Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cannibalism is no way to build a majority

When you're the minority party in a state, outnumbered 2-1 in voter registration and with the majority holding most all the state and local offices of significance, the last thing you do if you're trying to become the majority is to eat your own.

So we have to ask Scott Jennings what in the world he's thinking if he wants to challenge a popular incumbent Republican congressman in the primary next year.

Jennings, a former campaign aide for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's 2002 re-election bid and former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's successful 2003 candidacy and a former low-level official in the George W. Bush administration, is apparently toying with the idea of running for elective office in his home state. Since Jennings is a native of Dawson Springs (just like Gov. Steve Beshear) he seems to have his eyes on the 1st District seat currently held by the immensely popular Ed Whitfield. Brett Hall at broke this story earlier this week to lots of interested consumers of political news in the Bluegrass.

Whitfield is the first Republican ever elected to Congress from Kentucky's westernmost district, where Democrats have an even more significant voter registration majority than they do in the rest of the state. (We know of a onetime Richard Nixon campaign volunteer who worked the Purchase area in 1972 who said of one of the counties, "They have fewer than 100 Republicans and there's three factions!")

Despite the registration deficit, Whitfield continues to take on all comers and keeps his seat. He even won last year despite the poisonous environment for Republicans in the nation. The opposition has tried to throw all kinds of mud at him, including the charge that he does not actually live in Kentucky, but none of it has ever stuck. (Note to Democrats: If you really believe Whitfield lives in Florida and not Hopkinsville, file a legal challenge to his residency. Otherwise, shut your traps.)

Given Whitfield's political strength and prowess in repeatedly winning in hostile territory, why in the world would Jennings even consider challenging him? Unless Jim Bunning decides to retire from the U.S. Senate and Whitfield enters that race, he's pretty much a shoo-in to win re-election again next year. If Jennings is successful in the primary, there's no guarantee that he'd be anywhere near as successful as Whitfield in the exceedingly-Democrat district.

When you're the minority, you absolutely have to stick together and be united if you are going to succeed and work toward being the majority. Yet Republicans can't ever seem to learn that lesson. Fletcher faced an uphill battle in his re-election bid in 2007, and it wasn't helped when prominent state Republicans effectively sided with Greg Stumbo during his politically-motivated investigation into the administration's hiring practices. Instead of rallying around their embattled governor, they abandoned him, then when two of his former friends and supporters challenged him in the primary, they caused him to use up resources that would have been valuable, and put to much better use, in the general election.

And now we have an upstart Republican operative, whose only experience has been as a campaign worker and who has no elective office background, wanting to challenge a popular incumbent in the primary?

This is insane. We are generally fans of Jennings and appreciate what he's done in the past, but we can't support any effort by him to challenge Whitfield. It just doesn't make sense.

If Jennings is hell-bent on running for Congress in his first race out of the chute, there are two Democrats representing Kentucky that need to be removed from the Capitol. Jennings should move to Louisville and take on John Yarmuth, before he becomes entrenched in that office. Anne Northup failed to dislodge Yarmuth from the seat he won from her in 2006; if Yarmuth isn't beaten this next time, he's probably going to be there for awhile to Kentucky's detriment.

Or he can move to Lexington or Frankfort and challenge Ben Chandler, who won a special election for Fletcher's old 6th District seat primarily on name recognition from their just-concluded gubernatorial battle and the famous moniker he carries, handed down from Grandpappy Happy. That might be a taller challenge than unseating Yarmuth, but it can be done by the right candidate with the right platform.

As long as Republicans continue to eat their own, they'll never come close to being a majority in this state. Party registration in Kentucky is such that in a statewide race, Democrats can splinter into two equal factions and their candidate can still beat the Republican. A split in the GOP equals disaster. A challenge by Jennings to Whitfield would no doubt split the Western Kentucky Republicans and possibly give the Democrat an easy walk to election.

When Republicans become the majority, then they can act like Democrats and have all kinds of family fights and hurt feelings. Right now, we don't have that luxury. Party unity, already reeling from the 2007 governor's race, is vital. A challenge from Jennings to Whitfield is something we can't afford. We urge Jennings to exercise good judgment and refrain from running against one of our incumbents. Yarmuth and Chandler need to go, Whitfield doesn't.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More on Beshear-Mongiardo rift: Political appointees reamed in employee meeting

Since our post yesterday on a rift between Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, we've heard more evidence that supports that assertion. This story involves a political appointment in the mountains that didn't go the way Mongiardo and his supporters wanted.

