By JOE BIESK
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The breakdown of a special legislative session may have added at least one additional hot-button issue to a governor's race that already had more than its share.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a first-term Republican weakened by political scandal, had called on lawmakers to bar Kentucky's public universities from providing health insurance coverage to anyone other than employees and their families.
No unmarried couples, whether same-sex or not.
House Democrats refused to take part, dooming that initiative and several others that Fletcher is expected to raise in his campaign against Democratic challenger Steve Beshear heading into the Nov. 6 election.
The move may have been divisive, but it was politically necessary for a governor who has been weakened by a hiring scandal that led to his indictment on misdemeanor charges, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"Fletcher is at the point where he has to roll the dice probably several times between now and November if he wants to win another term, and this is a roll of the dice," Sabato said. "One thing's for certain if he just sits there and does absolutely nothing, he will lose, so this is an attempt to try and do something."
Sabato said partisan voters likely already had their minds made up, and it would come down to which way the independents go.
Nevertheless, Republicans would likely rally around Fletcher, who is coming off a bruising three-way primary in the spring.
"He's playing to different parts of the base," Sabato said. "It probably helps to reunify his Republican base, but he's still going to need a lot of independents to win a second term."
Fletcher's campaign manager, Marty Ryall, said the timing of the special session was not at all politically motivated. He claimed that Beshear, who supports legalized casino gambling, opposed the special session's priorities for political reasons.
"Walking out and shirking the duties that they were elected to do was calculated in trying to not let the governor have something that he would be seen as getting credit for," Ryall said. "And they figure they can stonewall this thing and not take any action and that that would somehow hurt the governor."
The GOP-controlled Senate supported the governor's initiatives, passing legislation that addressed Fletcher's special session agenda. Leaders in the Democratic-led House, however, said they felt none of the issues justified the $60,000-per-day special session cost and left.
With the two sides deadlocked, Fletcher last week called for a break and said lawmakers should return July 30. He hoped lawmakers could work something out in the meantime.
Then the blame game started.
Democrats decried Fletcher's call for the special session as a play motivated by politics, not necessity. Republicans said Democrats were trying to prevent Fletcher from notching a political victory during the final stretch of the governor's race.
Democratic Party Chairman Jonathan Miller claimed Fletcher had used his power to call lawmakers into a special session in an effort "to resuscitate his dying campaign for governor."
Fletcher was indicted on misdemeanor charges stemming from a lengthy investigation into allegations he and his administration illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs.
The charges were eventually dropped in a deal with prosecutors.
As Fletcher called on House lawmakers to rethink their position on the special session, the state Republican Party sent out more than 150,000 automated phone calls criticizing legislators for not cooperating.
Ryall accused Beshear of orchestrating the House's adjournment.
Fletcher also lobbed criticism at the House, comparing lawmakers to union members on strike and saying their decision would ultimately cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and investment.
State Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, said Fletcher's call was "so egregiously political" it was an abuse of his office and power. Wilkey pointed to the move to bar "domestic partner" benefits at state universities as evidence.
"That is something that is purely there to generate enthusiasm from the right wing of the party, to energize his base a little bit," Wilkey said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)