FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Joe Prather, a key player in Democratic politics for more than 20 years, said he was surprised when Gov. Steve Beshear called on him to head of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
"Admittedly, my background is not in transportation," Prather said. "I think the governor felt he needed somebody that didn't have an agenda. I have no political agenda. I realize that part of my life is over."
Running the Transportation Cabinet is one of the more high profile jobs in state government. The agency was the focus of a two-year special grand jury investigation beginning in 2005 that delved into the hiring practices of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.
At issue was whether Fletcher's administration rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs because of their connections instead of their qualifications. The grand jury returned indictments against 15 named defendants, including Fletcher, and 14 sealed indictments. Fletcher issued a blanket pardon for the others charged, and charges against him were dismissed in a deal with prosecutors.
Prather, 68, promised that, under his watch, pressure from political supporters will not affect the hiring of hourly workers.
At 28, Prather won his first election becoming a state representative. That was in 1967. He served three terms, then won election to the state Senate, where he rose to become Senate president pro tem in 1976, a post he held for a decade.
Prather lost a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 1979. After leaving the Senate, he ran for governor in 1987, though he dropped out when he saw he couldn't raise enough money to compete effectively. He threw his support in the Democratic primary to Beshear, then the lieutenant governor, who lost that race.
Prather returned to Frankfort in late 1991 to serve as secretary of Gov. Brereton Jones' Finance Cabinet. When veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. William Natcher died in 1994, Prather was nominated by the Democrats to take his place in the 2nd District race. But Ron Lewis, a Christian bookstore owner from Elizabethtown, successfully tied Prather to Clinton, who was highly unpopular in the district. Lewis won the race, and still holds the seat.
In his new position in state government, Prather says one problem he wants to address is the lack of competition for paving contracts in much of the state. The cabinet is routinely forced to award contracts to the only contractor who submits a bid. Prather said he plans to stay in the job as long as he's productive and Beshear wants him.
"The governor and I did not talk about how long I'm going to be here," he said. "It could be four years. It could be eight years. It could be something less."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)