Larry Keeling: Farmer's hot water could burn Conway

Herald-leader columnistMay 20, 2012 

Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — This and that while waiting for the other sneaker to drop:

With the state Personnel Board, it's official. Monday, the board directed its staff to review an audit of the Richie Farmer years at the Department of Agriculture and report back on the personnel issues the audit raised.

With the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, which has a policy of neither confirming nor denying investigations it undertakes, it's not official. But when executive director John Steffen tells members of the media, "There are some pretty serious allegations in (the audit)," you don't need a roadmap to know where the commission is headed.

Then, there is the biggie as far as state agencies go, the attorney general's office, which is also reviewing the audit's findings. If the Personnel Board and/or the ethics panel decide some rules were broken (and the audit report strongly suggests they will), we're talking stern reprimands and fines. Embarrassing and potentially costly for Farmer, sure, but not devastating. However, if prosecutors in the attorney general's office find evidence of more serious breaches of the law (and the report again strongly suggests they will), the stakes rise significantly. And not just for Farmer.

Consider Attorney General Jack Conway's situation. Despite his loss to Tea Party darling Rand Paul in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, he still has two successful statewide elections in his win column, enough to secure him a spot on the A-list of names in any discussion of future Democratic gubernatorial candidates. And all the recent negative publicity aside, Farmer remains a University of Kentucky basketball icon with a fan base. A dwindling fan base perhaps, but still a fan base.

Sometime in the coming weeks or months, Conway could be forced to make a decision about prosecuting an "Unforgettable," knowing that whatever move he makes will be criticized and could cost him votes if he does make a future run for governor.

On the up side, though, being in a lose-lose situation frees a person to go ahead and do what he believes is right.

Tax reform show

Coming soon to a venue near you, The Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform. The panel is going on the road to hold hearings from Paducah to Prestonsburg with a few stops along the way. I thought about deviating from my normal solemnity by giving this traveling show a sarcastic new name. I know that's out of character for me, but I did think about it.

I refrained, however, because Kentucky seriously needs tax reform, and has for decades. I've been writing about it for decades. So, I don't want to throw stones indiscriminately. Still, I'm having real problems figuring out what value these hearings will return for the cost of holding them.

If the commission members wanted to tour the state making the sales pitch for replacing a mid-20th century tax code with one more suitable to a 21st century economy built around information and services, hey, sign me up to drive the bus for them.

But hearings? What do they expect to hear that hasn't been heard, reheard and re-reheard during past studies of tax reform? Hundreds of Warren Buffetts at each stop pleading for someone to raise their taxes? That ain't gonna happen. What they're going to hear is the same thing you always hear when the subject of tax reform arises — lots of excuses for why this interest group and that industry need exemptions from taxation.

So, pardon me if I don't spend my summer vacation keeping up with The Traveling "Don't Tax You, Don't Tax Me, Tax the Guy Behind the Tree" Show. (Darn. There, I went ahead and did it.) I'll catch the closing act next fall.

McConnell and the Tea Party

Sen. Richard Lugar's loss to Tea Partier Richard Mourdock in the Indiana Republican primary set national pundits to speculating about the future of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has spent a career cutting the kind of deals and bringing home the kind of pork the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party hates.

No one suggests Tea Party senators are strong enough to overthrow McConnell — not yet anyway.

But in a piece titled "The Neutering of Mitch McConnell," Salon's Steve Kornacki wrote, "(T)here's a more interesting question at work here than whether (McConnell) can hang on: Why would he even want to?" Kornacki went on to say the Tea Party's no-compromise style of politics "severely constrains (McConnell's) ability to exercise the traditional prerogatives of a Senate leader and threatens to render him the upper chamber's equivalent of (House Speaker) John Boehner, who lives with the knowledge that any deal-making with the other side could spur an intraparty coup."

After all the years McConnell spent getting the top Republican job in the Senate, it's ironic that a wing of his own party may keep him from fully enjoying it.

Obama's coming out

President Barack Obama's embrace of same-sex marriage could hurt Democratic candidates in Kentucky (and elsewhere in the South) this year. But in a presidential race that will be decided not by either party turning out its base but by independent swing voters in swing states, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in some swing states could make his coming out on this issue a smart move.

Defining care

Coventry Cares? Really? Some of the Medicaid managed care company's recent actions haven't looked very caring.

In addition to being a town in England, my dictionary defines Coventry as "a state of banishment, ostracism (to send someone to Coventry)," a definition dating back to the days of Oliver Cromwell when the town was home to a lot of Roundheads.

Readers are free to draw their own conclusions about how this definition applies to recent events.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at

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