Friday, February 9, 2007

Fair-weather Fletcher

Fletcher’s true colors? Republican red… when he is already bleeding.

From Blue Grass, Red State:

Whether to commend Gov. Ernie Fletcher for the State of the Commonwealth speech he gave Tuesday night or criticize him depends largely on how one views it.

Republicans claim they are the party of fiscal responsibility. Fletcher claims he’s produced surplus from deficit through fiscal restraint. It is not a year the General Assembly must pass a budget, and lawmakers have promised not to open up the budget in this session. But there was Fletcher, calling for nearly $200 million of new spending, not only restoring projects he vetoed last spring, but urging lawmakers to approve $91 million in new projects.

He said he’s produced this (projected) surplus without raising taxes. But any way he slices the argument, the Alternative Minimum Tax was an increase – it created new taxes for small businesses and it produced more revenue.

As Republican House Leader Jeff Hoover – who is Anne Northup’s running mate on a ticket challenging Fletcher – put it: “If people didn’t think it’s an election year before the speech, they certainly do now.”

On the other hand, Fletcher offered some progressive spending proposals. Never mind Fletcher is again claiming credit for some ideas which lawmakers – from both parties – originally proposed. It’s difficult to argue against vaccines against cancer, more tuition assistance for needy college students, more money to improve math and science education and proposals for social worker safety. Or those juicy capital projects.

Fletcher is endlessly criticized for a failure to understand the nature and power of his office (mea culpa). Well, it looks like he’s catching on – three years into his administration. The spending proposals will please constituencies important to lawmakers, especially Democratic legislators like Speaker Jody Richards who has his own gubernatorial campaign to consider. If lawmakers give in and abandon their pledge of “budget discipline,” candidate Fletcher will take credit. If they don’t, he’ll tell voters he tried.

The speech didn’t contain an apology for the “mistakes” of his administration’s hiring practices which led to an insurgency in his own party and remains a political albatross in his quest for re-election. Reportedly, a draft of the speech contained one, but if so, it was dropped from the final version.

Of course it was a campaign speech. Whether one liked it depends largely on whether one wants Fletcher re-elected.

Speaking of campaigns, Northup this week changed campaign managers only three weeks after she announced her candidacy. That doesn’t seem to match her reputation for running well oiled campaigns.

And proving Fletcher still has much to learn about gubernatorial politics, there were stories this week he called a couple of his county contacts – for the first time in three years. And being surprised they support Northup.

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