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Fletcher, Beshear Exchange Barbs

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher, speaking Friday in the
central Kentucky town where the state constitution was drafted,
harshly criticized his Democratic challenger for wanting to change
the historic document to legalize casinos.
"He wants to make sure your kids are blackjack dealers and they
can only count to 21," Fletcher said referring to Lexington lawyer
Steve Beshear, the Democrat who is running against him for
Kentucky's top job in state government.
In campaign rhetoric that has grown increasingly heated, Beshear
countered that he wanted to discuss a different constitutional
issue - one involving the oath that governors take to uphold the
law. The Lexington lawyer reminded a boisterous crowd gathered
downtown that Fletcher was indicted last year on charges that he
rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs.
"It's time that the word 'illegal' no longer describes the
actions of our governor," Beshear said.
The candidates spoke on a stage at the Constitution Square State
Historic Site where Kentucky's Constitution was drafted and signed
in 1792.
Their comments came on a day when a poll conducted by the
Lexington Herald-Leader and WTVQ 36 in Lexington showed Beshear
held a 17-point lead over Fletcher.
Beshear, who built his primary election campaign around his
support for casinos, says taxes from legalized gambling could help
fund education, health care, economic development and other
initiatives. He said Kentuckians already spend huge amounts at
casinos over the state line in Indiana and Illinois.
"He doesn't have a clue if he thinks casino gambling is going
to build a future," Fletcher charged.
Opening the state to casinos would require amending the state's
constitution, which can be done only if voters consent by approving
a ballot referendum.
"People have a right to vote on that issue," Beshear said.
"We want to give people a right to vote because we trust
Kentuckians on that issue."
Fletcher is framing the election as a referendum on casinos. He
says Kentuckians who don't want casinos should vote for him, and
that those who do should support Beshear, a former lieutenant
governor and attorney general.
Campaigning across the state on a "No Casinos" tour, Fletcher
says gambling would contribute to bankruptcies, divorce and crime.
He said Kentuckians would have to lose $1.5 billion at casinos to
generate the $500 million a year in additional state revenue that
Beshear is predicting.
Fletcher had originally said he would not oppose efforts to put
such a measure on the ballot, but abruptly changed his stance after
the primary, citing his personal opposition to gambling. He says
he'll fight any effort to change the constitution.
Fletcher, an ordained Baptist minister, was the fresh face
voters wanted four years ago when he swept into the Kentucky
governor's office on the promise that he would "clean up the mess
in Frankfort."
Soon after taking office in 2003, a special grand jury began
investigating a complaint that Fletcher's administration had
violated state hiring laws in a 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.
Now Fletcher is facing a stiff challenge from Beshear who has
been hammering away at the Republican administration's hiring
"The bottom line," Beshear said Friday, "is they love to talk
the talk, but they don't walk the walk."

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

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