Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Extension of Outrage

[[S C A N D A L S]] * Is it just my perception, or is there really a bumper crop of juicy political scandals breaking and brewing right now across the United States? In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was hit by revelations of “hush-money payments” made by a magazine publisher to the body builder-politician’s alleged former mistress, and has since seen his job approval ratings plummet. Ohio continues to reel from Governor Bob Taft’s mid-August indictment on four criminal misdemeanor counts for failing to disclose a series of gifts (including dozens of golf outings), and his admission a week later that he’d overlooked eight other ethics infractions has raised questions about his competence and emboldened opponents to demand his resignation or impeachment. Then, of course, there are those multiple charges of ethics violations leveled against Republican “strongman” Tom DeLay, the U.S. House majority leader, stemming from his fund-raising practices and lobbyist-financed travel. And let’s not forget the continuing disgrace surrounding Bush political adviser Karl Rove--“a master of dirty tricks, divisiveness, innuendo, manipulation, character assassination, and roiling partisanship,” to quote The Boston Globe--whose leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name to the media might turn out to be, as the Houston Chronicle phrases it, “Bush’s Watergate.”

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.

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.
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.”

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).

No comments: