Kentucky Politics...Stinking, as Usual

The enormity of Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo’s profligacy in his sordid but botched hatchet job on Governor Fletcher in the so-called “merit scandal” affair is brought home on a daily basis as he cavorts around the state campaigning for the Lunsford/Stumbo gubernatorial ticket. Obviously, Lunsford brings the money to the effort, but what does Stumbo bring? Nothing. Fellow democrat Lunsford is a wealthy businessman who dropped $8 million in the last gubernatorial cycle, then dropped out of the race and supported the republican, Ernie Fletcher, who won.

As has been pointed out before, Stumbo went on the record years ago in stating that he would be interested in the governor’s chair if Fletcher ever became “wildly unpopular.” Strangely, instead of running for that position or even running to succeed himself, he’s the number two guy headed for almost certain political oblivion if the L/S combine fails to make it…as it most likely will. The fact that he, instead of allowing a personnel matter to go before the proper agencies, decided to make the governor become “wildly unpopular” by chasing it through his office speaks volumes for itself. Almost the only “crimes” committed, if any were, are classified as misdemeanors.

As did former governors before Fletcher, Patton, Jones, and Wilkinson, Stumbo probably hopes to vault from the number two spot to the top spot, though one wonders, assuming an L/S victory, when Lunsford might be ready to let that happen – four years from now or eight? Stumbo’s smart in using Lunsford’s money to do this, whereas the others had to buy their own way in. Wilkinson introduced the new wrinkle of getting back his ante with interest. Jones spent what seemed like his entire term getting back his investment, the illegal procuring of part of which eventuated in a supporter going to the Big House for 15 months.

Both of Governor Fletcher’s opponents in the Primary began their campaigns on the premise that Fletcher, because of the “merit mess” and the pardons, is unelectable. Fletcher simply pardoned those indicted by a Grand Jury, the reason being obvious. Anne Northup, former congresswoman defeated for reelection last year, hammers at this constantly. Billy Harper, a wealthy businessman who also is buying his way in, seems less strident. The fact is, however, that as Kentuckians take the time to consider seriously what happened with respect to the attempted Stumbo massacre of Fletcher they may take a different view of the pardons, perhaps comparing Stumbo’s actions as AG with those of Ben Chandler as AG with regard to the vote-buying mess in 1995. Chandler is now in the U.S. House, after losing the gubernatorial race to Fletcher in 2003.

In Fletcher’s case, the merit matter should have gone before the proper agencies (personnel, ethics) and, in any case, involved virtually nothing other than misdemeanors. In Patton’s case (the 1995 election), the voting irregularities involved felonies and fitted directly within the purview of the AG’s office. Absent the pardons, Fletcher and his people would have been drained dry in lawyers’ fees for simple misdemeanors, and most folks understand that this was probably what Stumbo was interested in, perhaps as payback for both the democrat loss of the state senate years ago and the governorship in 2003.

Former governor Patton effected the four pardons connected to his problem (two union leaders and two state officials) to foreclose probable trials that might have involved him somewhere along the way with felonies. In fact, they probably would have; otherwise, he could have left the four alleged miscreants hanging in the wind, except that they might have squealed. Conventional wisdom is that the Louisville vote was definitely tainted in 1995.

So…is it fair of Northup and Harper to insist that the governor, who has certainly done no worse in office than other governors and maybe even much better than most recent ones, to premise their campaigns on Fletcher’s un-electability? After all, Lieutenant Governor Pence bailed last June as a second-term campaigner, though, as a former prosecutor, he might be given some slack in his possible perception of the pardons as just plain wrong, no matter the circumstances. If this is the case, it is nevertheless worth noting that the power to pardon is written into the state constitution so that grievances of little or at least minor consequence or grievances obviously advanced through design can be redressed. Pence was the lead federal prosecutor in the sending of a gaggle of legislators and other state pooh-bahs to the penitentiary some 15 years ago.

The difference between the pardons granted by Fletcher and Patton is obvious. A former Tennessee governor went to the penitentiary for selling pardons, so the pardon can be misused. In the news lately has been the pardons granted by Bill Clinton on the request of two of Hillary Clinton’s brothers, one involving a “loan” of $107,000 that’s never been repaid in seven years and the other in the amount of $400,000. In Fletcher’s case, since an easily recognizable attempt to “use” the system for political purposes is the issue, the pardons were permissible and the governor should not be judged on their basis. He should be judged only on his performance.