Friday, March 23, 2007
Anne Northup to outline
Education and Health Care Platforms
FRANKFORT----Anne Northup, candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in the May 22nd Primary, will outline her plan to improve education and Kentucky’s Health Care system Friday in Frankfort.
WHO: Anne Northup and Jeff Hoover
WHAT: Education and Health Care News Conference
WHEN: 10am, EDT, Friday, March 23rd.
WHERE: Frankfort Capital Plaza Hotel, Caucus Room, Wilkinson Boulevard
What do you think they should propose? What do you think they will say?
Ex-personnel chief for Fletcher endorses Northup
Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s former personnel secretary today endorsed ex-U.S. Rep. Anne Northup in her bid to unseat the governor in the May 22 Republican primary. Erwin Roberts of Louisville said at a news conference that Fletcher had "misled" him with statements about doing things differently during his administration. Roberts said that his concern about the administration had increased over time and that Fletcher’s agreement with Attorney General Greg Stumbo to drop charges in an investigation of hiring practices was particularly distasteful to him. Roberts is a former federal prosecutor.
Fletcher picks up Louisville-area endorsements
Three more judge-executives have endorsed Gov. Ernie Fletcher's re-election bid, including two who serve in counties adjacent to opponent Anne Northup's hometown of Louisville, according to a news release issued today by Fletcher's campaign.
As has been pointed out here before, Stumbo went on the record years ago in stating that he would be interested in the governor’s chair if Fletcher ever became “wildly unpopular.” Strangely, instead of running for that position or even running to succeed himself, he’s the number two guy headed for almost certain political oblivion if the L/S combine fails to make it…as it most likely will. The fact that he, instead of allowing a personnel matter to go before the proper agencies, decided to make the governor become “wildly unpopular” by chasing it through his office speaks volumes for itself. Almost the only “crimes” committed were misdemeanors.
As did Patton, Jones, and Wilkinson before him, Stumbo probably hopes to vault from the number two spot to the top spot, though one wonders, assuming an L/S victory, when Lunsford might be ready to let that happen – four years from now or eight? He’s smart in using Lunsford’s money to do this, whereas the others had to buy their own way in. Wilkinson introduced the new wrinkle of getting back his ante with interest. Jones spent what seemed like his entire term getting back his investment, the procuring of part of which eventuated in a supporter going to the Big House.
Both of Governor Fletcher’s opponents in the Primary began their campaigns on the premise that Fletcher, because of the “merit mess” and the pardons, is unelectable. Northup hammers at this constantly. Harper, who also is buying his way in, seems less strident. The fact is, however, that as Kentuckians take the time to consider seriously what happened with respect to the attempted Stumbo massacre of Fletcher they may take a different view of the pardons, perhaps comparing Stumbo’s actions as AG with those of Ben Chandler as AG with regard to the vote-buying mess in 1995.
In Fletcher’s case, the merit matter should have gone before the proper agencies (personnel, ethics) and, in any case, involved virtually nothing other than misdemeanors. In Patton’s case (the 1995 election), the voting irregularities involved felonies and fitted directly within the purview of the AG’s office. Absent the pardons, Fletcher and his people would have been drained dry in lawyers’ fees for simple misdemeanors, and most folks understand that this was probably what Stumbo was interested in, perhaps as payback for both the democrat loss of the state senate years ago and the governorship in 2003.
Patton effected the four pardons connected to his problem (two union leaders and two state officials) to undo probable trials that might have involved him somewhere along the way with felonies. In fact, they probably would have; otherwise, he could have left the four alleged miscreants hanging in the wind. Conventional wisdom is that the Louisville vote was definitely tainted in 1995.
So…is it fair of Northup and Harper to insist that the governor, who has certainly done no worse in office than other governors and maybe even much better than most recent ones, to premise their campaigns on Fletcher’s un-electability? After all, Lieutenant Governor Pence bailed last June as a second-term guy, though, as a former prosecutor, he might be given some slack in his possible perception of the pardons as just plain wrong, no matter the circumstances. If this is the case, it is nevertheless worth noting that the power to pardon is written into the state constitution so that grievances of little or at least minor consequence or grievances obviously advanced through design can be redressed.
