10 July 2006

[Part One] My Old Kentucky Home:
Bare Knuckle Politics & The Courts
Attacking a Republican Governor

Y'know, I know a number of people in Virginia with political jobs and/or political aspirations so I've spent some time talking politics. As the short, rotund guy who grew up in a different Commonwealth, I'm never going to be the guy running for office. However, it's fun to talk with those who plan to take their shot.

One thing I've noticed, Virginia politics is a little more genteel than Kentucky. Don't get me wrong, politics is still a blood sport here just like everywhere else. It's just that Virginians seem to think there are rules to this sort of thing. They dance around each other with daggers and swords trying to land a deadly blow. In Kentucky there ain't no rules - you use every single tool you can get your hands on. Nukes get lobbed and damn the collateral casualties.

A perfect example of this is when people of different parties get into state wide offices. I cannot imagine an Attorney General in Virginia forming a new law enforcement agency and sicking on the governor and his staff for committing misdemeanors. It would just be too unseemly. I don't have to imagine this in Kentucky - it's a political war which is continuing to unfold.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you the story of Law Enforcement, Courts, and Bare Knuckle Politics in Kentucky.

First of all, let me introduce the players. Fletcher has carried water for the Republican Party of Kentucky for years. I can remember him from the 80's when there were the first rumblings of a possibility that the Republicans might become a viable party [addendum: I have been reminded by a kind reader that what I'm remembering is from the early 90's and, upon reflection, I think that's right]]. At the time Kentucky was a one party Commonwealth. Eventually, the Republican Party grew and got control of Kentucky's Senate and both its federal Senate seats. Then Fletcher got elected as Governor. There've been Republican governors before; the last was Nunn, but Nunn won despite being Republican, Fletcher didn't.

Greg Stumbo is the Democratic Attorney General. His is a long-time political family. In fact, the name is so well respected that Justice Janet Stumbo refused to use her husband's name, apparently for political reasons.

These two political titans come to office at the same time and the Democrats are somewhat in disarray because they no longer have the governor's seat. However, Stumbo is clear on one thing - he wants to set up a Commonwealth wide investigatory agency, the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation (I kid you not, the KBI). From the start of his time as AG, Stumbo finds people questioning whether he will be targeting the Republican administration: "I will not, however, be targeting the new Republican administration [over environmental issues], as you propose." In the very next paragraph of the same document he sells the KBI as an anti-drug agency: "Beyond The C-J's suggestions that I focus my attention on consumer protection and environmental law enforcement, other important areas must be considered in evaluating the beneficial effects of the KBI. You correctly note that one of the KBI's main goals is the eradication of illegal drug use, which has reached epidemic portions in some parts of our state." However, when the KBI is brought into existence the very first section announced is a political corruption unit:
I. Public Corruption/Special Investigations (Ed Barnes, Branch Manager). Investigates allegations of public corruption by elected and appointed public officials; works closely with state prosecutors and the FBI; accepts requests for assistance from smaller agencies, County and Commonwealths Attorneys.
Nevertheless, the main part of the announcement still has a tough on drugs flavor to it.

Now, as one of my Kentucky buddies explained it to me, when Fletcher took his place as governor he surrounded himself with young Turks. The advantage of this is that you get extremely loyal and dedicated people who will work tirelessly for you. The disadvantage is that they get carried away and often don't know how to do things the right way. Kentucky has laws on the books which require that a lot of positions be hired strictly on the merit of the applicant. Somewhat interestingly, in the past almost all the meritorious candidates have been people loyal to the Democratic Party. It was just a given that if you wanted a government job your chances improved by factors of tens if you were a Democrat. The Turks set about to remedy this in a ham-handed manner by placing people in positions to make sure Republicans got merit jobs. What's even more politically stupid, they kept records and wrote emails about it. There's little or no doubt that they committed misdemeanor offenses in doing this.

The KBI and AG Stumbo swooped in. "Douglas W. Doerting, transportation's assistant personnel director, filed a 276-page complaint with the state Personnel Board alleging the Fletcher administration engaged in an 'illegal political patronage' scheme in making personnel decisions in the cabinet" (276 pages? Yeah, he wrote that all by his lonesome out of only his personal knowledge). The KBI got subpoenas and more whistle-blowers came forward (that's the problem with trying to substitute one patronage system for another rather than trying to actually fix things - the side losing its patronage privileges will have people in place who can complain that you are breaking the law). Shortly thereafter, the guy who was my college's student body president when I was there (Keith Hall, Centre) leaves his position as head of Kentucky Homeland Security. I didn't know Keith well at Centre (everyone knew everyone to some extent at Centre - one of the joys of a small college); he seemed bright and politically ambitious. He was a member of Lt. Governor Pence's law firm at one time and perhaps his patron was Pence, not Fletcher, so he left before things really blew up (mind you, that's pure speculation).

More of this continuing Saga will be published Tuesday . . .

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