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.