The difference between the pardons granted by Fletcher and Patton is obvious. A former Tennessee governor went to the penitentiary for selling pardons, so the pardon can be misused. In the news lately has been the pardons granted by Bill Clinton on the request of two of Hillary Clinton’s brothers, one involving a “loan” of $100,000 that’s never been repaid in seven years and the other in the amount of $400,000. In Fletcher’s case, since an easily recognizable attempt to “use” the system for political purposes is the issue, the pardons were permissible and the governor should not be judged on their basis. He should be judged only on his performance.
The Anne Northup camp announced that former Fletcher Personnel Cabinet Secretary Erwin Roberts is endorsing the former congresswoman over his old boss. Roberts, who oversaw the state’s 30-some thousand state employees, left the administration last year. He was touted as up and coming when Fletcher tapped the African-American attorney to head up Personnel… but now Roberts will support Northup. He’s the third high profile former Fletcher team member to announce support for Northup… the others being former GOP Chairman Darrell Brock and Lt. Governor Steve Pence.
While Northup was making her announcement… the Fletcher forces were putting out a release saying three Judge-Executives in the Louisville media were endorsing the governor for a second term. Judge Execs in Shelby, Oldham and Breckinridge counties say they’re for Fletcher for re-election. That’s 32 Republican judge-executives who’ve announced support for Fletcher. The “courthouse crowds” could be key in helping organize for the primary.
This could make it difficult to get 40 percent. Western Kentucky is not the most Republican part of the state. It is the least Republican part of the state. This is such a fundamnetally flawed statement, on such a basic political fact, that it renders the rest of the Novak opinion invalid. In my view, Novak has no idea what he is talking about. You have to wonder how much McConnell leaned on Novak to issue the report.
Fletcher has alienated two key groups in Kentucky 's Republican Party -- first the grassroots organizers who got him elected in his close 2003 race, and second his Republican allies in the state legislature. To the former, he gave early impressions of ingratitude and neglect, and many of them have abandoned him by now. The latter complain that he has behaved in an aloof manner, not unlike the way President Bush dealt with the congressional majority when he still had it.
The business community has also been upset with much of Fletcher's work. Fletcher pushed through a so-called "tax modernization plan" that included one of the most hated of all taxes for small businessmen -- an alternative minimum tax for businesses based on gross revenues. As a result, the state is raising excessive revenues on the backs of low-margin small businesses, even those with bad balance sheets.
Despite promises during his 2003 election campaign to make Kentucky more business friendly, the state has dropped from the 29th to 36th most business-friendly state in the United States since 2004, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The tax change played a significant role in that.
Former Rep. Anne Northup (R) is already nearly even with Fletcher in the polls, and she must be favored to win the primary. Despite what some view as a sluggish fundraising operation early on, she has hit her stride for the most part. The winner of this Republican primary must take 40 percent to avoid a primary runoff. A third candidate, businessman Bill Harper (R) -- who served as Fletcher's finance chairman in his 2003 election -- will sop up a significant portion of the vote in his native Western Kentucky , the most Republican part of the state. This could make it difficult to get 40 percent.
Still, Fletcher's support lags even at a time when he is on television and Northup is not. The real state of play in the GOP primary should become clearer when Northup takes to the airwaves in April. Leaning Northup.
The law of unintended consequences manifests itself in strange and unpredictable ways. The McCain-Feingold Act, for instance, created a campaign finance monster its backers said wouldn't happen. So, now we have more unrestricted political committees than ever versus the reform that was promised.
Comes now Anne Northup, backed by two U.S. senators, no less, thundering into the Republican gubernatorial primary with the goal of marginalizing the incumbent. What she's accomplished is something quite the opposite: energizing Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
I've run into a few doubting Thomases when sharing this observation. All I can say is, the governor is one tough character who will get back up on a horse time and again, no matter how often he's been thrown. Just ask Greg Stumbo.
