BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FORT MITCHELL -- First Bill Clinton, now Paul Patton.
As if Kentucky Democrats didn't have enough political fallout to worry about with the president's sex scandal, now they must contend with a Democratic governor who saw two of his aides and two Teamsters union officials indicted Thursday on a variety of felony counts relating to the 1995 gubernatorial election.
Democrats, particularly those on the ballot this fall, are trying to mitigate the impact of the Clinton scandal and Patton administration indictments.
"Any kind of bad news is not good news," said Democrat Jim Collins, candidate for Boone County judge-executive. "But I just think the voters can differentiate between the president, the governor and the people they deal with on the local level, like me."
Republicans, meanwhile, say in the short term, the Democrats' problems will bolster GOP candidates running in the fall election, which is less than six weeks away.
"I would imagine this will trickle down to the local races," said Republican Adam Koenig of Villa Hills, running for Kenton County commissioner. "Clinton's problems may not have trickled down to a county race like mine, but put that with the governor's situation, and it just might."
And for Mr. Patton, the first governor in a century allowed to seek a consecutive term, the indictments of his aides -- including Chief of Staff Skipper Martin -- could severely hurt his chances at re-election next year.
"It should damage the governor, because the guys indicted were under his control and he had to be right in the thick of it," said Steve Preston of Taylor Mill, a member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee.
"Paul Patton was a whole lot stronger before than he is now," said Boone County Republican Party chairman Jay Hall of Florence.
"This has definitely damaged his credibility. His re-election plans have stalled, and I would expect the Democrats will probably run someone in the primary against him," Mr. Hall predicted.
Former Gov. Brereton Jones said Thursday he may find somebody to run in the May Democratic primary, or he might run again himself. "I'm saddened for the commonwealth . . . and I'm saddened for the office of the governor," Mr. Jones, a frequent critic of Mr. Patton, said Thursday from his Woodford County horse farm.
"I've been disappointed by this administration, and now it looks like they've funneled extra money to their campaign. (Republican) Larry Forgy might have actually won if the Democrats had played by the rules," Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Forgy, a Lexington attorney, lost the 1995 race to Mr. Patton by a margin of fewer than 25,000 votes out of about 1 million cast. It was his complaints more than two years ago that led to the seating of the grand jury that handed down the indictments Thursday.
"These indictments are a victory for every Kentuckian," Mr. Forgy said Thursday from his law office. "I view this more with sorrow than with anger. This Democratic machine is so powerful that it won't even lose when it is beaten."
Republicans were already talking Thursday about who might run for governor on their ticket. Among the names mentioned: Mr. Forgy, who said he hasn't decided; U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset; eastern Kentucky banker Mike Duncan, a former state GOP chairman now running Congressman Jim Bunning's campaign for U.S. Senate; and Lexington state lawmaker Stan Cave.
Whoever it is will get a boost from the governor's problems, said Fort Thomas attorney Jim Kidney, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully in May's 4th District congressional primary.
But some local Democrats noted Thursday that local Republicans have some ethical problems of their own.
Former Kenton County Judge-executive Clyde Middleton, a Fort Mitchell Republican, resigned in February after being embroiled in a scandal over the awarding of bids on a new $35 million county courthouse.
And Republican 4th District congressional candidate Gex "Jay" Williams, a state lawmaker from Boone County, is the subject of two investigations by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission for a land sale and his alleged use of Statehouse phones for political calls.
"Like (the late U.S. House Speaker) Tip O'Neill used to say, all politics is local," said Crestview Hills attorney Dave Kramer, a member of the Kenton County Democratic Executive Committee. Mr. Kramer also said an indictment is merely a charge, not a finding of guilt.
"This is America, where you're innocent until proven guilty."