Friday, April 6, 2007


Special session may not include pensions? What is the extra session’s point?

From Louisville Courier-Journal:

Gov. Ernie Fletcher said this morning that he still wants to call a special session for some spending items and other priorities but may not put the bailout of state pension systems on the agenda. "We’re assessing which things we would put on a special session," Fletcher said in a breakfast speech to a business group called the Lexington Forum. "I’m not ruling out calling one even before the primary at this point."

Fletcher was referring to the May 22 primary elections, in which he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor against two rivals. House Speaker Jody Richards is running against six others for the Democratic nomination. On Wednesday Fletcher appointed members of a task force to study the unfunded liabilities of retirement systems for state and local government workers and teachers and make recommendations by Dec. 1.

During the recent legislative session the Senate passed a plan to borrow more than $800 million and reduce benefits to future employees. The House rejected the plan, saying the issue needed more study. Asked after his speech whether he would put the pension issue on a special session agenda, Fletcher said, "At this point, unless I see movement coming together on the pension, I’m not sure that that could be part of the special session. But I’m not ruling it out that this time."

Fletcher said he will make an announcement soon about whether he has the authority as governor to require some emergency spending that lawmakers failed to approve. Matters he considers urgent that require legislative action, he said, would be put on the special session agenda.

Those matters, Fletcher said, could include funding for water projects and other expenses in response to the lowered water level at Lake Cumberland; some priority building projects at universities and community and technical colleges; funding for counties to conduct the likely runoff election for governor in June; exempting military pay from the Kentucky income tax; and a bill that would provide tax incentives for projects that produce alternative fuels.

Harper’s Campaign Strategy

From the Kentucky Post:

An underdog in the governor's race is trying something different in his attempt to win the Republican nomination. Humor.

Billy Harper, a businessman and race car driver from Paducah, plans to begin airing an amusing political ad on Monday, spending more than $1 million over the next month to bring a lighthearted touch to the serious world of Kentucky politics. It includes a Colonel Sanders impersonator, an Elvis look-alike, even a whinnying horse, all saying "No." Then Harper appears, signing a pledge not to raise taxes. A narrator ends the ad saying: "No new taxes for Kentucky."

"We've got to laugh a little, enjoy things," Harper said Thursday.

Harper is challenging Gov. Ernie Fletcher in a three-way race in the May 22 GOP primary. Former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville is also running. In the last governor's race, Harper served as Fletcher's finance chairman, collecting donations that helped to elect Kentucky's first Republican governor in more than 30 years. Harper decided to run for the office himself after Fletcher and several members of his administration were indicted on charges that they violated state hiring laws by appointing political supporters to protected state jobs.

Fletcher issued pardons to everyone in his administration who was charged with crimes. The indictment against him was dismissed in a negotiated agreement with prosecutors. Both Harper and Northup claim that Fletcher has been too politically weakened to win in the November general election - one of only three governor's races to be held this year. Harper said Thursday he wants the latest political ad to convey to voters that he is adamantly opposed to higher taxes and has signed a pledge not to impose any additional taxes.

University of Louisville political scientist Phil Laemmle said most candidates try to steer clear of humor for one basic reason. "Humor is not a universal currency. What you or I might think is funny, others may not think is funny at all. It's risky in some ways," Laemmle said.

Laemmle said a lighter touch worked for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, when he unseated the entrenched Democrat Walter Huddleston in 1984. McConnell used a series of television campaign spots featuring hounds searching for Huddleston, questioning the incumbent's attendance record in the Senate. "That was actually a very effective ad," Laemmle said. "It was funny. It was clever. For an approach like that to work, everything has to be just right."

OSI Interprets

This week's question can be summarized as: If elected [Governor], what kind of fresh approach will you bring to deal with the vast problems caused by illegal drugs? Read what the candidates are REALLY saying below:

Billy Harper: "We must use the education system to eliminate the use of illegal drugs." Billy either thinks that people do drugs because they are uneducated or he wants to use education to teach people to stay off drugs.

