By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - Gov. Ernie Fletcher is preparing for the 2004 legislative session and dealing with a $700 million budget deficit.
So while Kenton County politicos obsess over how to fill the office of judge-executive on an interim basis, the governor probably isn't doing so, county GOP Chairman Greg Shumate said Friday.
"The governor has a lot of things to deal with," Shumate said. "He is dealing with a tremendous budget deficit. The legislative session is coming up. And while Northern Kentucky is very important to the governor, there are a lot of other things important to the entire state he is dealing with.
"I'm sure there is no real urgency to making this decision," he said.
In what is usually down time on the Northern Kentucky political front, the two-week holiday break has been anything but tranquil because of the likely departure of Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd for a spot in the Fletcher administration.
Murgatroyd has been offered - but not yet accepted - the No. 2 post in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, seen by many as a coup for the region. Murgatroyd, supporters say, will help steer badly needed road funds to Northern Kentucky, where two decades of growth has resulted in pockets of gridlock.
Murgatroyd has so far declined the post, holding out to ensure that Fletcher appoints his longtime deputy, Scott Kimmich, to his seat on an interim basis.
But some leaders of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee favor the appointment going to homebuilder Ralph Drees, who would then run in November for the remaining two years of Murgatroyd's four-year term.
Officials ranging from Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson to U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, weighed in on how the transition should be handled.
Momentum has appeared to shift toward Kimmich getting the appointment and Drees running in November. Should that be the case, Kimmich said Friday he would have no problem backing Drees in the fall.
Kimmich and Edmondson traveled to Frankfort earlier this week to meet with Fletcher and his chief of staff, Daniel Groves, to plead the case for Kimmich.
"Scott Kimmich can and should be the interim appointment," Edmondson said Friday. "He has been running the county on a day-to-day basis and can continue to do so. It makes the most sense."
Kimmich said during the meeting he "made it clear I wanted the appointment."
At first, Fletcher indicated the decision on filling's Murgatroyd seat should be made locally.
But the issue became so contentious that Kenton County Republicans finally decided just to let Fletcher decide between Kimmich and Drees for the appointment.
State government offices were closed Friday.
But local officials believe the issue will finally be resolved by the end of next week.
"The governor told us that everything is in a holding pattern until after the holidays, but then we can expect something," Kimmich said.
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