Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another reason not to trust the grand jury

We've been especially critical of the grand jury that heard the "evidence" in the state personnel investigation and issued indictments against Gov. Fletcher and several of his administrators. That's because we are privy to information that reveals the biases members of that particular grand jury took into the deliberations as they considered criminal charges against the first GOP administration in this state's recent history. We know there were state merit employees on that grand jury that were negatively impacted financially because of this administration's increment policy. (We've reported that two jurors, including the forewoman, collectively between them lost out on around $25,000 the past four years because they didn't get 5 percent raises, and we know there were more merit employees on that panel). And we have heard evidence from a credible source that the majority of the grand jurors were registered Democrats.

For these stances, we've been criticized as being disrespectful of the American justice system. Our response has been, "No, we just don't respect this particular grand jury because it was tainted from the start."

After a recent incident up in the mountains, however, we're rethinking that initial response.

Before he mutinied against Fletcher and declared his loyalty to Greg Stumbo, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence criticized the merit system grand jury by using the oft-repeated phrase that a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich if he wants to. That same observation could be made against a grand jury in Perry County.

There's been an ongoing problem in the Lost Mountain area of the county about dirty highways. This is evident everywhere that coal is mined, but apparently the Perry County situation is especially bad.

We're told that after several complaints about dust in the air, coming from a dirty road, the coal company began watering down the state highway under permission from the Transportation Cabinet to abate the dust. This brought about a whole new set of complaints from people complaining about mud on the road.

It was a classic no-win situation. Water the road, and Group A complains about mud. Don't water the road, and Group B complains about the dust.

Over time, the anti-mud coalition got stronger and began registering complaints to various federal and state agencies, all of whom said nothing improper was going on. Finally, the anti-mudders took their complaints to the local prosecutor, who went before the local grand jury and obtained an indictment against the coal company for wanton endangerment. The claim was the mud on the pavement created a safety hazard.

The most telling comment about just how ridiculous this whole affair is came from a nearby business owner.

"Nobody found anything to be in violation until we went to the grand jury," he was quoted as saying in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

OK, so let's get this straight. After numerous complaints, state and federal authorities repeatedly inspected the area and found no violations. So the anti-mudders go to the local prosecutor, who sees a chance to curry a little political favor and takes the case before a group of grand jurors who hold some sympathy for their fellow Perry Countians, and an indictment is issued.

We'll take our ham sandwich with mustard and swiss cheese, please.

We find it both sad and funny that the experts, who have detailed knowledge of such things, can find no violations while the uninformed and non-expert grand jurors think a crime's being committed. If the grand jury can find a violation where the people who know best can't, then that certainly shakes our faith in the entire justice system.

And it helps confirm our point about the Fletcher personnel probe grand jury. A prosecutor with a motive can indeed indict a ham sandwich, or a Republican administration.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

He's going WHERE to do WHAT????

This afternoon, Gov. Fletcher's office announced that he will be in Prestonsburg tomorrow to announce a major renovation project at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park.

Our initial reaction was, "What? Is he crazy? Why in the world would he do that?"

As a commenter noted earlier this week, we have been staunch in our defense of the embattled governor, but on first glance this one was hard to defend, let alone understand.

You see, Jenny Wiley is located in the home county of Attorney General Greg Stumbo, the man most responsible for Gov. Fletcher's problems the last three years and the person to whom most of the credit (or blame) should go for the increasingly slim chances that Fletcher will be re-elected.

We were advocates of a "scorched earth" policy for Floyd County ever since Stumbo's office began the unprecedented personnel investigation. We felt a prudent course for the Fletcher administration to take was to shut down all state offices in the county (the usual welfare/human services offices and two state highway garages) and transfer all the workers to adjoining counties. We also felt like the administration should cease maintaining state roads in the county, cancel all highway and other capital construction contracts, and leave the state park as the only state enterprise still operating in the county -- and then make it clear that Greg Stumbo was responsible for what had happened in his home county and it was up to Stumbo as to when state services would be restored and the offices reopened.

If one of us had been governor, no way would we have OK'd a major improvement project for Jenny Wiley and we certainly wouldn't go up there to make the announcement or break ground. (Fletcher's not going to get many votes out of that overwhelmingly Democrat county anyway).

But our initial disbelief and disapproval of what it was announced today that Fletcher plans to do has turned instead to an even greater admiration of the man.

Fletcher is going into the belly of the beast (we would say "heart" but we don't think Stumbo has one) and is giving the green light to a project will benefit the home community of his biggest enemy, while gaining nothing for himself or his administration. A new and improved Jenny Wiley won't earn him a single vote in Floyd County (although adjoining Johnson and Martin counties, which have a GOP majority, may turn out some additional support for him because of this project). Fletcher is showing that he's a bigger and better person than any of our blog collaborators are.

