Friday, December 22, 2006

Stumbo Learns Hard Lesson: Choices Have Consequences

Shortly after Ernie Fletcher shocked the commonwealth and frustrated the state's Democrat-sympathizing major newspapers by winning the 2003 governor's race, those papers started trying to identify Democrats that might try to unseat Fletcher in four years.

Naturally, they turned to the Democrats who were elected to statewide office, including one who has long been known to covet the Governor's Mansion.

Greg Stumbo, the former legislator from Floyd County who was elected attorney general, said he had no plans to run for governor unless Fletcher became "wildly unpopular."

Several months later, when Transportation Cabinet employee Doug Doerting came to Stumbo with supposed evidence of wrongdoing in merit system personnel decisions, Stumbo had several options.

He could have referred Doerting to the Personnel Board and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, the two state agencies that traditionally had handled such claims.

Or, he could have turned over the evidence to the Franklin County attorney, who generally is the official with the authority and ability to investigate misdemeanors.

Instead, Stumbo chose the option that was guaranteed to benefit him the most politically. By having his office take on the investigation, Stumbo himself became the vehicle by which Fletcher became "wildly unpopular," thus opening the door for Stumbo's run.

Actions have consequences, though, as Stumbo is finding out. By choosing what he thought was the most politically beneficial course, he may have inadvertently torpedoed his bid for governor.

The ethics commission was right to rule that a potential conflict of interest existed if Stumbo ran for Fletcher's office while the investigation was ongoing.

And the commission is right to raise the point that one of Stumbo's main campaign platforms -- that Fletcher was indicted for violating the state's civil service laws -- came about only because Stumbo's office investigated, even if Stumbo did eventually drop the charges with prejudice.

From the start, the pundits have claimed that Stumbo politically outmaneuvered Fletcher and his advisers regarding the investigation. That may be true. Fletcher himself admits that he's not politically minded, and many of his supporters say his strong point is policy, not politics. (We agree with that assessment).

But this time, Stumbo may have maneuvered himself into a corner. He is already crying about his civil rights being abridged by not being allowed to run for office, but he won't get very far if he presses that case. Lots of people are precluded from running for specific offices. Merit employees can't run for partisan positions. School superintendents can't run for county judge. Dana Stephenson and Hunter Bates had compelling arguments regarding their residency and eligibility to run for office. And felons can't run for anything.

Was Stumbo too smart by half this time? Already his investigation is seen as a political power play. Even the Courier-Journal made a half-hearted reference to it earlier this week in an editorial.

All along, the pundits have said he was a step ahead of Fletcher. This time, he may have tripped up.

Actions and choices have consequences, Mr. Stumbo. You're learning that lesson the hard way. Come back in five years, when Fletcher won't be on the ballot, and run then. The merit system investigation won't be an issue then. But your status as a former deadbeat dad will still very much be a factor in your campaign.


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