No, what the Northup campaign has accomplished with all their negativity has been to galvanize the incumbent to the point that he is on a mission with all the focus one candidate can muster. You can see it in Fletcher's impassioned delivery of his campaign message, his laser-like fund-raising machine and his 24/7 public schedule.
As Al Cross wrote in his Sunday Courier-Journal column, Northup has a spotty public schedule probably due to the fact that she's tethered to the phone raising money. Not a good sign for any candidate this late in the campaign to be so preoccupied with finding money.
Fletcher's advertising blitz, his personal appearances throughout the state, combined with his skillful use of the governor's office - both bully pulpit and other tools at his disposal - add up to a candidate on the move. It's telling that not once has the governor broken his 11th Commandment vow to utter an unkind word about either of his primary opponents. Heck, he's even been kind to most Democrats. It's apparent that Fletcher doesn't need to go negative at this point as the reelection campaign has been moving along in a steady progression.
Regarding Anne Northup, at this point with some two months to go until Primary Day, she may well be wondering how in the name of the Grand Old Party did she ever let herself get talked into this race.
She could very well have rested on her considerable laurels as an accomplished member of congress. Northup did get reelected consistently in a tough district. The political climate of 2006 throughout the nation was about as bad for Republicans as any time since the 1974 mid-term debacle when the party lost 48 U.S. House seats. The voters chose a man of far diminished qualities, but, hey, stuff happens in politics.
Last year was an emotional year for Northup, both politically and at home. No one can know the level of sorrow she and her family endured in the loss of her son and father. So, it came as a surprise that she would venture so late in the game in a primary fight for governor - against an incumbent.
As much as anyone, Ernie Fletcher knows what it's like to have a string of bad days, given the Stumbo over-prosecution. As a result, the governor has observed with a certain detachment the slams and arrows fired his way by the ex-congresswoman from Louisville.
Not taking her attacks personally, Fletcher has used them to his advantage as a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted and the general election will require an even greater effort in order to win. The contrast between the two has been remarkable as the focused Fletcher compares well to Northup's attack mode.
Lexington last Saturday night was an excellent venue for Fletcher, where hometown friends warmly welcomed their governor at the 6th Congressional District Reagan Day Dinner, giving him sustained applause just seconds after Northup unleashed a blistering attack on the incumbent.
"Who on her campaign staff told her to give that speech in this venue tonight? Someone's got a tin ear for such things," they said.
"You don't go bashing a candidate, especially a governor, in his own hometown. It's artless and makes one appear petty, ham-handed. If you really want to disarm a guy like Fletcher, praise him on his home turf but give the audience an idea of what you'd do if you were in his shoes. How you would be a better leader. That she didn't do tonight, and it was a golden opportunity to do so."
But, as Northup likes to say, Republicans will all join hands and come together in one big grand old love fest the day after the May 22 primary, girding their loins for the real fight in the general election phase. That will be one picnic not to miss.
Speaking of, the best had to come from Greg Stumbo himself. As I've said here before, KY Governor's fates are seemingly made in reaction to conflict with the Gentleman from Floyd. Paul Patton bested him twice in brutal battles that paved the way to easy reelection. Stumbo said the attempt to gain sympathy probably wouldn't work. "I would have come out harder against me, if I were him" was the substance of Stumbo's remarks.
Some leading lawmakers are again pushing a controversial measure that would make it easier for a handful of legislators to effectively change state law without first having a public debate. The proposal would clarify that lawmakers have the ability to set aside existing laws and create new laws within the executive branch budget bill, which appropriates billions of dollars once every two years. It was put into an unrelated House bill by a Senate committee last week.
Unlike most other bills, the final details of a budget bill are usually hammered out in closed-door meetings of leading lawmakers from the House and Senate. Most rank-and-file legislators have no opportunity to even read the mammoth document before casting a vote on the measure in its entirety. "If that thing passes, then legislative leaders will have control over absolutely all legislation," said Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington. "We might as well pick up our tent and go home."
