LOUISVILLE — Republican gubernatorial candidate David Williams and his running mate, Richie Farmer, defended Farmer's controversial state expenses Thursday before boarding a big blue-and-white bus to start their "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way" campaign tour of the state.
Williams, president of the state Senate, and Farmer, state agriculture commissioner, appeared together at a news conference in Louisville before leaving on their bus tour, which will run every day except Sundays through May 16.
Williams, in his comments to about 50 at Jefferson County GOP headquarters, noted recent news reports about Farmer's travel expenses and Farmer's popularity as a basketball star at the University of Kentucky in the 1990s.
"When we started, I thought you were shooting three-pointers, and I was taking charges," Williams said to Farmer. "You are taking some charges yourself. When they are talking about you, they are leaving me alone."
Williams went on to praise Farmer as "a great star and example for Kentucky's young people."
Farmer was peppered with questions by reporters about media reports of Farmer's state-paid expenses.
They have included a $359-per-night Lexington hotel suite for four nights last month during the Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament, a trip to a conference at a Caribbean resort, a new sports utility vehicle for his use and an about-face to participate in the state's six furlough days.
Farmer first refused to participate in furloughs but agreed this week to donate six days of his $110,346-a-year salary to charities.
Farmer said the Sweet Sixteen trip was to promote his department's Kentucky Proud program to urge Kentuckians to buy local food products.
"I don't have any regrets about it. We get a lot of bang for our bucks there," he said.
He said the suite was the only lodging his staff could find at a late date.
Concerning the Caribbean trip, Farmer said he does not pick where the conference is held. He said he has attended it every year in "exotic locations" such as Tulsa, Okla., Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville.
The SUV was not bought for him, Farmer said. He claimed his department's fleet is "the most efficiently run fleet in state government."
Farmer said his department last year spent about $237,000 on travel expenses, compared to more than $650,000 spent in the last year of his predecessor, Democrat Billy Ray Smith.
"We're doing the things that are necessary to take care of business with agriculture," Farmer said. "There seems to be a story about me every day. It's aggravating, but they don't print all the facts."
Williams offered a reason for news reports about Farmer's expenses.
"This is an example of the Kentucky Democratic Party and the knee-jerk reaction of some newspapers and editorial boards in the state of trying to treat Richie Farmer badly because they know how popular and effective he is."
Williams said he would be glad to compare how Farmer has spent taxpayer dollars to how Jerry Abramson, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's running mate, spent them during his time as mayor of Louisville.
Williams said many in the media are "trying to do a death of a thousand cuts" on Farmer.
"When this (primary) campaign is over, we will be the ones doing the open-records requests on the governor," he said.
Meanwhile, several unions endorsed Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw in the GOP primary for governor.
They included the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Jefferson County Teachers Association and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union of Louisville.
The unions said Thursday that they were endorsing Holsclaw because she has a long history of supporting working-class people and unions.
They said she is the clear choice in the Republican primary because Williams is anti-union and candidate Phil Moffett, a Louisville businessman, is anti-government.
"We have endorsed Bobbie Holsclaw several times in the past," said Bill Allison, the political liaison for the Jefferson County Teachers Association. "She is not anti-union, and she is very pro-teacher."
Williams dismissed the union endorsements and said Holsclaw is "not a true conservative."
Holsclaw also said state Auditor Crit Luallen should "conduct a full audit of Richie Farmer and Farmer's office."
"The recent abuses reported in the Kentucky media raise serious questions about Richie Farmer," she said. "There appears to be a clear pattern of wasteful and unnecessary expenditures of taxpayers' money by Farmer for his personal benefit and to possibly help promote the Williams-Farmer ticket for governor and lieutenant governor by using the Kentucky Proud program and his office as his personal piggy bank."
Also, the Registry of Election Finance warned Moffett Thursday about his campaign's association with Western Representation PAC, a federal political committee chaired by Republican Joe Miller, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the U.S. Senate in Alaska.
The registry noted a Courier-Journal report that a representative of Moffett's campaign was touting a $100,000 pledge from the PAC.
A $100,000 pledge from the political action committee, "if made in concert with or at the request or suggestion of any candidate, slate of candidates or any authorized person acting on behalf of the slate," would violate state law that limits such contributions to $1,000, the registry said in a letter to Moffett.
Moffett campaign manager David Adams, said, "Not only did we do nothing wrong, it's absurd that state government is burning up precious resources to intimidate citizens exercising our God-given rights to challenge the establishment.
"I'd love to have a real fight over this on the merits or on the basis of our free-speech rights. We won't be scared off by this nonsense."