Politics & Government

Billy Harper makes his run for governor official

FRANKFORT - A former ally of Gov. Ernie Fletcher is now an official political challenger.

Paducah businessman Billy Harper filed candidacy papers yesterday to run against his old friend, who became the state's first Republican governor in more than 30 years when he was elected in 2003.

"As I've said before, first off the starting line, first to the finish," Harper, who also races cars, said. "That's how I race; that's what I want for Kentucky."

The move yesterday was expected. Harper has already spent nearly $2.5 million on his campaign for governor, primarily on television advertising.

Harper had raised a little over $2.5 million. More than $2.4 million of that has come from his own loans to the campaign, according to a report Harper filed Tuesday with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Harper, saying Fletcher is too politically weak to win a second term, is running on a slate with fellow Paducah businessman Dick Wilson.

Fletcher was indicted last year during an investigation of state hiring practices, but charges against him were dropped in a deal with prosecutors.

Once the chief fund-raiser for Fletcher, Harper had been setting the groundwork for months to challenge the incumbent governor he helped get in office three years ago.

Harper said Fletcher has "had some great ideas," but declined to comment on his performance as governor.

"It's my job to propose what we can do and where Kentucky needs to be," Harper said. "The voters will decide what kind of job the current governor has done."

The Harper campaign began running television ads late last year in effort to increase name recognition.

Harper, a construction company owner, is the only Republican so far to announce plans to challenge Fletcher for the GOP nomination. State Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, said he is also contemplating a run.

The filing deadline for the May primary is Jan. 30.