We certainly wouldn't be doing any favors for Floyd County, considering what that county's most prominent politician has done to our governor and the rest of us conservative Republicans in Kentucky, but the fact that Gov. Fletcher is speaks volumes about him as a man. We won't forgive Floyd County for a long long time for foisting Stumbo on us, but it looks as if perhaps Ernie Fletcher already has. God bless him for that.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

KDP strong-arming pro-Fletcher Democrat local officials

How badly do the Democrats want power back in this state?

So badly that the party apparatus is threatening local officials, particularly county judge-executives, who come out in support of Gov. Fletcher's re-election.

We recently heard of this from a very highly placed and unassailable source both with the governor's office and the campaign. If you can't figure out who it is, here's a hint: He used to work in Washington, D.C. and before that, he was a doctor in Lexington.

A number of Democrat county judges, especially some of those in rural counties who were neglected for years even with Democrats in power in Frankfort, are very grateful for the attention and the projects sent their way by the Fletcher administration the last four years. They appreciate that Fletcher has keep their needs in mind, even though he could have very easily and understandably passed them by because of their political affiliation. But Fletcher didn't, and they want to repay him by supporting his re-election bid.

However, the Kentucky Democratic Party has other ideas. The KDP has sent word to these judges that if they support Fletcher, the party will recruit primary opponents for them in 2010. So they, in turn, have been very reluctant to show any kind of public support for the incumbent. They may not outwardly support Steve Beshear, and they may not vote for him themselves, but they sure aren't going to show any kind of public support for Fletcher lest the party recruit challengers and provide financial and other support to them.

Democrats who weren't happy with the leadership style of ex-party chair Jerry Lundergan said the new leadership of Jonathan Miller would be different. Sounds like the same old KDP to us, only nastier and more power-hungry and vindictive.

The truth is that the Fletcher administration indeed has taken great pains to help communities that were neglected in previous years by the state government. Most of them are Republican counties, to be sure, but there are plenty of Democrat counties that haven't gotten a fair shake because the D's wanted to shore up their support in Louisville and Lexington and Pikeville and Bowling Green. Don't think the local officials in the counties who have benefitted from this administration haven't noticed.

It's obvious there is no code of party loyalty in politics. A number of Democrats supported Fletcher four years ago (most notably Franklin County Judge-Executive Teresa Barton) and this year, there are some known quantities within the GOP who are backing Beshear. But we can't say we're fond of the goons in the KDP leadership strong-arming local officials who are only trying to do what's best for their communities, even if it means crossing political lines.

Shame on the KDP. And now we'll see if any of these Democrat county judges have enough testosterone to stand up to the KDP thugs.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A hilarious reaction

For three years now, the state's two largest papers have been relentless and never-ceasing in their attacks on Gov. Fletcher. Be it in the editorials, the opinion columns or the news sections, Fletcher has been a constant target of the Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal. While that's to be expected from the opinion purveyors, the news stories have been especially outrageous. The reporters and editors seem to take great pains to go to press with any story that might prove embarassing to the state's first Republican governor in a generation and his administration, all the while avoiding stories that might cast Fletcher in a different light. This blog has repeatedly pointed out legitimate, factual news stories that would have greatly altered the public perception of the personnel investigation and the Fletcher administration, using the same information that the big-city papers are privy to, but have been ignored by the mainstream press.

That's what makes it so funny to watch the Democrats' response to a couple of late-week stories in the Herald-Leader about Steve Beshear's role in the Kentucky Central debacle of the late 80's and early 90's. One might think they had called George McGovern or Bill Clinton the Antichrist.

Slander Nickolas over at called Alessi's first story "a hit piece." His toadies in the comments section chimed right in. The liberals who populate PolWatchers' comments area said Alessi had taken the bait, whatever that means.

If this had been a story about Ernie Fletcher having done something several years ago, the liberal bloggers and blogees would have been applauding Alessi's investigatory acumen. But since the story concerns their darling Beshear, who apparently walks on water each day before hitting the road with newly-disengaged Dr. Dan Mongiardo to campaign on a hollow campaign of restoring integrity and ethics to Frankfort, they've gone ballistic.

As for us, we're glad to see the press finally doing its job, but a story that reflects negatively on Beshear is not the same as one that reflects positively on Fletcher. The papers would have to do this type of story every day between now and the election to do the same damage to Beshear that they've done to Fletcher, and that still wouldn't make up for all the anti-Fletcher reports we've been subjected to since Doug Doerting took his ill-gotten "evidence" to Greg Stumbo in a fit of pique over not getting a hotshot job in the Transportation Cabinet.

