Monday, December 8, 2003

Patton looks back on 8 years



By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Like many in state government, Gov. Paul Patton plans to punch out today around 4:30 p.m., perhaps have dinner with friends and then quietly go home, capping a tumultuous administration.

Patton said he expects he'll spend his last day in office making phone calls and meeting with any well-wishers who happen by his near-empty office.

Contrary to some previous governors who have filled their final day with pardons and appointments, Patton said his should end rather uneventfully.

He's already said he has no plans of issuing mass pardons in the waning hours and minutes of his eight-year administration. Instead, he would most likely spend a leisurely final day at the Capitol.

"At this point, I don't envision anything like that. Now it would have been the pardons, but we would have already had the decisions made," Patton said. "They would have already been prepared and ready to file Monday morning ... I don't expect to have any newsworthy events on Monday."

Of course, Patton will be around the capital to witness the inauguration of his successor, Ernie Fletcher. Fletcher will be the first Republican to hold the governor's office in more than three decades.

After Fletcher's inauguration, Patton said he plans to head back to Pikeville, where he'll start on the next chapter of his life. He plans to start with some golf and relaxation before taking on some part-time work, Patton said.

Patton's already moved out of the Governor's Mansion. His last van load of belongings destined for a garage in Pikeville left this weekend.

"We'll be gone Saturday morning so the new family can start to move in," Patton said.

His last full night as governor would be spent in a hotel, Patton said.

The waning weeks and days of his administration were relatively quiet, scheduled with a series of last dinners for various groups of staff members. He tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to muster public support for his plans to save the state's ailing budget.

His political career and stature crashed when it became public that he was involved in a two-year affair with Tina Conner, who at the time owned a nursing home. In the aftermath, Patton said "it'd be a miracle" if history looked kindly on him.

In time, Patton's inadequacies would be filtered away, and people would probably judge him for his administration's positive accomplishments, Fletcher said. Rather than the affair, people would remember his education reforms, and efforts to develop the state's economy, Fletcher said.

"Unfortunately, when somebody makes the mistakes that he made, that detracts from what otherwise would have been a very good legacy," Fletcher said. "But, history over the years has a way of looking at the positive things in people. And, I think that's the way history will judge him, eventually."

Patton's first four years in office were progressive for Kentucky, House Speaker Jody Richards said. The good economic times Kentucky enjoyed, combined with his work in higher education were successes, he said.

But, Patton's marital indiscretions may wind up overshadowing those achievements, Richards said. Certainly, they hurt the Democratic Party's chances of maintaining the governor's office, he said.

"It's a shame that the scandal did harm to Gov. Patton's reputation at least for now," Richards said. "We don't know how historians will judge all that."

Senate President David Williams, a Republican, declined to say much about Patton's legacy in office. Williams said he'd "rather look at the future than dwell on the past."

At times an ardent critic of Patton, Williams said he hoped the outgoing governor "finds peace in his retirement."

A rare two terms

From a historical perspective, Patton's tenure as governor was at least significant because he was the state's first chief executive in more than 200 years allowed to seek re-election. Not since James Garrard, who was Kentucky governor from 1796 to 1804, had Kentucky elected the same person to serve two straight terms in the governor's office.




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