Ernie Fletcher: "I created the Office of Drug Control Policy to develop local coalitions to keep Kentuckians off drugs. [Also], my Recovery Kentucky initiative established ten recovery centers throughout the state, and I implemented a comprehensive treatment program in the Juvenile Justice system." Ernie is using his "drug control policy" and recovery centers to tackle the drug problem.

Anne Northup: "Engaging parents with prevention facts and letting them know where to get help is critical to halting the cycle of addiction. Furthermore, we should expand Drug Courts ... [and] insist on measuring outcomes and funding [treatment] programs that work ... ." Anne will provide prevention information to parents, fund drug courts and offer treatment options that are effective."

Northup Advertising?

An entire ad of “Fletcher can’t win, Fletcher can’t win, Fletcher can’t win, Fletcher can’t win.” Ambitious!

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Anne Northup will start her television advertising next week in her bid to unseat Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Northup’s campaign said Friday.

Northup’s first commercial is set to debut across Kentucky next Tuesday, beginning a sustained television ad campaign until the May 22 primary, said Ted Jackson, a senior campaign adviser. "For the first time in this campaign, many voters outside Anne’s district when she served in Congress are going to be introduced to Anne Northup," Jackson said in an interview.

Northup, who spent five terms in Congress from the 3rd District, was a fixture on Louisville television during her campaigns over the past decade. Jackson wouldn’t reveal the ad’s message, but said it will refer to Northup’s background. Northup served in the Kentucky House before winning election to Congress. The Northup ad comes as the advertising campaign begins to intensify in the crowded race for governor.

Paducah businessman Billy Harper, another Republican candidate, will start airing a whimsical ad next week that includes a Colonel Sanders impersonator, an Elvis look-alike and a whinnying horse, all saying "No." Then Harper appears, signing a pledge not to raise taxes. Harper has run a series of TV ads that began last fall. Fletcher, who is seeking a second term, launched his first ad last month that likened an investigation of his administration’s hiring practices to being confronted by schoolyard bullies.

Fletcher and several members of his administration were indicted on charges that they violated state hiring laws by appointing political supporters to protected state jobs. Fletcher issued pardons to everyone in his administration who was charged with crimes. The indictment against him was dismissed in a negotiated agreement with prosecutors. His ad said Fletcher focused on his job during the legal turmoil overshadowing much of his term, and boasted of a strong economy, a budget surplus, more roads and tax breaks during his tenure.

Both Harper and Northup have said that Fletcher has been too politically weakened to win in the November general election Ñ one of only three governor’s races to be held this year. In the Democratic primary, Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford has been on the air consistently since last month, and State Treasurer Jonathan Miller recently launched his first television ad.

On the Right Compromises Himself

He admits an Anne Northup donation. He encourages and solicits Anne Northup donations. Subsequently, his commentary cannot be trusted.

From On the Right:

Former Congresswoman Anne Northup is expected to start running radio and TV ads throughout Kentucky starting next week. Reliable sources tell me the ads will be running through primary election day! Hopefully this will dispel rumors spread by Fletcher operatives that she is having difficulty raising funds. I can tell you that I have made the maximum contribution to her campaign and urge my fellow Republicans and conservatives to do the same.

The Horror Intensifies

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Five more rape charges have been added against a Bullitt County man who already has pleaded not guilty to a list of more than 7,500 sexual abuse charges. Perry Bennington, 57, was arrested Monday after a female relative told police he allegedly raped and sodomized her starting when she was 6 and ending when she was 22, said Detective Scott McGaha with the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Department.

The five new rape charges were lodged after a second victim – a female relative of Bennington’s girlfriend – told McGaha she also allegedly had been raped by Bennington several times when she was a child. Now, Bennington is charged with 4,235 counts of sodomy and 3,290 counts of rape, McGaha said.

Bennington’s girlfriend Linda L. Wethington, 46, was arrested Wednesday after she allegedly threatened to kill the first victim, McGaha said. Wethington was charged with intimidation of a witness involved in a legal process, which is a felony. Wethington is now cooperating with police in the case, McGaha said. During the years the first victim reported being abused, she became pregnant with a child who died at the age of 9 months, he said. The body of that child could be exhumed next week, McGaha said.

