Politics & Government

Keeping a close eye on the candidates

WILMORE - Each Sunday until the May 22 primary election, the new Trail Mix column will provide highlights from the gubernatorial campaigns that make news each week.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher set the tone last week, sparking praise and criticism with his State of the Commonwealth Address, which was packed with spending proposals on new programs and projects.

Fletcher then took his show on the road. He spent yesterday delivering his campaign speech to GOP voters in Wilmore and Murray. Fletcher, in addition to listing accomplishments, played up what he called his "conservative values" to the Jessamine County crowd.

"We passed the Ten Commandments bill, and we passed the sanctity of marriage bill," he said, referring to the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that the General Assembly and voters approved in 2004. "All those are family values. But we went beyond that and we've taken better care of our newborns by screening" for signs of disorders.

Fletcher, wearing jeans and a "Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit" jacket, leaned casually on the lectern as he spoke to the group of 75 Jessamine County Republicans at their chili lunch.

To appeal to fiscal conservatives who have grumbled about Fletcher's spending requests, he talked about the $150 million of the projected $401 million budget surplus that he requested go into the state savings account.

"I did something very conservative. If the General Assembly does what I ask ... we will have the highest rainy day fund ever," he said.

State Rep. Jeff Hoover of Jamestown, the running mate of Republican candidate Anne Northup, followed Fletcher at the Jessamine County event at the Blue Grass Sportsmen's League.

Hoover, the GOP's House floor leader, laid out the campaign's main argument that Fletcher couldn't win re-election because of political problems. But he also drew a contrast with Fletcher on specific points.

Fletcher, last month, proposed state tax breaks for families of active military personnel. Hoover noted House Republicans had pitched such a plan each of the last two years. "We could not get any support from the administration to pass that bill because it cost money," he said.

Hoover also received applause when he called for the repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax -- a key component of Fletcher's 2005 tax plan, which Hoover and 98 other House members supported.

... Northup's campaign manager, Cam Savage, left for personal reasons, and Michael Clingaman, who had served as executive director of the state party, came on board.

- Paducah businessman Billy Harper, the third GOP candidate, signed the Americans for Tax Reform's pledge against raising any taxes.

Harper -- who is trying to paint himself as the most fiscally conservative, business-friendly candidate -- used the chili Fletcher brought to the luncheon to make his point. "I have to say, the governor delivering chili brings a new meaning to giving out pork," he said.

The Democrats

- Irv Maze, the Jefferson County Attorney who is the running mate of Jonathan Miller, told the Democracy for America group in Louisville Wednesday that he joined the ticket because Miller promised to be different.

But the first question from the audience of 25 was why Miller, the state treasurer, didn't cut off government spending when the legislature failed to pass a budget in 2002.

Maze said he couldn't speak to the specifics but said Miller will "have some more advising that will take place" if elected.

Maze noted that one of the campaign's first proposals called for holding the General Assembly responsible for passing a budget on time. "We're saying if you don't pass a budget, you don't get paid," Maze said.

... Miller made an appeal to college students at an education rally at the Capitol on Wednesday. He proposed creating college savings accounts for each child born in Kentucky.

- Bruce Lunsford, the millionaire who dropped out of the 2003 Democratic primary, told the Democracy for America group that he erred by supporting Fletcher in that year's general election.

"Ernie made a very compelling argument for how he would clean up the mess in Frankfort," Lunsford said. "I didn't know he was going to go create his own mess."

Lunsford answered another tough question about whether he profited by selling stock in his nursing home company, Vencor, before it went bankrupt. He said he didn't sell but instead purchased more stocks in its sister company Ventas.

- One of Louisville's most powerful Democrats, state Rep. Larry Clark, told the Herald-Leader he supports former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry.

Clark has ties to three other slates: his half-brother, Danny Ross, works for Attorney General Greg Stumbo, running with Lunsford; Clark has worked with House Speaker Jody Richards in House Democratic leadership for 12 years; and Irv Maze, Jonathan Miller's running mate, has served as Clark's longtime campaign chairman.

Clark said he committed to support Henry four months ago before the others got in the race. He said he made no deal with Henry. "I'm not looking to serve in an administration," he said.

- Jody Richards, the House speaker, said Fletcher's state speech Tuesday had some campaign overtones to it. But Richards, on Thursday, announced to reporters a series of proposals that House Democrats would push.

When asked whether he, too, was using his official post as a campaign advantage, Richards said he wasn't sponsoring any of the nine bills he outlined.

"I am the Speaker of the House, so it does make sense I would be the person who would introduce the press conference," he said. "I'm not going to abdicate my duties."