Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Comer's karma (Or, the sad case of Richie Farmer)

Today, Richie Farmer learned how long he'll be spending behind bars as a result of his actions during his two terms as Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture. Farmer's defense attorney sought a prison sentence of 21 months after he pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from his abuse of office. Prosecutors wanted, and got, a 27-month sentence, saying they needed to send a message to deter other elected officials from acting as Farmer did.

What's laughable about that is the thoughts that the things Farmer is alleged to have done haven't been done in the past, or aren't being done now. Does anyone believe that Kentucky's Democrats, who've had a virtual stranglehold on statewide offices for decades, aren't using the system for their own benefit? Can it be said with a straight face that Democrats don't hire their buddies for do-nothing state jobs, as it's claimed Farmer did?

But that's beside the point. We certainly don't condone Farmer's actions, since we're supporters of honest and ethical and frugal government, but it didn't have to be this way.

If it can be said that Farmer used his term for his own personal benefit, then it can also be said that Jamie Comer, Farmer's successor, has used Farmer for his own political benefit.

Comer had a number of options concerning his predecessor's term when he took office at the end of 2011. He chose the option that would guarantee the biggest headlines and all but assured that Farmer would be sacrificed.

Comer, a Republican, didn't have to ask newly elected Auditor of Public Accounts Adam Edelen, a Democrat, to investigate Farmer's tenure. That could have been handled internally within the agriculture department. Comer could have a face-to-face meeting with Farmer and asked him to reimburse the department for improper expenditures. Instead, Comer chose to grandstand, even going so far as to say he'd asked the blessing of Kentucky's prominent Republicans before proceeding.

To say that Edelen's term as auditor has been uninspiring would be an understatement. Although he hasn't shown the tendency to use his office to punish Republicans, as Crit Luallen frequently did, he doesn't have a major accomplishment on which to pin a run for higher office, the way Luallen did with her scrutiny of the Kentucky League of Cities and Kentucky Association of Counties -- with the notable exception of the Farmer audit. That's been Edelen's only significant "win" and Jamie Comer gave it to him gift-wrapped.

The short term result of the audit was that Comer comes across as a bipartisan reformer and someone who wanted to clean up state government. A Republican and a Democrat shared the state to announce that a bunch of waste, fraud and abuse had been uncovered and someone was going to pay a price for it.

But to use a phrase we're fond of repeating, Comer may have been too smart by half in how he handled Farmer's term. By being so eager to send Farmer to prison, he may have torpedoed his own political future.

By all accounts, Comer and Edelen are the front-runners for their parties' respective gubernatorial nominations in the 2015 race. Attorney General Jack Conway's desires notwithstanding, Edelen seems to be getting most of the early support from the state's prominent Democrats. This is despite his relative and inexperience and lack of accomplishments.

Oh wait, did we say lack of accomplishments? He does have the one aforementioned feather in his cap -- the Farmer audit which was given to him gift-wrapped by the man he'll be trying to beat in 2015.

When Comer runs for governor, as he is expected to do, he'll be running as the sitting agriculture commissioner. Edelen's lone accomplishment will be his audit that resulted in the agriculture commissioner going to prison. And that's what he will trumpet. He uncovered waste and abuse in the Department of Agriculture. He won't mention Richie Farmer's name. He'll just talk about the wrongdoing in the agriculture department. And who's the present ag commissioner? Kentucky's Democrat voters, who are often too dumb to know the issues (sorry if that offends anyone, but it's the truth), will think Edelen's talking about Comer's administration. And that's just the way Edelen will want it.

That will be karma in action. Comer's candidacy may end up being shot down by his own zeal to build up his reputation. And it would be ironic and well-deserved.

We say again: We do not condone what Richie Farmer did. But it didn't have to be this way. Jamie Comer sacrificed Farmer on the altar of political ambition. And it may very well come back to bite Comer because he handed his opponent his biggest accomplishment that he can use to confuse Kentucky's low-information Democrats.

There's a lesson to be learned here. Short-term gain can sometimes equal long-term pain. And what can seem politically advantageous can end up being harmful to your ambitions.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Kentucky Democrats take patronage to a whole new level

As was well-documented here at the time, one of the unspoken goals of Ernie Fletcher's administration was to put an end to the political patronage that had plagued the hiring of state employees during previous Democrat governors.

A study commissioned by Fletcher's Department of Personnel (demoted from a Cabinet during his term but promoted back to Cabinet status under the current administration) showed that, in many cases, the political affiliation of state employees was inversely proportional to the party registration of the general public. In some counties where Republicans enjoyed a 3-1 advantage in voter registration, the state workforce was 3-1 Democrat.

It was this kind of blatant political patronage that the Fletcher administration tried to end, but we all know how that ended up. Democrats didn't like the fact that they could no longer hand out state jobs as rewards for party loyalty, so they trumped up an investigation and the result was Fletcher's loss to Gov. Steve Beshear in 2007.

Beshear campaigned on the premise of cleaning up state government, but we all know that Democrats have no intention of doing things properly. His administration has put some window dressing on the hiring process for merit system state employees, but the truth is that it's as if Fletcher's term never existed. The state is back to its old longstanding tricks of hiring loyal Democrats for jobs that are supposed to be filled on merit and independent of politics. Input from party officials and Democratic local elected officials and legislators is still a primary consideration when a vacancy is filed or an employee is promoted.

Even though political patronage is a way of life for state government when the Democrats run it, we've heard of an especially egregious example that puts the past abuses to shame and reaches a whole new level of improper.

We know of one elected official who also serves as one of Beshear's contact people. This official was Beshear's campaign chair in their home county. This official's spouse was given a job and is in charge of personnel decisions for a state office.

The aforementioned elected official has their sights set on higher office; one that would cover multiple counties instead of just one locality. The spouse is using their state position to help. It's been said that the personnel administrator is making decisions on who gets hired by extracting promises from applicants that they and their families will support the spouse's bid for higher office.

This certainly would be a hard allegation to prove, as denials would fly faster than snowflakes in the winter wind if the perpetrators were publicly confronted. Still, this has been reported by multiple sources so there must be something to it.

We've known about this for awhile but weren't motivated to come out of our recent hibernation to post it. With the filing deadline for elected offices approaching by the end of this month, we felt it necessary to bring this to the public's attention. It should be noted at this time that the candidate in question has not yet filed for the higher office.

Still, this is representative of Kentucky Democrats' attitudes about political patronage in state merit system hiring. To them, black is white and up is down. In DemoWorld, an attempt to restore fairness in personnel decisions is itself political patronage. Their solution to end patronage is to actually reinstitute patronage.

It just goes to prove that some things never change.