The first victim told McGaha that she tried to contact police during the time period she says she was abused, and McGaha said he is investigating whether she asked for help and nothing was done. Bennington and Wethington are being held at the Bullitt County detention center in lieu of a $1 million bond and a $50,000 bond, respectively, McGaha said. Bennington is scheduled to be back in court at 2:30 p.m. April 9 and Wethington is scheduled to be in court April 16, McGaha said.

Kentucky Pachyderm’s Bizarre Criticism

No, we're not talking about the marriages of convenience between bootleggers and ministerial associations that occur in small towns all across Kentucky every time a wet-dry local option issue comes up for a public vote. We're talking about the union between Tokyo Mark Nickolas (, the Anne Northup campaign, and the Northup supporters who infest the Kentucky conservative blog network.

All seem to be on a mission to see Ernie Fletcher defeated in next month's primary election -- and this despite the fact that Nickolas and his Kool-Aide drinking lemmings who participate in the daily patting-each-other-on-the-back circle jerk sessions on that blog seem to think Northup will be harder to defeat in the fall. There have been reports of a pow-wow between Nickolas and Northup's press secretary, ex-WKYT-TV reporter Barry Peel.

Why anyone associated with Northup would have anything other than obscenities to say to Nickolas, who bashed Northup and praised John Yarmuth at every opportunity last fall, is beyond comprehension. When state unemployment figures came out earlier this week, Nickolas took a look at them and noticed that things haven't gone as well as could be hoped for in some of the more rural Republican counties in the state. He basically invited Northup's campaign and her supporters to use his "research" and sure enough, the Northup-lovin' Fletcher-hatin' bloggers (and you know who you are) took him up on it.

They lapped up Nickolas' posting like kittens after a saucer of milk. We have our doubts that Nickolas could find Owsley County or Butler County on a map, and we'd be highly suprised if he's ever been in any of the counties he singled out for analysis. It's definite, though, that he doesn't know much about those individual locales. Most of them are very isolated and cut off from good highway access to the rest of the state. Only one (Rockcastle) has an interstate and only one (Butler) has a four-lane parkway.

Many of these counties have a small local property tax base because so much of the land is owned by the federal government in the form of the Daniel Boone National Forest. And there are extenuating circumstances involved with some of the counties. Mid-South Electronics operated a factory in Jackson County that employed a large number of people from that county as well as neighboring Owsley and Clay counties.

That factory burned and a large number of employees were laid off. Not everyone was recalled when the factory began operating in a temporary facility, and that arrangement didn't work out well so the company severely curtailed its operations, resulting in even more layoffs. In addition, in a lot of these counties, the largest employer is the county board of education. Small rural communities are losing population, and as a result school enrollment is declining. When that happens, school boards are forced to cut back on staff. Young non-tenured teachers and classified staff are often not rehired from one year to the next.

And in a community with a small population, even the loss of as few as half-a-dozen jobs can move the unemployment percentage a significant amount. The types of things needed to increase employment numbers in communities like these can't be done overnight. The Tennessee border counties listed (Monroe, Cumberland and Clinton) suffer from extreme isolation and the highway projects designed to connect them to the rest of the state have languished in previous administrations.

The Fletcher administration has moved forward on major north-south highways such as KY 163 (Tompkinsville to Edmonton), KY 61 (Burkesville to Columbia) and US 127 (Albany to Jamestown-Russell Springs) but it takes legislative cooperation to move them from paper-only design projects to actual construction.

After years of neglect by the Patton and Jones administrations, the Fletcher administration is finally moving forward on the highway project that will link Jackson and Owsley counties to I-75. We don't know what the Northupians think they'll gain from striking a deal with the devil (Nickolas). Surely they don't think he'll support her if his preferred candidate, Jonathan Miller, doesn't win the Democratic nomination.

After all, Nickolas has been blasting Bruce Lunsford for his party disloyalty in 2003. Surely Nickolas wouldn't prove himself to be a hypocrite on this issue by ripping a Democrat for not supporting the party's nominee four years ago, and then turning around and not supporting the nominee this year. At any rate, it's fun to watch Nickolas spout off about subjects of which he knows little, and the Fletcher-hating Northupians accepting Nickolas' ill-informed analysis as gospel truth.

