FANCY FARM, Ky. (AP) - Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and
Democrat Steve Beshear lit into each other on a steaming hot
Saturday at Kentucky's premier political event, kicking off the
fall campaign with an exchange focusing on the incumbent's past
legal turmoil and the challenger's support for opening the state to
Before a boisterous crowd at the 127th annual Fancy Farm picnic
in far western Kentucky, Fletcher derisively dubbed his opponent
"Easy Money Steve" in pounding away at Beshear's ambitious plans
to fund his education and health care initiatives by amending
Kentucky's Constitution to allow limited casino gaming.
"`Easy Money Steve' offers you nothing but a grand scheme to
fund all of his false promises," said Fletcher, who is seeking a
second term as Kentucky's first Republican governor in a
Beshear, a former lieutenant governor and attorney general,
fired back by bringing up a special grand jury investigation that
led to Fletcher's indictment last year as part of a probe into the
Republican administration's hiring practices.
The Democratic challenger said that Kentucky has slipped further
behind most of the nation in several categories of economic
performance but said Fletcher's administration was at the top in
one dubious category.
"It has had more indictments, more pardons, more times that the
governor has taken the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify
before a grand jury than any other state in this country," Beshear
The grand jury returned 29 indictments, one of which charged
Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and
political discrimination. The charges against Fletcher were dropped
in an agreement with prosecutors, even though the grand jury
concluded he had approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to
skirt state hiring laws so political supporters could be rewarded
with jobs. Fletcher issued pardons for anyone else who had been
charged or could be charged.
Fletcher has criticized the probe as a political witch hunt.
On Saturday, thousands thronged to the grounds of St. Jerome
Catholic Church for the annual picnic, which serves up thousands of
pounds of barbecue along with fresh vegetables and homemade pies.
Politicians served up plenty of zingers for the crowd of partisans
who cheered their candidates and booed the opposition during a
round of speeches.
Republicans offered some gimmicks in trying to score political
points. Near the speakers' stage, Fletcher's campaign debuted a
float dubbed "Beshearville" that included a casino, a payday
lending store, massage parlor and a boarded-up family business. The
GOP also brought out someone portraying Moses. It was a dig at
Beshear for his role years ago as attorney general in enforcing a
U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering the removal of the Ten
Commandments from Kentucky public classrooms.
Beshear, the son and grandson of Baptist preachers in western
Kentucky, was ready for that attack.
"I obeyed the law," he responded when it was his turn at the
podium. "And let me tell you this, as governor I'll obey the law,
too. And wouldn't that be a great change if we had a governor who
would obey the law for a change."
The hiring scandal and Fletcher's job performance were fodder
for Democrats leading up to the picnic. Earlier Saturday, at a
Democratic gathering in nearby Mayfield, state Auditor Crit Luallen
lambasted Fletcher for presiding over "the most embarrassing and
incompetent administration" in Kentucky history.
Talking to reporters later, Fletcher called Luallen's comments
"the most hypocritical thing I've ever heard," and said the
criticism came from someone who ran the "entire patronage system"
for former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton.
"But what do you expect, they have nothing to say about my
policies," said Fletcher, who has taken credit for, among other
things, boosting education funding, revamping the Medicaid system
and overhauling the state tax code.
Luallen has said she never rewarded Patton's political
supporters with protected state jobs when she was Patton's
executive cabinet secretary.
Meanwhile, Fletcher's sharpest attacks at the picnic honed in on
Beshear's support for limited casino gambling.
The governor warned that expanded gaming would promote a host of
social ills, including more crime, divorce and bankruptcies. He
said that casino players in Kentucky would have to lose nearly $1.5
billion each year to achieve Beshear's state revenue projection.
Most of that money is now spent at existing businesses, Fletcher
"While `Easy Money Steve' promises you money for nothing, the
real truth is the casinos get your money while we get nothing,"
Beshear supports putting the issue of expanded gambling on the
ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment and supports allowing
casino gambling at some racetracks and two to four freestanding
facilities along the state's border. Beshear has estimated the
state could collect at least $500 million a year in extra revenue
from expanded gambling.
In his speech Saturday, Beshear said Kentuckians already are
spending millions of dollars at casinos just across Kentucky's
border. That money, he said, is helping pay for schools, roads and
health care in neighboring states, and he accused of Fletcher of
using "bogus figures to try to scare you to death."