LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor defended their own records and some took turns during a Monday night debate criticizing Gov. Ernie Fletcher for his administration's state hiring scandal.
Six of the seven lieutenant governor hopefuls appeared on a live Kentucky Educational Television debate from the station's headquarters in Lexington.
They generally agreed on most issues - albeit with some exceptions - on issues ranging from allowing voters to decide the issue of legalized casino gambling to permitting universities to control whether employees should have domestic partner benefits.
But their reactions to the problems that plagued Fletcher's first term may have foreshadowed what the governor could be up against if he wins the GOP nomination and makes it into the November election.
"I'd like to try him on every street corner, in every restaurant and every barber shop across Kentucky because I believe that I can prove him guilty in the court of public opinion," Attorney General Greg Stumbo, whose office handled the Fletcher investigation, said during the debate.
Seven slates are competing in the May 22 Democratic primary, while two are challenging Fletcher for the GOP nod.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates are former Lt. Govs. Steve Beshear and Steve Henry, demolition contractor Otis Hensley Jr., Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith, Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford, state Treasurer Jonathan Miller and House Speaker Jody Richards.
Beshear's running mate is state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard, Henry's is Fayette County Property Valuation Administrator Renee T. True, Hensley's is veteran coal miner Richard Robbins of Evarts, Galbraith's is former state Transportation Cabinet employee Mark Wireman of Jackson, Lunsford's is Stumbo, Miller's is Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze and Richards' is former Secretary of State John Y. Brown III.
Robbins did not appear at the debate.
Fletcher faces former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup and Paducah businessman Billy Harper in that party's primary.
Kentucky is one of three states holding a race for governor this year.
For more than a year, a Franklin County special grand jury investigated Fletcher and his administration on allegations that protected state jobs were improperly steered to the governor's political supporters. During the investigation, Fletcher issued a blanket pardon to everyone in his administration except himself for any charges that could result from the investigation.
Fletcher, who has claimed the investigation was politically motivated, was charged with three misdemeanors stemming from the probe. The charges, however, were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
Wireman said he hoped that if Fletcher comes out of the primary as the nominee that the focus of the fall election would be on "the unvarnished truth." Fletcher "hid behind pardons and the Fifth Amendment," Wireman said.
"I would hope that the election would come down to that," he said.
Maze, in a reference to Fletcher, said the governor promised to "clean up a mess only to leave a bigger mess."
If Miller were elected, Maze said, administration officials convicted of a crime would not be eligible for a pardon.
Mongiardo also said that he and Beshear wanted to limit the scope of gubernatorial pardons. By pardoning folks before they stood trial, the public did not get all the information that was available, Mongiardo said.
"We just think that's wrong," Mongiardo said.
Stumbo said that as a member of the General Assembly he sponsored a House bill that would have limited gubernatorial pardons.
"I just don't think that it ought to be all in the hands of one man," Stumbo said.
When asked about his own background, including a paternity case, Stumbo said his philosophy is to "take responsibility" and "move forward.
Meanwhile, True defended Henry's $162,000 settlement with federal prosecutors in 2003 regarding allegations he overbilled Medicare and Medicaid. Henry has denied any wrongdoing.
"There has not been any proven laws broken," True said. "There have been solutions and payments made in order to make sure that there is no allegations of wrongdoing."
Brown said that he and Richards have been involved in state government without "a hint of scandal."
"There's no reason to think there would be in the future," Brown said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)