LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Two well-known Republicans broke away from Kentucky's first GOP governor in a generation to endorse Democratic gubernatorial nominee Steve Beshear on Monday.
Former U.S. Rep. Larry Hopkins - who represented the 6th
District, which includes Lexington, from 1979 to 1993 - appeared
with Beshear in downtown Lexington to announce his support.
"I believe Steve Beshear can provide the leadership Kentucky
needs," said Hopkins, who was the Republican nominee for governor
in 1991, losing to Democrat Brereton Jones.
Former state Rep. Steve Nunn, the son of the last Republican
governor, Louie Nunn, until Gov. Ernie Fletcher's election in 2003,
said he also would support Beshear.
Steve Nunn called the last four years during Fletcher's
administration "a comedy of errors."
"Four years of failed leadership has led to this decision,"
Beshear said neither Nunn nor Hopkins asked him for anything in
return for their endorsements, nor did he promise them anything in
Fletcher said on Monday that he has considerable support from
Democrats, adding that the Nunn and Hopkins endorsement of Beshear
is "one of those things. You're going to have some folks go either
Later in a statement, Fletcher spokesman Jason Keller said in a
statement that "there are a significant number of Democrats
supporting Gov. Fletcher in this election because they recognize
that he is the only candidate that represents Kentucky's values and
will not invite the scourge of casino gambling into our
commonwealth." Keller declined to name them.
Nunn, who lost to Fletcher in the 2003 Republican primary, said
his decision had nothing to do with sour grapes. Nunn expressed
concern about the investigation into whether Fletcher's
administration had violated state hiring laws in an alleged scheme
to reward political supporters with state jobs.
Fletcher and at least 14 of his aides and associates were
indicted. Fletcher issued pardons for everyone except himself. His
lawyers worked out a deal with prosecutors to have the charges
against him dropped.
Hopkins said he wants the opportunity to vote on a referendum on
whether to legalize casino gambling, and said he believes most
other Kentuckians want that same opportunity.
Beshear supports amending Kentucky's Constitution to allow
limited casino gambling. He says Kentuckians already spend huge
amounts at casinos across the border in Indiana and Illinois, and
says taxes from legalized gambling could help fund education,
health care and other initiatives.
Fletcher says he'll fight any effort to legalize casinos. The
governor previously said he would not oppose efforts to put such a
measure on the ballot, but abruptly changed his stance after this
year's primary, citing his personal opposition to gambling.
Fletcher and Beshear appeared at a higher education conference
in Louisville during the early afternoon.
Beshear said Kentucky has lost its momentum as a national
trendsetter in education, and accused Fletcher of underinvesting in
the system - from kindergarten through college.
Fletcher countered that he presided over increased spending for
education along with a surge in campus construction projects.
Fletcher also promised $100 million in bonding authority for the
"Bucks for Brains" program, which matches public money with
private donations to attract top researchers to Kentucky
The candidates in the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election took swipes
at each other while outlining their education plans in speeches at
the higher education conference.
Beshear said state government in recent years has retreated on
its commitment to education, and that Kentucky is no longer at the
forefront of innovations in education.
"We were out in front ... in this whole country in pushing
education for our people and in doing innovative things for our
people," Beshear said. "We have lost our way."
Beshear accused Fletcher of underfunding education, adding "our
people and our economy have suffered as a result." Beshear's plan
to increase college graduation rates includes a new scholarship
program that would offer forgivable loans for tuition at Kentucky
colleges and universities. For every year a recipient worked in
Kentucky following graduation, a year of tuition would be forgiven.
Fletcher responded that he has increased funding for education
without raising taxes by making state government more efficient.
"When folks say that we haven't had the focus on education, I
don't know where they've been," Fletcher said in a comment aimed
at Beshear, who was in the audience.
In a new policy announcement, Fletcher said that if re-elected
he would commit at least $100 million in state bonding authority in
the next two-year budget for "Bucks for Brains."
Beshear has criticized Fletcher for underfunding the program.
"I'm glad he's finally realized the importance of Bucks for
Brains," Beshear said after Fletcher's speech.
Beshear said if elected he would meet with higher education
officials to "figure out a number that makes sense" in funding
Bucks for Brains.
The two candidates also sparred over the state's prevailing wage
law, which requires governments in Kentucky to pay union scale
wages on construction projects.
Fletcher said repealing the law would let universities stretch
construction money further.
Beshear responded that the law ensures workers "make a decent
"He would punish folks that build the buildings in order to
save a few dollars on the other end," Beshear said of Fletcher,
who unsuccessfully tried to repeal the prevailing wage law earlier
in his term.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky.,
contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)