FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A Democrat's performance on the Senate floor Thursday may have seemed like a Shakespearean matinee to those in attendance, conjuring the question: "Et tu, Steve Pence?"
Sen. Julian Carroll wasn't portraying a scene out of "Julius Caesar," but his impassioned soliloquy drew standing applause from his Senate colleagues - Democrats and Republicans alike - after he called for Pence, the state's lieutenant governor, to resign.
"He's become a Brutus to the people of Kentucky," Carroll, a
Democrat, said of Pence.
Carroll, a former Kentucky governor and lieutenant governor, grew louder and redder. Pence should step down and give back his salary because he was disloyal to Fletcher and "has nothing to do," Carroll
"It is past time that he show at least some humility, that he show at least some character, and offer his resignation to the governor of Kentucky as lieutenant governor," Carroll shouted.
Carroll made the remarks just days after Pence, a Republican, backed one of Fletcher's political opponents in the May 22 gubernatorial primary. By crossing the governor, Pence had rendered himself ineffective in office, Carroll told his fellow senators.
Pence has said that he does not plan to resign because he was elected to a four-year term, which expires in December. Pence on Thursday called Carroll's comments "politics in Frankfort at its worst" and said he would like to hear the senator defend Fletcher's actions during the investigation.
"Loyalty requires that you live up to your word," Pence said. "Governor Fletcher gave his word that we were going to change the culture in Frankfort; he gave his word that he was going to seek
the unvarnished truth. He did not do that."
Fletcher and Pence were political teammates in 2003, bringing Kentucky its first GOP governor in more than 30 years. But their relationship gradually soured as an investigation into the Fletcher administration's hiring practices deepened.
As a former federal prosecutor, Pence said he disagreed with Fletcher's decision - during the height of the hiring investigation - to pardon his entire administration for any possible charges they could face stemming from the probe.
Fletcher was later indicted on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs. The indictment was dismissed in a deal with prosecutors, but the special grand jury later issued its findings in the case, saying Fletcher had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws.
Fletcher has maintained that the investigation was politically motivated by Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo.
Nevertheless, Pence jumped ship earlier this week and endorsed former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville, who lost a re-election bid in November. Paducah businessman Billy Harper also is challenging Fletcher, while seven Democrats are aiming for the top job in Kentucky, one of three states electing a governor this year.
"The Republican Party must have a candidate who can get beyond the scandals of this administration," Pence said at the time.
Fletcher noted Thursday that he asked Pence to resign his post as lieutenant governor months ago, but was ignored.
"I had made my request and he denied that and I understood that and I've accepted that," Fletcher said. "But now he has a decision to make given other requests that are coming in from the Senate."
Carroll said his comments were not politically motivated.
But exactly why Carroll would make that sentiment public seemed uncertain, said Joe Gershtenson, director of Eastern Kentucky University's Center for Kentucky History and Politics.
"From the Democrats' perspective it would seem that it's enough to have Pence and the governor trading their shots at one another," Gershtenson said. "Why say anything? Let the Republicans inflict the damage on themselves and show some internal divisiveness."
Some of Carroll's colleagues had similar thoughts, however. Sen. Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Spring, said Carroll had "said some of the things that I was thinking to myself." Pence has the right to disagree with Fletcher, but seemed disloyal, Westwood said.
"It seems like the attacks have been more aggressive, personal and unwarranted than I would have expected from somebody who was his wingman at one time," Westwood said.
And Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he and other Republican senators agreed with Carroll that Pence should resign.
"I don't think he is serving a practical purpose and is being paid by the taxpayers," Thayer said. "I think it would be wholly appropriate for him, in service to the state, to step down."
Associated Press Writer Bruce Schreiner contributed to this
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)