FRANKFORT - Gov. Ernie Fletcher received another hard blow yesterday to his re-election efforts, via a stinging grand jury report that held him responsible for violations of state personnel laws in his administration.
But Kentucky's first Republican governor since 1971 gave no sign that he is wavering from his political desire. He dismissed the report as the "same old stuff" instigated by Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a potential Democratic rival for the state's highest elective office.
Although harsh, the report probably can't drag Fletcher any lower, said Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville. "The media coverage of the investigation was more damaging than this report."
Fletcher's approval ratings have hovered around 30 percent for months.
Democratic State Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, who is a friend of Stumbo, said the grand jury report "affirms the fact that this is another reason why the people of Kentucky want new leadership."
But Lexington attorney Larry Forgy, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 1995 who has defended Fletcher, said the report "was designed to destroy Ernie Fletcher as governor."
"If there were so much there against the governor as the report alleges, why did Greg Stumbo turn his tail and run away from prosecuting the governor?" Forgy asked. "It is apparent there was no evidence to convict on any of the charges."
Forgy was referring to an August settlement between Fletcher and Stumbo to dismiss the three misdemeanor charges against Fletcher.
Briscoe said he does not understand why Stumbo agreed in his settlement with Fletcher that no malice had occurred.
"There's a disconnect here," he said. "The report paints a bad picture of Fletcher, but the settlement said no malice had occurred. Stumbo can't have it both ways."
The good news for Fletcher, said Scott Lasley, a Western Kentucky University political-science professor, "is that it came out now -- six months before the primary election and about a year before the general election -- and not closer to those elections."
Lasley predicted that the most damaging aspect of the report might be that it arouses "a stronger challenge to him in his own party."
So far, relatively unknown Paducah businessman Billy Harper is the only Republican to challenge Fletcher for the 2007 GOP nomination for governor.