Saturday, April 14, 2007

Harper, Northup’s Echo: Fletcher Can’t Win

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Two Republican candidates for governor questioned Gov. Ernie Fletcher's ability to win a second term on Wednesday, each saying they could fare better against the Democratic nominee in the November election. Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper found little to disagree about during a forum with audience members at a downtown Louisville restaurant. Fletcher had planned to attend the one-hour forum but bowed out to speak at a funeral for an Army soldier killed in Iraq.

Harper said only he can attract Democratic voters in the fall election, while Northup said Fletcher has "no chance" to win and remains saddled by a hiring scandal. "This is a person who ran on a single issue, to change the culture and the climate and the ethical behavior in Frankfort," Northup said. "The question for our party, is whether we want to have a standard-bearer who is going into the general election with these problems."

Fletcher has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for pardoning his entire administration, except himself, after several officials or supporters were indicted in a state hiring investigation. They were charged with violating state hiring laws by appointing political supporters to protected state jobs. Fletcher himself was charged with three misdemeanors that eventually were dropped in a deal with prosecutors.

Harper has avoided criticizing the governor directly, but indicated that some voters may select Northup in the May 22 primary because they dislike Fletcher. Kentucky is one of three states electing a governor this year. "You have two career politicians and one businessman on the Republican ticket. You have a positive choice for who you can vote," Harper said. "You don't have to vote against somebody, you can vote for somebody."

Fletcher campaign manager Marty Ryall called the hiring scandal "old news," saying voters would be more interested in Fletcher's plan for the future. He disagreed with Northup's contention that she would be a stronger Republican in November. "We had three candidates on the Democrats' side running for governor attack us yesterday, so clearly they don't agree on who they're more worried about facing in the fall," Ryall said.

The Wednesday forum was meant to be the second meeting of the three Republican candidates after a televised debate Monday night. Northup and Harper took issue questions from audience members during the forum. Neither said they want to raise the state's cigarette tax, both want to repeal Kentucky's alternative minimum tax on businesses and both said they don't favor expanded gambling. Northup, however, said the gambling should be left to the General Assembly. Fletcher has also said he personally opposes expanded gambling, but would not stand in the way of a referendum.

On health care, Northup said she would favor expanding private care to more citizens, while Harper said he would encourage preventative efforts like healthier eating in schools. Fletcher spoke Wednesday during a funeral service for Sgt. William Bowling, 24, who was killed in Iraq April 1 by a roadside bomb.

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