Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Kentucky Politics - the Damnedest?

It’s unlikely that even Kentucky – at least government-wise – has formerly been through what it has experienced in the last few years. Starting during the previous governor’s term, the legislature made it a habit not to pass a budget, so Paul Patton was left to approve the checks and carry on business according to his own design. This habit on the part of the legislature continued into Governor Fletcher’s term, leaving him to do the same, notwithstanding that the state Constitution mandates the passing of a budget by the legislature during each biennium. In the legislative session just ended, and after a court ruling necessitating it, the legislature finally passed a budget at the right time. The legislatures’ dereliction of duty – fueled, as always, by 138 sets of eyes on the next election cycle – was reprehensible and actually points to malfeasance.

The peccadilloes – personal and otherwise – of Governor Patton, some of which replicated by Governor Fletcher, also point to malfeasance, though corruption in state government is more expected than surprising in Kentucky. Patton came upon hard times personally when his dalliance with a woman not his wife became a matter of public awareness. It was a disgusting affair of trysts in motels and was also fraught with overtones of favoritism and outright corruption. Then, Patton, shortly before leaving office, managed to pardon four indicted persons – two in his administration and two in Louisville’s union-labor infrastructure – for crimes that amounted to felonies (vote fraud) and for which significant prison time could be expected upon convictions. He obviously could not risk testimony that could touch him.

Governor Fletcher has not been beset by personal problems, but he has gone down the “pardon road” regarding indicted officials, thus removing a number of players in his administration from the threat of – almost entirely – simple misdemeanors, malfeasances involved with awarding positions in state government. His pardoned colleagues, most or all of whom he has fired, played fast and loose with the system, just as the democrats had been doing for decades…but the republicans got caught, mostly on the evidence connected with – of all things – e-mails.

It hasn’t helped that the logic connected with the misdemeanors would have meant that a handful of matters that should have been brought to the attention of some personnel or ethics agencies in the government was turned on its head, with the matters actually going to the office of the Attorney General, instead. Attorney General Stumbo has made it clear that he would be interested in running for the governor’s seat in 2007 if the current governor should become “unpopular.” He seems to be seeing that the governor does, in fact, become unpopular, running an essentially “misdemeanor-show” out of his office.

After about a year of thrashing about and seeing much of his work go up in the smoke of pardons, with the State Supreme Court making the pardons practically tamper-proof future-wise, the A-G has finally gotten around to indicting the governor himself. So, is the governor’s popularity on the wane? Of course! One wonders if plans were made in advance for the prosecutions by the A-G, who had run the House for years, knew exactly what to expect from an incoming administration – whether democrat or republican – and just set everyone up. Only the “Shadow” knows, but the betting is that there’s a smoking gun somewhere and that it will never be discovered, but, if so, probably would smell only of “politics as usual” rather than illegalities.

It can and does become weirder. Governor Fletcher recently took himself off to Florida for a vacation, so Lieutenant Governor Pence did what any lieutenant governor worth his salt might do – announced that he will not run on the ticket for reelection with the governor in 2007, and threw in his resignation as chief of the Justice Department, in the bargain, effective 31 July. He has not definitely ruled out running for the gubernatorial spot in 2007. Coincidence? According to the State Constitution (Sec. 72), “… The duties of the Lieutenant Governor shall be prescribed by law, and he shall have such other duties as delegated by the Governor.” So, did the lieutenant governor, by quitting the job assigned to him by the governor, actually betray his Constitutional responsibilities? Of course, the lieutenant governor was a federal prosecutor who sent a gaggle of elected officials and bureaucrats (mostly democrats) to the Big House (the speaker for quite a long time) in the early 1990s, so – give him credit – he may actually have been offended by the pardons. The plot thickens.

That was enough politics for a while, but the governor, basking in the sun before the hurricanes made their annual hit on Florida and not liking what he heard, suggested that the lieutenant governor consider resigning his post, notwithstanding that the post is a Constitutional office and that he, though part of a ticket headed by the governor, was elected actually by the people in 2003. The lieutenant governor declined, of course, so Governor Fletcher left his vacation temporarily to visit the state republican-party central-committee clambake held last week and announced that a new candidate for the second spot was already lined up and ready to go. The new candidate, Robbie Rudolph, just happened to be in charge of the state’s finances (a job he will give up) and executive secretary of the Cabinet. His being wealthy didn’t hurt the cause, either. He is a proven “giver,” having contributed almost $350,000 to the opposing/losing campaign featuring him as the lieutenant governor candidate in 2003.

Politics in Kentucky may or may not be the damnedest in the country, but they must be near the top (or bottom) in that category. The governor, having vowed not to pardon himself, has his lawyers motioning in court to have the AG removed from prosecuting him, but the matter hasn’t been resolved, and the truth probably is that most folks wish the whole nine yards would just go away. In any case, the year 2007 will be great for entertainment value. With the lieutenant governor and the attorney general possibly snapping at his heels (though the AG carries heavy baggage – palimony stuff, for one type), the governor and his new running mate are at least off to a start. Of course, the money already raised for a Fletcher-Pence campaign may now be in dispute, so what is there to do? Stay tuned.

Oh yes…at first the governor said he had no plans to fire the lieutenant governor from his post as Justice chief…then, a few days later, did just that – fired him.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

No comments: