Now comes yet another outrage: Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher’s move yesterday to pardon nine current and former members of his administration who have been indicted as part of a probe into allegations that “state jobs were filled on the basis of politics, not merit,” as the Louisville Courier-Journal explains it. Appearing before a grand jury pursuing this investigation, Republican Fletcher said, “I cannot allow state government to continue to be consumed by this game of political ‘gotcha’ paralyzing our ability to serve you, the people of Kentucky.” Fletcher, a former Kentucky legislator who ran for governor in 2003 on the promise that he’d “clean up the mess in Frankfort,” has already attacked the whistleblower who broke this scandal, and now contends that the case assembled against him is “a political tool of Greg Stumbo,” the state attorney general, who has been mentioned as a Democratic contender for Fletcher’s seat in 2007 (though Stumbo insists he plans no such run). According to the Courier-Journal,
Prosecutors allege the Fletcher administration ran a “corrupt political machine” that sought to circumvent state hiring laws and install political supporters in merit system jobs that were supposed to be filled strictly on the basis of qualifications.Stumbo says he may go to court to challenge the legality of Fletcher’s pardons. He calls the evidence of wrongdoing “overwhelming,” and says the governor is simply trying to quash the merit system investigation before it can do further damage to his public standing. (A SurveyUSA poll from May already showed that 50 percent of Kentuckians disapproved of Fletcher’s job performance, while only 36 percent approved.) “His administration cannot afford to allow the evidence to come out in court,” Stumbo told the press yesterday. “In pardoning these criminal defendants, the governor has slammed the door on the public’s right to know what wrongs his administration has committed. He has ensured that the people of Kentucky will never know the truth.”
The allegations have escalated from misdemeanor charges about shoehorning supporters into street-level transportation jobs, to felony charges of witness tampering and destruction of evidence.
Fletcher has acknowledged that some “mistakes were made,” and attributed them to a fledgling administration swamped with requests from GOP job-seekers who had been locked out of state jobs during a generation of Democratic rule.
Fletcher appeared briefly today before the grand jury investigating this developing scandal, and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Although the governor says he has no intention of resigning, there’s already plenty of talk about impeachment, as well as the possibility that Attorney General Stumbo will pursue evidence of federal crimes against the very officials Fletcher just pardoned. As the Courier-Journal notes, “the pardon would not cover any federal charges.”
The blog BluegrassReport.org is keeping close tabs on this merit system investigation.
READ MORE: “Fletcher’s Pardons Won’t Make the Personnel Investigation Go Away,” by John Cheves (Lexington Herald-Examiner); “Fletcher Can’t Lead, Might As Well Resign” (Lexington Herald Leader); Other Editorials Regarding the Fletcher Fiasco (BluegrassReport.org).