Saturday, October 30, 2004
Fletcher name chafes brother
Senate hopeful has to be defensive
By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher's older brother, Harold, may have one thing working against him in his state Senate race this fall - he's Gov. Ernie Fletcher's older brother.
A year ago, that may have seemed like a definite advantage over former Democratic Gov. Julian Carroll. But in the wake of a public relations nightmare for the Fletcher administration - which sent teachers to the brink of a statewide strike - Harold Fletcher has had to distance himself from his sibling.
"I'm just Harold. I'm not my brother," the older Fletcher said at a Capitol rally this month. "Yes, we have the same last name, but I differ with him on issues."
Ernie Fletcher became Kentucky's first Republican governor in more than 30 years with a 10-point victory last year. But 12 months later, the governor has seen his approval ratings fall amid a public relations nightmare involving a state health plan.
The governor angered state employees by proposing a health plan that would have led to expensive out-of-pocket increases. Carroll and the governor's brother are running for a Senate seat that represents the capital city and is home to thousands of those workers.
As teachers prepared to strike over the health insurance proposal, the governor called the General Assembly into a special session to deal exclusively with the issue. Lawmakers eventually settled on a plan that averted the threatened strike by sweetening health benefits for about 229,000 teachers and state workers.
Harold Fletcher disagrees with the governor's health plan, but that has not stopped Carroll from using it as campaign fodder. During a speech at the capitol this month, in which both candidates attended, the audience interrupted Harold Fletcher.
Carroll said dissatisfaction with the plan could cost Harold Fletcher on Election Day because voters will associate his name with the issue regardless of his views.
Harold Fletcher, a 56-year-old architect, is hopeful he will overcome the fallout, but he acknowledges that his surname - and the fact that he looks like the governor - could be a hindrance.
But he has not entirely distanced himself from his brother, and still touts his close relationship with the governor as an advantage over the 73-year-old Carroll, who was Kentucky's governor from 1974 to 1979.
Carroll's had his own troubles as governor - his term ending under the cloud of a federal grand jury investigation. While he was cleared of any wrongdoing, one member of his administration ended up serving prison time.
Carroll has called the investigation "old news" and it has not been prominent in the campaign. He says his gubernatorial experience and knowledge of state government would allow him to step right into the job.
Fletcher has spent more money than Carroll so far, but at last count, Carroll had about $69,000 to spend in the campaign's final weeks, compared with Fletcher's approximately $49,000, according to campaign finance records.
State GOP chairman John McCarthy declined to speculate on Harold Fletcher's chances.
"Harold has worked very hard and raised significant money and has a great organization," McCarthy said. "I think he's put all that in motion. You never know on Election Day."
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