We sure aren't going to turn into Herald-Leader fans because their political reporter has finally done his job, but we are glad to see that Beshear is finally getting some way-overdue scrutiny. He's not the ethically clean white knight the Democrats want you to believe he is. We've known that and we and other conservative bloggers have tried to spread that message, but the mainstream press needs to get its act together if that word is going to be delivered to the masses in Kentucky.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fighting back against Stumbo: It's about time!

We note with much happiness the response by David Fleenor, the governor's general counsel, to the latest politically-motivated strike by the Office of the Attorney General against Gov. Fletcher. In a statement, Fleenor said he will ask the court to impose sanctions on Greg Stumbo for his misuse of his office and the court system to further his political agenda.

It's about time. The attorney general deserves rebuke for the way he has used his office for partisan political purposes, and he deserves scorn from every intelligent Kentuckian for the way he has conducted himself both personally and professionally.

The attorney general's name is, of course, Greg Stumbo but we like much better the moniker "Scumbo" that some conservative posters have been using on other blots. The name fits perfectly. We'll rejoice when Stumbo leaves public life when his term as attorney general ends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Nickolas ignores truth in latest smear on Fletcher family

Mark Nickolas has shown that he'll stop at nothing to attack Gov. Fletcher. He won't even let the truth get in the way of a good propaganda piece.

Yesterday, the Montana resident posted on his blog what he weakly tried to fashion as a hit piece on the governor, based on contracts the architectural firm run by his brother has gotten.

Nickolas used data from the firm itself, listing prior and current projects, to insinuate that Fletcher has been illegally steering state business to his brother's company.

The only problem is that Nickolas ignores all reality in his latest smear.

Several public and private projects were listed. Of the public projects, only one was a state facility. All the rest are either projects run by local governments, school boards or regional jail boards. All of them are required to solicit bids, or RFPs, for architectural services. Even if they get state funds, as one turncoat Republican named "Weatherman" claims, the solicitation process for professional services is done as required by law and independently of state control.

And the one state project listed -- the Kentucky History Center -- was completed long before Fletcher took office. In fact, one of us here at KPac attended a reception in the Kentucky History Center on Inauguration Day in December 2003, when Fletcher took office.

Just another example of Nickolas' disingenuousness and disregard for the truth. Slime and slander seems to be SOP for him. But what else should one expect from an individual who, when asked legitimate about his funding sources by a conservative blogger who happens to be an attorney, threatens to file a complaint with the State Bar?

(By the way, Markos, where is that complaint you threatened to file against Marcus Carey and make very public? We're waiting...)

It's official: Democrats, big city papers think neglect of rural areas is OK

We aren't quite sure what former State Highway Engineer Sam Beverage was trying to prove when he alleged that the Fletcher administration has steered highway projects to Republican areas and to the districts of friendly legislators.

Beverage has been around long enough and he knows how the game is played. Before coming to Kentucky, Beverage served as the equivalent of our state's Commissioner of Highway and later Secretary of Transportation in his native West Virginia. At one time, Beverage was even a Republican candidate for governor there before bowing out of the race early on.

What's saddest about the whole deal is how the state's mainstream press and the partisan Democrat/liberal bloggers have embraced the way that rural Republican areas were neglected by the Democrat power structure that ruled Frankfort and the rest of the state for three decades.

The simple fact is that yes, areas neglected for years are finally having some attention paid to them. The rural areas in this state, especially those in the southern and eastern parts, suffer from woeful highways. Access has been improved in some areas, thanks to the Appalachian Regional Commission building highway corridors and Louie B. Nunn building the Cumberland and Daniel Boone parkways, but it's been a struggle for many of the smaller, rural GOP counties to get highway access.

So it's no surprise that our state's first Republican governor in three decades would try to reverse the years of neglect. Under Fletcher, many projects that had been shuffled to the back burner in the past have been brought back to life.

Al Cross mentioned a few of them in a column on Sunday, but there are lots more that need to be built.

And it's disingenuous for Democrats to claim that Republican counties are getting all the spoils. One of the longest-running and most hollow promises that Democrat gubernatorial candidates have made for years was that they were going to widen the two-lane portion of the Mountain Parkway to four lanes. You might think that this would have been a priority of Paul Patton, but it wasn't. Patton was more interested in getting another layer of blacktop laid on US 23 in Pike County than in improving the route Pike Countians travel to get to the Bluegrass, and vice-versa.