We are hearing that the person Beshear appointed to the non-merit job last year, shortly after he took office in December 2007, was forced out by area political movers and shakers who wanted someone else in the position.

Both times the position was vacant, Mongiardo lobbied for a close personal associate, who was very well qualified professionally, to get the job.

The Mongiardo associate didn't get it the first time, and after the political power play got rid of Beshear's first appointment, Mongiardo lobbied once again for his associate to get the job. Once again, Mongiardo's advice and recommendation was rejected. Instead, the Beshear administration appointed someone from outside the area involved to fill the position on an interim basis.

A couple of Beshear appointees from that particular agency visited the office yesterday to introduce the interim appointee. The Mongiardo associate also works at that office as a merit system employee. During the introductory meeting, the passed-over Mongiardo-ite gave the Frankfort visitors a verbal reaming. We're told that it was an uncomfortable moment for the new appointee, the other employees in the room and especially the Beshear administration appointees.

We're hearing that this particular person's rejection for a non-merit appointment is not the cause of the Beshear-Mongiardo estrangement but rather is symptomatic of the situation. Mongiardo was promised a say in personnel decisions, and so far he hasn't been given that.

Update on timesheet fraud probe in Transportation Cabinet; and more misdeeds by patronage hires

Last May, we reported that Kentucky State Police were conducting interviews in connection with timesheet fraud by employees of a county garage in the Transportation Cabinet's Department of Highways.

Nine months later, the probe hasn't given birth to any indictments -- yet -- but there have been some actions taken as a result of the probe.

The employee responsible for the scheme was fired. Transportation took preliminary steps to fire another employee believed to be involved in the scandal, but scrapped those plans and welcomed him back when it was determined he had no involvement. And finally, the foreman at the garage in question was strongly encouraged to retire, and he heeded that advice.

We are hearing that criminal charge may yet be filed in this matter, but to date none have been.

In other news involving the Transportation Cabinet, an employee who is the grandson of a deceased longtime county Democrat chair and patronage boss in his native area was also given strong encouragement to resign earlier this month, and he heeded that advice. He was given that advice due to drug use, sleeping on the job and theft of state property. No charges are expected to be filed because he returned the missing property, but evidence of his other misdeeds was too great to be ignored.

This young man and the individuals referenced above in the timesheet were all products of the patronage system the Democrats have run in state government, especially in Transportation, for decades. The major qualification for all of them to be hired was the box they checked on their voter registration form.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Major rift between Beshear and Mongiardo?

We're hearing credible reports of a major rift -- perhaps even an estrangement -- between Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo.

The word we're getting is that Beshear instigated the situation by refusing to include Mongiardo in discussions and policy decisions, and by not keeping promises made to the physician from Hazard when he was invited onto Beshear's ticket as his running mate.

The concept of running mates having a parting of the ways is no strange concept in Kentucky politics. Back when the governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately, it was a common occurrence. Gov. Wallace Wilkinson and Lt. Gov. Brereton Jones saw eye-to-eye on little. The same thing happened when Jones was elected governor and Paul Patton was his lieutenant. Some may even remember when Kentucky had a Republican governor (Louie Nunn) and a Democrat lieutenant governor (Wendell Ford).

Putting the state's top two executives on a slate was supposed to stop that problem and put them on the same page, but it hasn't happened. Patton was the first governor to run as part of a slate, his relationship with Lt. Gov. Steve Henry went south during their first term, to the point where folks were openly questioning whether or not Henry would run with Patton when he sought re-election in 1999.

Of course, the rift between Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Lt. Gov. Steve Pence was well-publicized, but it didn't happen until Pence disagreed with Fletcher's decision to pardon the victims of Attorney General Greg Stumbo's political witch hunt, and Pence's subsequent decision to drop off Fletcher's re-election ticket. That was an unusual situation, to say the least.

The issue at hand is the rift between Beshear and Mongiardo. It took less than a year for this separation to happen, much faster than the one between Patton and Henry.

We hear from multiple, credible sources that Beshear made several promises to Mongiardo when the two formed their ticket. Among those promises was that Mongiardo would have major influence in hiring decisions involving Eastern Kentucky (Mongiardo's from Hazard) or natives of that region. Mongiardo was also to be included in discussions about policy decisions and basically given a prominent role in the administration.

