Sunday, June 27, 2004

GOP still has mess to clean


Around Northern Kentucky

Click here to e-mail Patrick Crowley
Republican Ernie Fletcher ran for governor last year on a platform to "clean up the mess" from 32 years of "good ol' boy" Democratic rule in Frankfort.

It was time, Fletcher said nearly every time he delivered a stump speech or gave an interview, to end the "waste, fraud and abuse" in the Capitol.

The message resonated. Fletcher won with a mandate, beating Democrat Ben Chandler by 10 points.

Fletcher has in some ways lived up to his promises. But he and the Republicans are acting an awful lot like the past Democratic administrations they so easily criticized.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, who was reeling from a sex and influence-peddling scandal, was an easy and justifiable target for GOP barbs.

Republicans were particularly critical about the number of principal assistants - which are basically political appointees - employed by the Patton administration. Under Patton, the number of principal assistants grew from 117 to 175.

"Our position is that you eliminate them all," Senate Republican Leader Dan Kelly told the Courier-Journal of Louisville last year.

Fletcher didn't exactly take that advice.

Instead, the governor announced last week that he is changing the titles of the principal assistants, removing their annual salary cap of $75,049 and allowing them to be paid up to $125,125 a year.

Well guess who has been hired as a principal assistant in the office of the Justice Cabinet? Louis Kelly, the 26-year-old son of Dan Kelly.

Looks like after 32 years of being out of power, the Republicans are hustling to the trough.

"Fletcher said he was going to clean up the mess in Frankfort," said Kenton County Democratic Chairman Nathan Smith. "But he's just changing the name of the mess."

Then there are the moves that smack of nepotism.

Even though Frankfort was under a hiring freeze earlier this year, Fletcher approved the hiring of his sister-in-law to a state job. He's openly campaigning for his brother, Harold Fletcher, who is running for state Senate.

And while lawmakers are working to get a budget deal done before the new fiscal year begins July 1, Fletcher is in Florida on vacation.

Fletcher has made some moves to crack down on government abuses and spending. He's reined in credit-card spending by state employees, taken on problems in the state park system, revamped the Racing Commission, cut back on the use of state-owned cars and reduced cabinet positions.

But Frankfort is still a mess, even with the GOP in control.

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E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com. Crowley interviews Campbell County statehouse candidate Mark Hayden this week on ICN6's "On The Record," which is broadcast daily on Insight Communications Channel 6.




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