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Fletcher, Beshear Hammer Ethics Issues In Sunday Debate


DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Trailing in recent media polls, Republican
Gov. Ernie Fletcher lashed out at Democratic challenger Steve
Beshear on Sunday, repeating an oft-made claim that electing him
would be a step toward legalizing casinos in Kentucky.
"It's not something that we want to bring into the state,"
Fletcher said at the debate held on the campus of Centre College in
Danville. "That's why so many of our church leaders are against
it."
Beshear said he's running to clean up state government, pointing
to the legal woes that have dogged Fletcher for more than two
years.
"Kentucky government today is in a state of moral and ethical
bankruptcy," Beshear said. "After four years of corruption,
people all over this state are crying out for decent, moral,
competent leadership for a change."
Fletcher, the first GOP governor in more than 30 years in this
predominantly Democratic state, has been unable to get the focus
off the scandal in which Republicans allegedly were rewarded with
protected state jobs at the expense of Democrats.
At least 14 people were indicted, including the governor
himself, who was charged last year with scheming to violate state
hiring laws. Fletcher issued pardons to everyone but himself.
Ultimately, prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor charges against
him in a deal in which he acknowledged that the evidence "strongly
indicates wrongdoing" by his administration and that the actions
"were inappropriate."
The governor has since maintained that the investigation and
resulting indictments were politically motivated by Democrats to
lessen his chances of being re-elected.
Fletcher said Sunday he wasn't worried about party affiliation,
only surrounding himself with "the best and brightest," a notion
that Beshear scoffed at.
"I think a lot of people would question a statement that you've
surrounded yourself with best and brightest the last four years,"
Beshear said.
Fletcher, himself an ordained Baptist minister, has been trying
to bury the hiring scandal by traveling the state and delivering
speeches criticizing Beshear for his stand in favor of casinos.
Fletcher has tried since early in the campaign to paint the
governor's race as a referendum on casinos, saying a vote for
Beshear would be the same as voting for expanded gambling.
Beshear said he favors a ballot referendum that would allow
voters to decide whether to change the constitution to allow
casinos.
Expanding gambling at race tracks and in a handful of
communities along the state's borders, Beshear contends, would
generate $500 million in additional tax revenues that could be used
to improve the lives of Kentuckians.
In the campaign, Fletcher has also tried to gain momentum by
claiming that Beshear profited from the bankruptcy of Kentucky
Central Life Insurance Co. while hundreds of employees lost jobs
and investors lost their savings.
Beshear's law firm, Stites & Harbison, was hired by the state
insurance commissioner to assist in the liquidation of the bankrupt
Kentucky Central. A report, prepared by independent attorneys 12
years ago, said Beshear's law firm had a conflict of interest and
should have withdrawn from the case.
The report said Beshear was not directly involved, but that he
had "general knowledge" of the conflict of interest that he
should have turned over to former insurance commissioner.
Fletcher, however, did not mention the report during the debate.
It's the first time in weeks Fletcher has not taken aim at
Beshear's role in the case.

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


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