Neither has happened. Mongiardo has largely been an invisible lieutenant governor, and not by his own choice. We hear that Beshear rarely, if ever, calls or otherwise sees his lieutenant, and Mongiardo's personnel recommendations are not being heeded. We're told that on two occasions, Mongiardo tried to get a close personal associate placed into a non-merit job in the eastern part of the state, but was unsuccessful both times. We also hear that a lot of people who contributed to and supported Beshear in 2007 are so disgusted with the situation that they are ready to throw their support to any Democrat who might challenge him in the 2011 primary, or the Republican challenger should Beshear win the primary.

Mongiardo is clearly a rising star among Kentucky Democrats. His close call against Jim Bunning in the 2004 U.S. Senate election boosted his stock, and Mongiardo is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for the seat when it comes open next year. If he's been ostracized by Beshear, that might provide even more motivation for him to make a repeat try for the Senate seat. And he'd probably be favored to win against the aging Bunning, who angered more than a few Republicans when he endorsed Anne Northup over Fletcher in the '07 primary.

It'll be interesting to watch the dynamic between Beshear and Mongiardo, especially as we head into a legislative session and next year's Senate race, and then Beshear's re-election bid. Will their relationship thaw out, or will it continue to be strained and frozen? Beshear's political future may depend on if, and how well, he mends fences with Dr. Dan and his supporters and loyalists.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stumbo victim nominated for state Senate seat

A lot of injustices were done during the two-year investigation of merit system hiring practices during Ernie Fletcher's term as governor. Greg Stumbo's inquisition ended up with a lot of innocent, public-minded people, carrying out the wishes of their constituents, being unfairly and wrongly branded as criminals. We find it unfortunate that the press never sought to make known the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, relying instead on Stumbo and his band of lackeys and sycophants to spoon-feed them distorted information designed to turn the tide of public opinion against the first GOP administration in a generation.

Lots of people were smeared during the Stumbo Inquisition --Bill Nighbert, Dick Murgatroyd, Vincent Fields, Daniel Groves, Fletcher himself and many others -- but perhaps none more so than Bowling Green attorney J. Marshall Hughes.

Hughes was one of Fletcher's local contact people. In fact, he was one of the more prominent ones in the entire state. Although he provided advice to the governor's staff on some pertinent local issues, including personnel recommendations, he was never employed by state government and thus never had the authority to hire or fire any state merit employee. Still, he was indicted by the grand jury for "political discrimination," whatever that means.

We're not sure how someone who didn't even work for state government and had no authority to hire or fire anyone could be indicted for breaking the state's merit system hiring laws, but apparently Stumbo's Dumbos thought so.

It was Hughes' indictment that pointed out just how hypocritical the whole personnel probe was. Never mind the fact that the Republicans were trying to dismantle a Democrat patronage system that had existed for years and local Democrat officials and mid-level Democrat loyalist merit system managers were still trying to operate in the Fletcher administration. Hughes was basically indicted for making employment recommendations -- the same thing Stumbo himself had done while a member of the House of Representatives, prior to being elected attorney general. If Hughes broke the law by making recommendations, then didn't Stumbo break the law in even greater fashion by writing his letters of recommendation to Paul Patton on House letterhead?

We still applaud Fletcher's pardons of all those indicted as a final resolution to an unfair and biased practice, but Hughes' indictment was a huge travesty of justice and his pardon was most definitely well-deserved.

Fast-forward to last week, when Republican officials in south-central Kentucky nominated Hughes to carry their party's banner in the special election to replace Brett Guthrie in the state Senate. Guthrie, of course, was elected to Congress to replace the now-retired Ron Lewis.

We're not sure if voters will hold Hughes' indictment against him, but we don't think they should, considering that it was flawed and the perfect example of hypocrisy. Many Kentuckians are belatedly beginning to see the Stumbo Inquisition for the partisan political exercise it was, and they're coming around to viewing many of the targets of the probe as innocent victims in Stumbo's political ploy.

Hughes has a long record of activism in the Republican Party. We know of no reason not to support him in the special election. A victory for him in the special election would be a great way for Kentuckians, including Bowling Green-area residents bitter over Stumbo's defeat of Jody Richards in the House speaker's race, to stick a figurative thumb in Stumbo's eye.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Even a blind Beliles finds an acorn every now and then

In general, we are not fans of Richard Beliles and Common Cause of Kentucky. In the past, we've found Beliles and his group to be meddlesome, petty, and overly concerned with hypothetical ethical violations by Republicans.

But along the same lines of "even a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally" or "a stopped clock is right twice a day," we think Beliles is on to something with his shot across the bow at Greg Stumbo's ethics and conflicts of interest.

