FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - When another of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's
top-ranking aides acknowledged last week that he is considering a
new job, no one seemed surprised.
After all, budget director Brad Cowgill, who took part in a
highly publicized job interview on Thursday, would be only the
latest in a line of Fletcher aides to leave if he gets the position
with the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Resignations are to be expected with a governor's race under
way, said Michael Baranowski, a political scientist at Northern
Kentucky University. Fletcher, a first-term Republican who has been
weakened politically by a hiring scandal, faces a strong Democratic
challenger in the Nov. 6 election.
"If you're in the administration and you feel prospects are not
good for re-election, it makes sense to get an early start, to get
out there before your colleagues do," Baranowski said.
The administration has been plagued by turnover from the start.
If Cowgill leaves, only one of Fletcher's original cabinet members,
Executive Secretary Robbie Rudolph, will remain.
Rudolph also is Fletcher's running mate in the race against
former Democratic Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear.
Finance Secretary John Farris resigned effective at the end of
July. Economic Development Secretary Gene Strong resigned in
January. Others who have left include Environmental Secretary
LaJuana S. Wilcher, Commerce Secretary Jim Host, Education
Secretary Virginia Fox, Health and Family Services Secretary James
Holsinger, Justice Secretary Steve Pence, Personnel Secretary Erwin
Roberts, Secretary Gene Strong, and chief of staff Daniel Groves.
Since taking off in 2003, Fletcher has gone through five
Fletcher, the state's first Republican governor in more than 30
years, ran for re-election on the promise to "clean up the mess in
Frankfort" but ended up in a mess of his won. He was indicted for
allegedly rewarding political supporters with protected state jobs.
The indictment was dismissed last year in a negotiated settlement
with prosecutors, but the grand jury that issued it released a
written report alleging the governor had approved a "widespread
and coordinated plan" to skirt state hiring laws. Fletcher charged
that the investigation that led to the misdemeanor indictment was
Fletcher said the turnover among cabinet secretaries shouldn't
be seen as a lack of confidence in his administration.
"I think that's an indication of the quality of people we
brought here," Fletcher said. "And, I'm so proud of it."
Cowgill said his decision to pursue a job as interim director at
the Council on Postsecondary Education was based on career goals,
not politics. Cowgill had an interview with council members on
Thursday, but he said it wasn't because he's concerned Fletcher may
lose the election.
"That doesn't have anything to do with my thinking," he said.
Farris, who took the finance position only a year ago, said he
is leaving to spend time with his family before looking at other
career opportunities. He had previously worked as an economist at
World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Research
Fletcher campaign manager Marty Ryall said the governor
recruited the most qualified people he could find to serve in the
administration. Some left lucrative positions in the private sector
and others came out of retirement with the understanding that they
would serve only a year or two.
Many, Ryall said, stayed longer than they originally planned.
"These aren't people who came in looking to live off the
government bureaucracy," Ryall said. "These are people who came
in to try to make a difference."
Baranowski said he would expect more resignations if Fletcher
continues trailing in the polls.
"There is a sense within the administration that they're
short-timers," said Charles Wells, executive director of the
Kentucky Association of State Employees. "I've been hearing that
there are a lot of high-ranking Fletcher administration officials
who are looking for a place to land right now."
Wells said he believes that has to do with polls that show
Fletcher trailing Beshear.
"If these administrators really believed this administration
would be around another four years, I think they would stay,"
Wells said. "They're good paying jobs. They're high profile
Ryall insists the criticism is unjustified.
"Clearly, they're grasping at straws to attack the governor."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)