Yet it is Fletcher who has done more to advance the widening of the Mountain Parkway than any other governor. He fast-tracked a project to expand a segment of the route in Wolfe County, which is overwhelmingly Democrat.

We know that Louisville needs another bridge, and that Northern Kentucky probably will within the next two decades or so. But we think it's a sin and a disgrace that Democrats would rather add another lane to I-75 in Kenton County, or widen the Watterson Expressway, when there are roads in the mountains that need to be replaced for economic development and safety reasons.

And we think it's even worse when the state's largest media and the Democrats agree that neglect of rural Republican areas is a good thing and shouldn't be reversed.

Yes, please get Doerting under oath!!!

A couple of weeks ago, the Courier-Journal reported on another potential dustup between the executive branch of Gov. Ernie Fletcher and the Department of Democrat Strongarm Tactics -- we mean, the attorney general's office under Greg Stumbo -- regarding some cases currently under review by the Personnel Board.

Attorneys for the Personnel Cabinet and other agencies want to take the testimony of Transportation Cabinet retiree Doug Doerting, who started the anti-Fletcher snowball rolling by turning over "evidence" of hiring improprieties, gathered by questionable means, to Stumbo's partisan political enforcers.

The AG's office doesn't want Doerting to be put under oath and made to testify. They claim that he has already given all the relevant testimony he properly can, and they also say that forcing a whistleblower to testify will serve as a chilling effect upon other whistleblowers coming forward to reveal governmental improprieties.

As for that last argument, we call BS. Any whistleblower who claims to have evidence of wrongdoing ought to have the courage and integrity to go public with it and defend the allegations they make. And they ought to be willing to testify under oath as to what they claim has happened.

However, we would love to see Doerting put under oath. And we'd love to see Andy Barr or David Fleenor (the Governor's Office's counselors) ask Doerting a few questions and force truthful answers out of him, under pain of perjury:

1.) Mr. Doerting, did you try to leverage your high school scholastic connections with the governor into an appointed position in the Transportation Cabinet?

2.) Were you personally offended or did you feel slighted when the governor told you, in front of a group of Transportation employees, that he did not remember you from Lafayette High School despite the fact that you were in the same graduating class?

3.) Why did you tell Dick Murgatroyd and others in Transportation's personnel office that the decisions they were making were entirely legal and proper, if you subsequently claimed to the attorney general's office that they were illegal?

4.) How did you obtain the evidence you turned over to the AG's office, including e-mail records? Were these records obtained in a proper fashion, and were you a party to these conversations, or did you abuse and misuse your authority and access to these records to obtain them?

5.) Why did you never provide evidence of patronage hiring within the Transportation Cabinet to other attorneys general in the past, despite widespread knowledge that such practices were common in the administrations of Patton, Jones, Wilkinson and others? Why did you wait until a Republican governor was in office before you became a whistleblower?

To our knowledge, Doerting has never been asked these questions, either in any legal proceedings or by the media. It's time he was made to answer them, given the trouble he's caused and the money he's cost the state and a number of individuals.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Another example of why the personnel investigation was flawed

Leave it to the Herald-Leader to play up UK employee discontent over the apparent selection by the Board of Trustees' nominating committee of prominent Kentucky Republican and Ernie Fletcher backer Steve Branscum to be the board's new chair. The newspaper makes it appear as if Branscum's ties to the governor are poisonous, when in reality it appears that some of the UK employee trustees think Branscum's one of those who thinks of UK as athletics entertainment for the masses and little more.

Of course, the paper's going to play up the anti-Fletcher angle in its ongoing attempt to ensure the defeat of the incumbent governor, but in its zeal to discredit Fletcher, the paper accidentally dredged up yet more evidence of why the merit system hiring probe was bogus.

In the very last paragraph, veteran reporter Art Jester mentions that during the investigation, an e-mail surfaced from Branscum to a member of the governor's staff, asking that a highway department superintendent be replaced. The story notes that Branscum testified before the grand jury "but no indictments were brought against him."

Of course not. Since when is asking for someone to be fired or demoted or transferred, or recommending someone for a job, a crime?

(Well, obviously it was to this tainted and crooked grand jury because it indicted Bowling Green attorney J. Marshall Hughes for making employment recommendations, so anything's possible.)

The mere fact, however, that the grand jury investigated a private citizen's employment recommendations and a request that someone be demoted is yet more evidence of just how illegitimate this whole deal was.

Branscum is an outstanding Kentuckian, a huge supporter of UK, a hard-working businessman and an all-around decent sort of fellow. We have no idea whether or not he will actually get to be UK board chairman, but we have no doubt that if eventually selected, that he'll do an oustanding job.