Herald-Leader Editorial

Sad fall doesn't negate reckoning; Farmer, taxpayers deserve day in court

Farmer, taxpayers deserve day in court

April 24, 2013 

Richie Farmer celebrated a Republican primary win in May of 2011. He ran with Senate President David Williams, who lost to Steve Beshear in the governor's race that November. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

The indictments handed down against Richie Farmer by a federal grand jury surprised almost no one.

Farmer, who was elected to two four-year terms as agriculture commissioner on the strength of his fame as a former University of Kentucky basketball player, had been the subject of an extensive investigation and withering report by the state auditor's office.

Just last month he was charged by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission with 42 violations of the ethics code, the largest number ever for one individual.

Equally unsurprising are the allegations that the indictment is politically motivated and that it's just loading on the pain for a man who has already suffered so much.

The leading proponent of the "politically motivated" defense is longtime Republican activist Larry Forgy. Last year, when the audit was released, Forgy had different thoughts, according to WYMT-TV, which quoted him as saying, "They ought to either indict Richie or get off his back."

Nonetheless, Forgy's explanation throughout Farmer's travails has been that the Democratic Party and even opponents within his own group — Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer asked for the audit — wanted to eliminate the popular Farmer as a political force. "It's pure politics," Forgy said this week after the indictments were announced.

Farmer ran twice as a political candidate in a statewide campaign to become ag commissioner. In 2011, he ran unsuccessfully as the candidate for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket. He is, or at least was, a politician, elected to a political office. And, of course, prosecutors operate in a political environment. So, of course, it's about politics.

But to say that because of this political environment, prosecutors should ignore the mountain of evidence about possible misdeeds in office is cynical, even by those used to the machinations of Kentucky politics. Farmer deserves his day in court, and so do Kentucky taxpayers, who paid the bills.

The other argument — pretty common when a certain class of people gets in trouble — is that the fall from grace is itself punishment enough.

Following this line of thought, you arrive at the idea that only people who were already poor, disaffected and miserable should go to jail. They can't suffer the psychic stress of losing standing in society because they didn't have any to begin with, so we have to find another way to punish them.

So, the guy who's charged with stealing a $300 television is more deserving of jail time than Farmer, who is alleged to have misused $450,000 of taxpayer money? Certainly, we don't want to go there.

It is pure politics to argue that prosecutors should ignore the evidence against Farmer. It includes giving do-nothing (at least for the public interest) jobs to friends and a girlfriend; using state employees to do work at his house and drive his kids and his dog around; siphoning off a variety of merchandise to himself and others; and soliciting a bribe from an auto dealership with the promise of a state grant.

Farmer chose to be a politician and he will now have the opportunity in court to defend his actions in the office he won. That's the way it should be, political or not.

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