Fletcher ruling is a setback for Kentuckians, state GOP
There are few times that you'll find a jaded journalist as myself speechless. Well, this morning was one of those times.
After I turned on our TV, I notied the Louisville TV stations were running a "breaking news" scroll -- and I read in truly slack-jawed disbelief.
Franklin Special Judge David Melcher ruled that Gov. Ernie Fletcher can't be prosecuted on the three misdemanor charges related to the merit hiring scandal while he remains in office. To be prosecuted, he must either be removed from office via impeachment or complete his term and leave office.
Melcher based his ruling from the bench on the defense's argument that the governor cannot be prosecuted for "official acts" while in office.
The General Assembly won't impeach the governor on misdemeanor charges, that much is certain. The governor will complete his term -- and apparently campaign for a second term -- with the indictment hanging over his head. If elected to a second term, Fletcher would remain under indictment.
While Fletcher's attorney's hailed the ruling as a victory, I beg to differ. The development is a terrible situation and a tremendous setback for Kentucky and the Republican Party of Kentucky.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky will be the only state in the union with a governor who will have the dubious honor of having the phrase "indicted-but-not-yet-prosecuted" before his name. And unlike the much-feared political skeletons in the closet, this skeleton is going to be the governor's new best friend. It will follow his every footstep for the next 17 months -- and particularly during his election campaign for an unlikely second term.
Regardless of the spin the governor's office attempts to put on the ruling, the chances of Fletcher being re-elected are zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The Big Goose Egg. No Kentucky voter is going to want to send our "indicted-but-not-yet-prosecuted" governor back for a second term -- no matter how capable he or his second term staff may be. The indictment will hang over his head until he's out of office.
For the Kentucky GOP, Fletcher's insistence that he's a viable candidate for governor is fracturing the party -- much to the delight of Kentucky Democrats, who already have a stable of competent gubernatorial hopefuls chomping at the bit to run for governor.
In some ways, I get the feeling that the damage is irreparable -- the GOP has had its turn in the Governor's Office for a while. It matters little who opposes Fletcher for the Republican nomination for governor -- the political spectrum is swinging away from the GOP and back toward the Kentucky Democrats. I believe voters across the state -- particularly crossover voters who backed Fletcher -- will not cross over in 2007 no matter who the GOP candidate is.
Gov. Fletcher has had his moments to shine, but those have been largely clouded by missteps and poor decisions by the governor and his administration. Fletcher's political tailspin is a big black eye for GOP playmaker Sen. Mitch McConnell, who recruited Fletcher in the first place.
As part of the gubernatorial package, McConnell also sent along his chief of staff Hunter Bates as Fletcher's running mate. That fiasco was the first hint of the political disasters to come when Bates was determined to be ineligible for office because he did not meet the residency requirement to run for office. In short, he had spent too much time in Washington working for McConnell and wasn't technically a Kentucky resident.
The rest, as they say, is history.
I don't have a political dog in the fight over GOP gubernatorial candidates; I don't have a non-Fletcher favorite to support. I simply believe the governor should put the state and his party ahead of his own aspirations and withdraw from the race. Even the governor must concede that he has little to gain but political embarrassment with a three-count indictment as a running mate.
The Kentucky GOP may be wounded, but its still an active and growing party. While I have doubts about a Republican returning to the Governor's Mansion, I have little doubt that the GOP will be sending quality men and women back to statewide elective office in 2007.
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