A similar proposal was withdrawn last month by House budget committee Chairman Harry Moberly after several Democratic and Republican lawmakers objected. In general, the provisions within the budget bill expire after two years. But in recent years, lawmakers have increasingly been using the bill to make permanent changes to the state's statutes. Groups opposed to those changes have filed multiple lawsuits, claiming that permanent changes to law within the budget bill are unconstitutional. "That bill is blatantly unconstitutional and laughable," said Mark Guilfoyle, a former state budget director. He is representing clients who think lawmakers have been illegally raiding a $19 million workers' compensation fund. The state Supreme Court is considering whether to take up the lawsuit.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly, who backs the amended version of House Bill 228, said he is confident that state law already allows legislators to change laws within the budget bill. The legislation simply eliminates the need to wrangle in court, he said. "We don't think they'll win, but rather than litigate it out and find out we're $20 million or $100 million in the hole, we'd like to close the door on the issue," Kelly said.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted March 12 to approve the amended bill -- which originally dealt with consumer protection measures during a time of crisis -- and placed it on the Senate's consent calender. The consent calender is reserved for non-controversial bills that require no debate. Kelly said he expects the measure to pass without objection because "it's a pretty important issue."
Scorsone said he has already cast a no vote on the bill. If it wins approval in the Senate, the amended measure must return to the House for its consideration. Moberly, D-Richmond, said he supports the bill, but others do not. "I don't believe anybody is for that," said Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington. "That will have to be stripped out of there. We cannot do that."
Scandal has marred Governor Fletcher’s administration. Corruption and fraud have dominated the headlines. Now, legislators want secret sessions? Please…
This would embarrass a leader. However, Governor Fletcher is silent. A true leader would champion legislation and revamp this disaster. Governor Fletcher, our children are dying. What is your response?
From Lexington Herald-Leader:
At least 12 states have passed laws requiring that child protection records be released when a child dies from neglect or abuse. But Kentucky, which in 2004 had the fifth-highest rate of children dying of abuse and neglect in the United States, isn't one of them. When a child dies from abuse or neglect in Kentucky, state child protection officials decide whether to release the information on a case-by-case basis.
In the case of Michaela Watkins, a Clark County 10-year-old whose father and step-mother have been charged with murder, the answer is no. Michaela was found dead in the couple's apartment, and relatives have said that police and state social workers had previous contact with the girl and her family, including three other children in the home.
So far, the state has declined to release any records in Michaela's case, citing an ongoing police investigation and saying the confidentiality of Michaela's siblings should be protected. The state says it is conducting an internal investigation of its contact with Michaela. Kentucky Youth Advocates, a Louisville-based child advocacy group, favors opening state social service records after child fatalities, said KYA Deputy Director Lacey McNary. The hard part, she said, is in deciding when that should happen. "We want to ensure transparency, but we want to make sure that police can do their job," McNary said.
Under federal law, states such as Kentucky that receive federal child abuse prevention grants must have a provision in place to release state social service information when a child dies. But the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act does not require the release of information in all cases or specify the information that can be released, said Steve Christian, a spokesman for the Colorado-based National Conference of State Legislatures.
The national average of children dying from abuse and neglect was 2.03 deaths per 100,000 children in 2004, the most recent year for which national data was available. In 2004, Kentucky's rate was 3.88. Only Indiana, Washington D.C., Oklahoma and Georgia had higher rates. Indiana, which had the nation's highest rate of deaths from child abuse and neglect in 2004, has passed a law that requires a judge to open files in child death cases after receiving a request from the public or an agency. Within 30 days of a request being made to open a record, the court in the Indiana county where the child died must exclude identifying information not relevant to the circumstances of the child's death.
Union workers at Ford's Explorer plant in Louisville will vote soon on cost-saving concessions for the troubled automaker. The vote at the Louisville Assembly Plant on Fern Valley Road may happen in the next week, Ford spokeswoman Anne-Marie Gattari said yesterday.