Kentucky Kurmudgeon Denounces Governor

When you visit the Web site for Gov. Ernie Fletcher's re-election campaign, the main picture you see is one of several that rotate in the position. This is the picture that appeared when I visited the site today:

It jumped out at me for three reasons. First, featured very prominently at the right of the picture (on Fletcher's left) is House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, who is the running mate of one of Fletcher's primary opponents, former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup. Second, if you look behind Fletcher, you will see Lt. Gov. Steve Pence, who bailed out as Fletcher's wing man long ago and who now endorses Northup. To the left of the picture (Fletcher's right) is former Personnel Cabinet Secretary Erwin Roberts, who has also endorsed Northup.

Now, I'm no pro at managing Web sites or political campaigns. But if I were running a campaign Web site, I don't think I would use a picture that features a member of an opposition ticket and the guy your campaign manager now refers to as "Brutus" to tout the theme: "When we work together, Kentucky Wins!"

No wonder fellow Republicans talk about Fletcher's "political ineptitude."

Blatantly Obvious Failure

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

State agencies spent thousands of dollars in federal funds, some from the Department of Homeland Security, on Kentucky's "Unbridled Spirit" marketing campaign, according to an audit released yesterday. Seven government agencies, ranging from the Education Cabinet to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, combined to spend more than $75,000 in federal grant money toward the campaign, the audit said.

Money came from different grants that the federal government intended to fund things such as a summer food service program for children and a state domestic preparedness equipment support program, the report said. "Payments made by these agencies using federal dollars were not appropriately accounted for," the report said.

The conclusion came as part of a wide-ranging annual audit by the state auditor's office for the federal government on the state's spending practices. Auditors had more than 69 "reportable findings" outlined in the report. State Auditor Crit Luallen said the findings are sent to a national clearinghouse where federal agencies would review whether the state was spending money appropriately.

Last year, a review by the state Finance and Administration Cabinet found that state agencies had overpaid more than $611,000 toward the "Unbridled Spirit" campaign, according to the report. Of that amount, $75,132 came from federal grants. It happened because of a change in state government's policy on how different agencies pay for their advertising, Luallen said. Agencies paid into a "central agency pool" for advertising but did not necessarily get a discount, Luallen said. "It does not appear to be fraud. It just appears to be administrative mistakes that were made," Luallen said.

Federal funding in future years could be at risk, she said. Chris Gilligan, a spokesman for the Commerce Cabinet, said all the agencies that were owed money have already been "paid in full." Other findings included: The Finance and Administration Cabinet had not verified on paper whether Pepsi has been fulfilling its part of an exclusive contract with the state. The Health and Family Services Cabinet paid Artemetrix, a health care-related company, $1 million before it fulfilled its state contract. The Department of Revenue failed to properly secure Kentucky's cigarette tax stamps.

In one case, the department mistakenly mailed six rolls of stamps -- each worth $9,000 -- to the wrong address. Only five rolls were returned, the report found. Cigarette stamps took in more than $165 million in the 2006 fiscal year, according to the report. However, different locations that sell the stamps don't keep track of them and sell them out of order, the report found. "We didn't feel that they had adequate controls," Luallen said.

Officials were developing a plan to better protect the cigarette stamps, according to the agency's written response.

Federal Funds for advertising? Children’s summer food service program forsaken for advertising? Future funds jeopardized for advertising? This blunder would be laughable. However, those three stated questions are true. Another Fletcher folly has embarrassed and endangered Kentucky. Are we disgusted?

Epitomizing Futility

This is ridiculous. One million dollars for zero hours? If this were an incident, the employees would be fired and the mistake forgotten. However, this is not isolated. This symbolizes Fletcher’s administration.

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

The Department for Medicaid Services paid the full $1 million amount of a contract to review Medicaid claims in 2005 before the contractor had done any work for it, a state audit has found. The payment, to Artemetrx LLC of Lexington, violated terms of the contract, federal rules and the Kentucky Constitution's ban on paying state funds before services are rendered, according to the audit released by state Auditor Crit Luallen yesterday.

