Fletcher's hard lesson: Frankfort didn't want its culture changed
As the sun sets on Ernie Fletcher's term as governor, we can't help but look back at this same time four years ago and reflect on the outgoing governor's promises and how the state's majority political party reacted to them.
Gov. Fletcher said he intended to clean up the mess in Frankfort and to change the culture in state government.
He found out that state government liked its culture the way it was and didn't want it changed, and Frankfort didn't want its mess cleaned up.
Most of those who voted for Fletcher knew exactly what he meant when he promised cleaning up the mess and changing the culture. There were two specific things we expected him to do.
First was to break the stranglehold Democrats had on hiring merit system employees, especially out in the state in counties with Republican majorities. We were tired of Republicans being systematically excluded from state jobs. We've heard plenty of verifiable stories about how job applicants were told they would not be considered unless they were registered Democrats. We've even heard that one former state employee with hiring authority, who was notorious in his discrimination against Republicans, spoke in code on this topic. He was prone to say that you had to be "the right religion" to get a job under his umbrella.
Second was to get rid of all the appointees that had floated from job to job under the previous administrations in Frankfort. No matter who the Democrat governor was, many of the same old hacks found ways to stay on. They might have to take a step down from commissioner to director, or they might have to change agencies, but they were still in the mix, helping lead Kentucky down the wrong path. Recycling employees means recycling stale and failed ideas, and it showed in Kentucky's national rankings.
Neither act sat well with Democrats, who believe ruling this state is their birthright. The administration's efforts to make state hiring decisions more equitable and fair to Republicans brought about the political persecution that ended up being Fletcher's downfall. And the appointment of fresh faces with new ideas caused the Dems to cry about inexperienced kids who didn't know anything about running state government.
The truth is, state government needed shaking up, even more than what Fletcher accomplished. One of our big complaints about Fletcher is that he kept way too many appointees from previous administrations. During the campaign, Fletcher said that more than 60 percent of his political appointees were Democrats. While we know that a Republican cannot win statewide office in Kentucky without significant crossover support, we weren't happy with the number of holdovers.
Those new appointees, who brought fresh ideas on how to do things, were met with resistance from merit workers who like things they way they are and always have been, and don't like change -- even when the change will make their jobs easier as state government becomes more efficient. All the stereotypes about state workers were reinforced by those workers' conduct and exhibited attitudes during the past four years.
Those who liked the status quo will be thrilled with Steve Beshear's administration. His appointments to date look like they could have come during any of the previous Democrat administrations. Many of the same old faces that have mismanaged state government for years are back in the picture. Their resumes boast of service under Patton, Jones, Wilkinson, Collins and even Brown. By the time Beshear's appointments are complete, we expect to see cronies of every living former Democrat governor in place.
And given Beshear's lousy track record concerning merit system employment, it's no surprise that we're already hearing of political deals being cut for hirings and promotions. It's as if the past four years didn't happen; like that dream season of "Dallas" when Bobby Ewing was dead.
It's obvious that Frankfort liked its culture just the way it was. When Ernie Fletcher followed through on his promise to change that culture, that culture's inhabitants panicked. Fletcher's undoing was that he actually had the nerve to keep his promises.