By ROGER ALFORD
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A political scandal that plagued Gov. Ernie Fletcher for the past two years continues to haunt him in his bid for re-election.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear blasted Fletcher on Wednesday, charging that the first Republican governor in more than 30 years broke his promise to "clean up the mess" in Frankfort.
"Ernie Fletcher promised to clean up Frankfort and put an end to waste, fraud and abuse," Beshear said in one of his harshest campaign speeches yet, delivered in the Capitol. "Yet from almost day one, the governor and his administration have been plagued by allegations of scandal and corruption."
Fletcher countered during an appearance later in Louisville that he has been the target of a "political witch hunt." Fletcher said Beshear is raising the issue because he couldn't attack him on matters that are most important to Kentuckians.
The governor took credit for lowering taxes for most Kentuckians, increasing education funding and revamping Medicaid health benefits for the poor and elderly.
"We've done exactly what we told the folks we would do," Fletcher said during the stop in Louisville where he outlined his plan to help more elderly Kentuckians live on their own rather than in nursing homes.
A special grand jury indicted Fletcher last year on misdemeanor charges that he was involved in a scheme to reward political supporters with protected state jobs because of their connections instead of their qualifications. The charges were eventually dropped as part of a deal with prosecutors in which he acknowledged evidence in the case "strongly indicates wrongdoing by his administration."
Fletcher pardoned everyone else who was charged in the probe.
Following a strategy used by Fletcher when he won election in 2003, Beshear rolled out a his plan for restoring confidence in state government during his speech in the Capitol. He proposed increasing the penalties for anyone who violates state hiring laws, limiting the pardoning powers of governors only to people who have been convicted of crimes, and stiffening the law to better protect whistle-blowers from retribution.
Beshear also said he would push for a law that would require future governors to release contributors to legal defense funds, like the one Fletcher created to help pay attorneys who represented him in the political patronage case, and require all executive and legislative branch employees to undergo ethics training.
Fletcher said he doesn't think the special grand jury's probe is overshadowing his campaign, and that Beshear isn't helping his cause by raising it as an issue.
"He hasn't said anything new," Fletcher said.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)