The audit says the violations may mean that the state will have to repay the federal share of the $1 million in Medicaid funds. But Glenn Jennings, commissioner of the Department of Medicaid Services, said he did not believe the federal government will try to recover any of the money because Artemetrx performed the work required under the contract. "In this case we agree a payment was made out of sequence," Jennings said. "But the commonwealth did get the product it contracted for. And the people here were generally satisfied with the performance."

Matt Wiley, chief financial officer for Artemetrx, said the company contacted the department in early 2005 and asked how it was to be paid and was told it could be in a lump sum or monthly. "Absolutely we provided the services," Wiley said. "In fact our recommendations generated savings to the state -- annual hard-dollar savings -- of over $35 million."

The finding is one of 69 in Luallen's annual audit of state government for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2006. Artemetrx was awarded the no-bid contract in January 2005 to review Medicaid pharmacy claims as part of the cabinet's effort to reduce fraudulent or erroneous billings. The audit says Artemetrx was paid the entire $1 million on Feb. 1, 2005, even though the contract called for it to be paid "upon successful completion and acceptance of the described work."

The cabinet, in its response included in the audit, does not dispute the finding. It says the department has made changes in its contracting processes, including "controls to ensure that contract payments are not made until a documented (service) has been received, reviewed and approved."

Daniel Groves, a former chief of staff and senior adviser to Gov. Ernie Fletcher who resigned from state government in September 2005, later had a brief association with Artemetrx. Groves registered on Aug. 3, 2006, to lobby the governor's office and other executive branch agencies for Artemetrx. However, after The Courier-Journal reported the relationship, Groves withdrew as the company's lobbyist on Aug. 23, according to records of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

In an interview yesterday, Groves said he had no involvement in the Artemetrx contract while he was with state government. He added that he continues to do work for the company under a contract, though it does not involve dealings with Kentucky state government. Wiley said that Artemetrx had no dealings with Groves at the time it was seeking the Medicaid review contract and that Groves had no involvement with the contract.

In another finding, the audit concluded the Finance and Administration Cabinet failed to document services that Pepsi-Cola North America had agreed to provide to promote Kentucky's "Unbridled Spirit" marketing campaign. The services were part of a contract under which the state agreed to buy only Pepsi products for sale at state parks and other facilities.

Auditors found "no verification or documentation" that Pepsi fulfilled a requirement that it provide at least $725,000 worth of promotion -- mostly by including the "Unbridled Spirit" logo on cans and bottles sold in the state.

Cabinet officials responded in the audit by saying that Pepsi provided a "spread sheet" last year showing it had provided such services with a value of more than $924,000. But auditors said the sheet did not verify that the services were provided and that Pepsi did not provide required reports.

Speaking Anne

From Blue Grass, Red State:

"Tens of thousands of Kentuckians with kids under the age of 5 have thought about sending their child to college in Kentucky," commented Anne Northup, candidate for Governor. "The message I have for them is ‘we will not fail you.’" "Being Governor is all about priorities," said Northup.

"For too many years, Kentucky has had no long term plan, just long term problems and Ernie Fletcher has done nothing to change that." "The first step to leadership is developing a plan to address the problems Kentucky faces," according to Northup. "The second step is actually being there day after day working with both parties in both chambers to get things accomplished."

After the 2006 legislative session, Governor Ernie Fletcher vetoed $370 million worth of projects, most of which were infrastructure projects for our state colleges and universities. During the 2007 legislative session Ernie Fletcher failed to build a consensus and restore the projects he vetoed.

"As much as I hate to say this, Ernie Fletcher has failed on both accounts- having a plan and being there to get things done," concluded Northup. "He was too busy traveling around Kentucky trying to get reelected by handing out oversized checks instead of staying in Frankfort during the legislative session to make sure our universities get the funding they need."

Tens of thousands of Kentuckians desire an Ernie Fletcher alternative. Voting for Governor is about choices. For three years, Kentucky has endured platitudes and hypocricy and Anne Northup has done nothing to change that.

As much as I have said this, I will say it again, Northup is a miserable candidate. She has no agenda and one three-word talking point. She has forsaken policy. She has been to busy traveling around Kentucky, screeching, “Fletcher can’t win. Fletcher can’t win. Fletcher can’t win.”
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