Sometimes, when you hitch your gubernatorial wagon to a shooting star, even an "Unforgettable" University of Kentucky shooting star, the flight can get a bit bumpy.
Welcome to the world of Senate President David Williams, who's been flying through an extended patch of politically stormy weather this year. Unfortunately for Williams, the latest turbulence comes courtesy of his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the former UK basketball player whose popularity was supposed to be the antidote for the negative image Williams created for himself during more than a decade of ruling over the state Senate in a manner befitting his "Bully from Burkesville" sobriquet.
In recent days, though, Farmer's iconic image has lost a bit of its aura.
First, he opted to exercise his prerogative as a statewide constitutional officer to collect his pay for the six days this fiscal year when most executive branch employees have been or will be forced to take unpaid leave.
This has to give furloughed workers in the Department of Agriculture a warm, fuzzy feeling about the Kentucky idol who leads them — particularly since, while Farmer focused only on his own bottom line, all other statewide constitutional officers had the class to step up and voluntarily return six days' salary to the state treasury or donate it to a charity or a financially strapped state agency.
Then, Farmer's wife of 13 years filed for divorce, claiming Farmer — who earns $110,346 a year — has limited her access to the family's finances to the point of forcing her to get by on what she earns (less than $1,100 a month) as a teacher's aide, a job she recently took after spending 12 years being a stay-at-home mother to the couple's three sons.
In Farmer's defense, divorce filings famously present just one side of a family feud. It will be a long time before we learn the full story of this breakup, if indeed we ever do.
Still, the allegations from his wife and Farmer's refusal to share the pain of furloughed state employees, including those who work for him, suggest that a love of money can be the root of some rather boorish behavior.
Williams, of course, added Farmer to the team with the hope his offensive skills (popularity as a former Wildcat) could deliver a lot of points (votes). The Senate president probably never dreamed Farmer might one day become a defensive liability. Now, though, Farmer's furlough decision and his wife's divorce petition make such a possibility a bit more likely.
Williams hasn't been playing great defense lately either.
He finished the overtime session of this year's General Assembly outmaneuvered, befuddled and holding the bag of responsibility for extending the session by 13 days after the House had adjourned sine die and put Frankfort in its collective rear-view mirror. The Legislative Research Commission estimates each day of a special session costs a little more than $63,500, which means the tab for Williams' 13-day ego trip runs somewhat north of $800,000, including more than $580,000 in salaries paid to lawmakers — for doing nothing.
But being held responsible for wasting tax dollars isn't the worst damage Williams suffered during this year's legislative session.
Putting it in basketball terms (How can I resist with Farmer a part of this narrative?), the way House Democratic leaders and Gov. Steve Beshear faked Williams out of an unseen part of his uniform and walked off the court with an overtime victory put a serious hurting on the Senate president's mythic reputation as a brilliant political strategist.
Two years into a new world order in Frankfort, Williams' ego still won't let him accept the possibility his old tactic of throwing down a "take it or leave it" gauntlet and waiting for fear of the consequences of leaving it to force House Democrats into taking it isn't working these days.
Under Speaker Greg Stumbo, House Democrats have proved nervy enough to withstand Williams' intimidation and savvy enough to come up with a third alternative when confronted with a "take it or leave it" ultimatum, an alternative that can leave Williams looking for missing uniform parts.
If there were a viable alternative in the Republican primary, the Williams-Farmer team might be in deep doo-doo now. But Louisville businessman Phil Moffett's attempt at pulling off a Rand Paul-esque Internet "moneybomb" produced more bomb than money, leaving his campaign poorly financed. And Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw doesn't appear to be mounting much of a campaign at all.
So, Williams and Farmer probably will stumble into this fall's gubernatorial finals. But to win there, neither one of them can afford to be a defensive liability.