She said she didn't know details of the so-called competitive operating agreement. Deals at other plants have loosened work rules and allowed the company to shift some work to non-UAW employees. "The bottom line is our plants are working very hard to turn our business around, and we applaud them for that," Gattari said.
Messages left for Louisville UAW leaders were not returned yesterday. The news comes with Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher expected to sign legislation this week allowing about $200 million in tax rebates and other incentives to Ford if it upgrades its two Louisville plants. Workers at 34 of Ford's 42 plants in North America have approved concessions, Gattari said, including Ford's Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan, which makes the Expedition sport utility vehicle.
The Louisville Assembly Plant employs more than 3,000 and builds the Explorer SUV, which has seen sales plummet amid higher fuel costs and changing consumer tastes. The poor Explorer sales have many concerned that the plant could be one of the plants Ford will close by 2009. Five of the seven plants slated for closure have been identified. The plant has endured weeklong shutdowns, and Ford plans to run its assembly lines slower, requiring fewer workers, to produce fewer vehicles.
The Kentucky Truck Plant, which has more than 5,000 hourly and salaried workers and is Ford's largest North American factory, builds the high-profit F-Series Super Duty truck. While the factory is generally considered to be at low risk for closing, truck sales have been hurt by higher fuel prices and a decline in the national home-building market.
Last year UAW leaders agreed to change the shift structure at the Chamberlain Lane plant to eliminate scheduled overtime. Fletcher, who supports the incentives passed by the General Assembly, has until tomorrow to sign the legislation.
As Fordfare passes, Ford mulls cuts. Someone silence Fletcher’s celebrating.
From the Lexington Herald-Leader:
An Eastern Kentucky coal operator with one of the worst records in the nation of not paying fines for mine safety violations has pleaded guilty to fraud. Harold Simpson, who has operated mines in Perry, Bell and other counties, told companies that provided workers' compensation insurance that he had only half as many employees as he really did, according to the charge.
Comp premiums are based largely on the number of employees at a mine, so that meant Simpson paid only half of what he should have. The document charging Simpson, called an information, said he covered the scheme by paying employees partly in cash, wrote checks to fictitious people to generate cash for such payments, and gave false payroll records to three insurance companies between 1999 and June 2006. Simpson, 56, of Ewing, Va., pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of mail fraud, based on mailing inaccurate payroll information to the three companies.
Federal prosecutors agreed not to file charges against Simpson's wife, Linda, who was listed as president of one of his companies. The payroll records that Simpson sent insurance companies helped trip him. Greg Duerstock, an agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said the investigation started after a miner who worked for Simpson got hurt and filed a workers' comp claim. After Simpson's insurer found the man was not listed on Simpson's payroll, it investigated and found he had quite a few more employees than he'd reported. That led to the federal inquiry, Duerstock said.
The charge against Simpson carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. However, under federal sentencing guidelines, Simpson's sentence will be less than 10 years, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, who prosecuted. The government and Simpson's attorney, Steven Reed of Louisville, don't agree on how to calculate the amount of money Simpson's actions cost insurance companies, according to the plea agreement. That figure, which a judge will have to decide, will play a role in how much time Simpson gets.
Reed was not available for comment yesterday. Simpson is scheduled to be sentenced June 25. U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood released him on his own recognizance after the plea, meaning he didn't have to post bail.
This week's charge against Simpson is the second time in recent years he has been involved in a federal criminal case. In 2002, regulators filed charges against Simpson's company and a foreman, Mark Mills, alleging they endangered miners.
The charges in that case said Simpson's company did not follow rules for supporting the roof of the mine, which could have caused a deadly rock fall; did not have a proper fire-suppression system; and did not use required ventilation measures to provide clean air to workers and carry away gases and dust that could blow up. Mills said in a plea document that he followed the ventilation plan only when inspectors came in the mine. A judge sentenced him to three years' probation.
