Governor Fletcher Insists Anti-Casino Theme Can Be A Winning Strategy

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher insists his
opposition to casino gambling can be a winning re-election
strategy, despite polls showing Kentuckians overwhelmingly want a
chance to decide the issue.
So far, the Republican incumbent's campaign has focused on
linking Democratic opponent Steve Beshear to casinos and warning
that the expanded gambling would result in social and economic
ills.
Beshear supports amending the state Constitution to allow 10 to
11 casinos, mostly at Kentucky horse tracks along with two to four
built in border communities. Beshear claims the venture would
generate about $500 million a year in new state tax revenues that
could go for education, health care and economic development.
Despite Fletcher's anti-casino advertising blitz, along with a
statewide tour, two recent polls showed that a large majority of
Kentuckians want the chance to vote on whether to legalize casino
gambling.
Fletcher on Tuesday dismissed that poll finding as
insignificant.
"Everybody wants to vote on everything," he told The
Associated Press in an interview.
Fletcher said there's a more telling question with a greater
bearing on the governor's race.
"If you ask the question if you knew Steve Beshear was for
casinos and Ernie Fletcher was against casinos, I win, because the
people in Kentucky do not want casinos," Fletcher said.
The two polls had different findings when people were asked
whether they support casinos.
The Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll showed that 48 percent favor
casinos, while 42 percent were opposed. The poll had a margin of
error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
A Lexington Herald-Leader/Action News 36 Election Poll showed 48
percent of likely voters oppose casinos, while 42 percent support
them. The poll's margin of error was 4 percentage points.
Those same polls showed Beshear with a big lead over Fletcher
heading toward the Nov. 6 election.
Beshear spokeswoman Vicki Glass said Tuesday that Fletcher's
hardline opposition to casino gambling reflected a switch on the
issue. Until three months ago, Fletcher said he was personally
opposed to casino gambling but would leave the issue up to voters
if a gambling referendum made it on the ballot.
"Once again, Ernie Fletcher does not trust the people of
Kentucky to make this decision, a position he only took in the last
three months," she said in a statement.
Fletcher said his campaign will tout his accomplishments but
needs to hit on the casino issue.
"We also need to educate people of what Beshear wants to bring
and who he wants to bring in here," Fletcher said. "And these are
not the kind of people we want to bring into our state."
Glass said that Fletcher ignores that many Kentuckians flock to
casinos just across the state's border to gamble. She said their
money is used to improve health care, roads and education in
neighboring states.
Fletcher said that voters are just now focusing on the
governor's race, adding, "I am confident when you give people all
the facts, they'll make the right decision."
Fletcher said his supporters want his campaign spending more
time touting his accomplishments, and he promised, "We'll do
that." The governor acknowledged that Kentuckians "know every
freckle and wart that I've got," but aren't always aware of his
administration's record.
The governor pointed to significant funding increases for
education, a big upswing in tourism that he attributes to the
"Unbridled Spirit" campaign as well as less-publicized
accomplishments - including expanded newborn health screenings and
the "Read to Achieve" program championed by his wife, Glenna.
"We've started to turn this ship," he said.
Beshear's campaign had a much different assessment of Fletcher's
performance.
Glass said Kentucky ranks near the bottom nationally in
high-tech job creation, research and development investments and
entrepreneurial activity. She said education has "taken a step
backwards" under Fletcher, pointing to statistics on graduation
rates and high school students taking advanced placement exams.
"This is not a record to brag about," Glass said.
Fletcher said his accomplishments were overshadowed by a special
grand jury probe into whether his administration violated state
hiring laws in an alleged scheme to reward political supporters
with state jobs. Fletcher has criticized the investigation as a
political witch hunt.
News stories, Fletcher said, overwhelmingly recounted the hiring
investigation and not his accomplishments, while hundreds of state
news releases touting his administration's work got far less
attention.
Fletcher and at least 14 of his aides and associates were
indicted. Fletcher issued pardons for everyone except himself. His
lawyers worked out a deal with prosecutors to have the charges
against him dropped.
"Because of those articles, we haven't gotten the word out,"
Fletcher said Tuesday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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