said if there is no response soon, the group may seek relief in court.
But the group was clearly pleased with the halt Monday to the policy.
“It’s about time,” said Gillet. “It’s what we knew should’ve always occurred.”
Fogle admitted she was surprised the group was allowed in.
“I was shocked,” she said. “But at the same time, I think it was the right thing to do.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.