Look up "unethical" in the dictionary, and you'll probably see a photo of Stumbo. (He also gets pictured in entries for "adulterer" and "deadbeat dad" and "heavy drinker.") A story in today's Herald-Leader, written by Democrat apologist John Cheves of all people, recounts many of Stumbo's conflicts of interest; the types of so-called ethical lapses Beliles is concerned about.

For the most part, Stumbo got a pass on his behavior as the state's attorney general. There was no outrage in the press over his hypocritical behavior in prosecuting Fletcher administration officials for the same type of behavior in which he engaged as a legislator during the Patton administration. No one uttered a word when the husband of one of the grand jurors in the personnel investigation showed up on the AG's office payroll.

But with hard feelings still bubbling under the surface among Democrats concerning Stumbo's challenge to and defeat of Jody Richards as House speaker, Stumbo can expect more scrutiny.

After all, when it's Republican vs. Democrat, the press is naturally going to pimp the D's and attack the R's. But when it's an internal Democrat fight, that makes good copy.

We still aren't fans of Beliles and Common Cause, but we think they're onto something here. Keep the pressure up on the deadbeat dad from Prestonsburg. He has too many skeletons in his closet and it's time a few of them were dusted off for public viewing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Moral of the story: Don't count on Ky. Dems to do the right thing

In some ways, it's absolutely astonishing that Democrats in the Kentucky House of Representatives could elect such a reprehensible creature as Greg Stumbo to be their leader.

But for the most part, it's par for the course. We're not sure why we ever had any faith whatsoever that they would do the right thing, the decent thing, the honorable thing.

Greg Stumbo is morally unfit to be a leader in this state. He's a deadbeat dad, an adulterer, is lucky not to have a DUI conviction on his record and is, we highly suspect based on numerous reports and first-hand knowledge gleaned over the years, a drunkard. He was up to his eyeballs in the BOPTROT scandal and the related Entertainment Outings, Ltd. affair that starred Legislative Research Commission high-roller Kent Downey. After his term as attorney general ended, he finagled his way back into his old House seat in ways that still have not come to light.

And what of his term as AG? He abused the power of his office for pure partisan politics, to bring down the first Republican governor Kentucky had elected in a generation. He led the prosecution of Ernie Fletcher and members of his staff for acts that Stumbo himself had committed as a legislator. Does anyone remember those letters of recommendation, written on House letterhead and signed by Stumbo, that he prepared during the Patton administration?

Let it be clear, we have no great love for Jody Richards, the longtime speaker Stumbo dethroned. We consider Richards to have been an obstructionist and an obstacle for Fletcher during the legislative sessions held in his four years. Yet we acknowledge the hard fact that the Dems have a majority in the House and thus get to elect the leader. We just felt that Richards was a good and decent and honest and moral man, and Stumbo has none of those attributes.

Stumbo reportedly won by three votes, but we'll probably never know which legislators cast their vote on the side of decency and morality, and which ones voted for an adulterer and a deadbeat dad.

We're already hearing talk that Stumbo's rise to power in the House may galvanize Republicans and those Democrats who oppose him and result in the election of a Republican governor in 2011. Maybe so, but we look out on the field of possible (or, to put it another way, most frequently mentioned) candidates and are less than enthused. We see no rising stars in the ranks of Kentucky Republicans who have paid their dues and served their party loyally who might be ready for the job.

The only bright spot in all this will be watching Senate President David Williams clean Stumbo's clock when the two chamber leaders negotiate on legislation. Republicans owe Stumbo a beatdown for what he did to Fletcher, and Williams was, on balance, a defender of the governor although he wasn't as vociferous as we'd have liked. (But compared to Mitch McConnell, any defense of Fletcher looks like outspoken advocacy). Still, this is the chance for Republicans to get revenge on Stumbo by killing his pet legislation and projects.

Stumbo is an advocate of casino gambling, Williams is steadfastly opposed. Stumbo has advocated tax increases in the past, such as a bottle bill and a fast-food wrapper tax, and Williams maintains his resistance to tax hikes. If Democrats really chose Stumbo because they think he'll work better with Williams, they may be in for a very rude awakening.

We can't help but be disappointed that the majority of House Democrats lacked the moral clarity to vote against someone of Stumbo's character. But we really aren't surprised. Democrats have never come down on the side of righteousness. Why else would they continue to support legalized abortion, yet oppose the death penalty? We just guess we weren't ready for the harsh slap of reality to our faces.

But now we know for certain. When given the opportunity to do the right thing, Kentucky Democrats will instead do the wrong thing. The majority of House members have embraced a leader with no character and no class, and that decision will eventually reflect upon all of them.