Simpson pleaded guilty on behalf of the company and paid a $20,000 fine. He said he was not aware of violations by Mills and other foremen but should have been. Simpson gained notoriety last year because the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said he had not paid more than $1.1 million in fines for health and safety violations at his mines, dating back many years. That was the most of any coal operator in the country, MSHA said; one agency official said Simpson operated as a "scofflaw."
Seen as part of a weak system
Some mine-safety advocates pointed to Simpson as an example of weaknesses in the system of collecting federal mine-safety penalties. MSHA can't shut down a mine because of unpaid fines. Critics had long said MSHA's fines were too low and that it didn't push to collect, undermining the deterrence of the penalties.
The debate was part of a larger argument that MSHA had not done enough in recent years to protect miners, though the agency said it had moved aggressively against unsafe operators. The new mail-fraud charge against Simpson is not related to the issue of his unpaid fines, which are not a criminal matter.
MSHA filed a lawsuit in February 2007 against Simpson and his companies, Simpson Mining Co. Inc., and Motivation Enterprise Inc. The lawsuit does not seek to collect the big backlog of fines that MSHA says he owes, but rather asks that a judge order Simpson to post a large bond to cover any future fines. The agency has filed a similar action against Stanley Osborne of Pike County and two of his companies, Misty Mountain Mining and Midgard Mining LLC. Simpson and Osborne have denied they owe the fines and argued there is no authority in federal law to force them to post a bond for potential future fines.
From Louisville Courier-Journal:
Senate President David Williams has sent all members of the legislature a letter asking them to return to Frankfort on Friday to work out a compromise on the Senate’s pension-reform proposal.
The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have been at an impasse over the proposal, as well as on two spending bills. Lawmakers are set to return Monday for the final two days of the 30-day session. In the letter, addressed to House Speaker Jody Richards and copied to all members of the House and Senate, Williams said he and Senate Minority Floor Leader Ed Worley would be available Friday afternoon to discuss the plan.
Williams, R-Burkesville, said he also is prepared to meet through the weekend to allow a conference committee to produce a report for consideration by both chambers Monday. The Senate has proposed borrowing $800 million through bonds to stabilize the state-employee and teacher pension systems and cut benefits for future state employees. House leaders have said they are willing to float the bonds but want more time to study reductions in future benefits.
The former Personnel Cabinet Secretary for Governor Fletcher will be endorsing the candidacy of one of Fletcher's opponents on thursday.
From NKY Politics:
Sources down state and in NKY say former Fletcher cabinet member Erwin Roberts will endorse Anne Northup Thursday in the governor's race. Here is what Gov. Fletcher said about Roberts, the former personnel secretary, when he left the cabinet in July:
From Blue Grass, Red State:
Pat Crowley seems to think it will be Erwin Roberts endorsing Northup/Hoover tomorrow. He has "people" and "sources," so it looks likely that I was right in leaning toward Roberts earlier today. You could tell by the way Hall tried to preempt the endorsement by writing it off as meaningless, just as all the Fletcher supporters have done for the entire campaign on all the endorsements. We'll find out for sure tomorrow.
From Blue Grass, Red State:
Brett Hall thinks the ex-Fletcher administration official is either ex-GOP Chair Darrel Brock or ex-Personnel Secretary Erwin Roberts. Brock resigned as GOP chairman last month and once served as Commissioner for G.O.L.D. Roberts, on the other hand, used to be Fletcher's Personnel Secretary. I thought Brock already endorsed Northup/Hoover last week, so I'm leaning towards Roberts. I called Roberts' office and his secretary told me that he will not be in the office tomorrow.
From KY Progress:
Another press conference tomorrow promises to have another big-name Republican endorse Anne Northup for Governor. I'm guessing it will be former Commerce Secretary Jim Host, but it doesn't really matter. The Anyone But Ernie crowd has taken their shot, but it is about time to admit that it hasn't worked and that the conservative thing to do is get behind Governor Fletcher and push on through to November. I say this as one who was sympathetic to the idea of changing horses in this primary.