Monday, November 05, 2007

Governor endorsement -- Gov. Ernie Fletcher

For decades, the Commonwealth of Kentucky has been run and dominated by a political machine that has held this state, its government and its residents from reaching our maximum potential. We are dumbfounded and, frankly, saddened that this state seems ready to re-embrace that legacy of failure on the basis of fewer than two dozen personnel decisions in the state's civil service system, and elect a governor whose hypocrisy on that subject is astounding.

We consider ourselves fortunate and blessed to know the truth about the hiring "scandal" that appears to be the catalyst for Gov. Ernie Fletcher trailing in the polls. We're lucky enough to have lots of very credible sources within state government, from low-level merit employees all the way up to the Office of the Governor. We haven't accepted the news stories in the state's main media outlets and the public statements from Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office at face value. We've done our own homework and we've learned and presented the facts here.

Because we know the truth, we discount as unimportant the hiring scandal when we evaluate the performance of Gov. Fletcher. Actually, we think this administration probably didn't go far enough in trying to eliminate the dominant mindset in state government and bringing in people with conservative philosophies to run the state.

When we look at Gov. Fletcher's record, we see a string of resounding successes. He got a handle on skyrocketing Medicaid costs. He cut the size of state government, eliminated and merged departments and the attendant high salaries, without cutting essential services to the state. He reinvested those savings for the benefit of this state, most notably in transportation where the state has set records the last two years for the number of construction projects awarded and the amount of money spent on improving the state's roads. He's championed highway safety measures that have made our roads demonstrably safer. He cut taxes on thousands of working Kentuckians, funneled needed revenues to schools, emphasized personal health and instituted newborn screenings, and dozens of other initiatives that haven't been adequately publicized.

Clearly, Gov. Fletcher has moved Kentucky forward. Steve Beshear, his Democrat challenger, represents a return to the bad old days of Kentucky politics and the Democrat machine.

Beshear has based his entire campaign on two points. The first one is bringing casino gambling to Kentucky as welfare for racehorses. The second one is Fletcher's personnel woes.

We actually disagree with both Fletcher and Beshear on the gambling issue. We support bringing casino gambling to Kentucky, but not in any way tied to the horse industry and not only at border locations or racetracks. We think casino licenses should be awarded to communities that meet certain criteria for unemployment, poverty and property tax bases in order to allow them to boost local economies. Lexington and Louisville and Northern Kentucky and Ashland don't need the jobs and tax base increase that a multimillion dollar casino would bring. Rural areas in this state do need those boosts.

On the personnel issue, Beshear has no room to talk. As attorney general, he ignored well-known and widespread abuses in the administration of Gov. John Y. Brown, and actually refused to investigate a complaint against Secretary of State Frances Jones Mills, saying it was a matter for the Personnel Board to decide. Now he says the investigation of Fletcher by the AG's office was appropriate. Funny that he says that only when he can use it to his political advantage. His past gives him absolutely no moral authority to use the hiring probe against Fletcher.

Beshear is not the ethical, above-reproach candidate he and his supporters make him out to be, as evidenced by the Kentucky Central case. Researchers have found dozens of instances where Beshear intentionally or inadvertently overlooked wrongdoing in high levels when he was attorney general.

We don't claim by any stretch that Fletcher's term in office has been perfect, by any means. We feel he missed the boat on improving access to and lowering the cost of health care in this state by not eliminating the Certificate of Need program for new hospitals and other treatment facilities. Fletcher brags about the fact that 61 percent of his non-merit staffers are Democrats. While we understand that a Republican has to have Democrat support to be elected in Kentucky, we aren't sure that the Democrats within the administration have been loyal to the man who hired them. And we hoped that this administration would be a bit more low-key. Instead, the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration in 2003 rivaled anything that the Democrats have ever done. We just wanted Fletcher to quietly be sworn into office and go to work, with no parade and no cancellation of work in state offices.

Still, we think the choice is clear. Forget the hiring investigation. The truth behind it does not lend support to the notion that it was significant in any way. Fletcher's record of accomplishments, coupled with his opponent's weaknesses and flaws and ties to the old-line political machine that covets power above progress, provides ample reason to give him another four years.

We urge Kentucky voters to reject the politics of the past and continue to move forward by giving Ernie Fletcher four more years to make progress for Kentucky.


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