Richie Farmer's state spending justified, Williams says

12/21/2010 07:38 AM

Management and spending issues surrounding Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer have been overplayed in the media and won’t undermine Farmer’s lieutenant governor candidacy, said his Republican running mate and candidate for governor David Williams.

Williams, the GOP Senate president who chose Farmer as his running mate this summer, said Farmer has a “strong history” of management as leader of the state’s Agriculture Department for the last 7 years.

He downplayed reports of Farmer’s trip with several aides to the Virgin Islands for an agriculture conference this year amid the tight economic times. The Herald-Leader’s John Cheves first reported about the taxpayer-funded trip in October.

“That’s where the conference was,” Williams said.

Cheves also reported in August that Farmer signed off on the purchase of about $445,000 in new vehicles, including the purchase of a new SUV for Farmer’s use as commissioner.

Williams defended purchases, including the of a Chevy SUV for Farmer’s professional use, by saying, “He is the Ag. commissioner.” (Correction: I erroneously described the SUV as costing $45,000 in my question to Williams. The cost was actually about $35,000.)

In answering the question about the spending on the SUV and the trip to the conference in the Virgin Islands, Williams referenced another article about Farmer: that 11 of his employees received merit-based pay raises this year while most other state employees saw their wages frozen. The Herald-Leader first reported about that on Dec. 3.

Williams then sought to turn the issue around on Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear. Cheves reported this month that Beshear filed paperwork with the state’s personnel board to protect 81 non-merit positions from being eliminated during downsizing of the ranks of political appointees.

The General Assembly urged Beshear to trim the roster of such non-merit appointees, and Beshear aimed to cut $5 million worth of payroll from them this year. From February to December, the number of appointees dropped by 31 from 826 to 795, according to figures provided to cn|2 Politics by the governor’s office.

And Williams said he won’t push to change the opening schedule for a new governor that requires the incoming governor to set up his or her cabinet, government structure and draft a two-year state budget to present to the General Assembly within the first 60 days after being inaugurated.

“I will tell you I can do a better job with the advisors I will have in putting a budget together in 45 days than he’s done in two-and-a-half years,” Williams said.

And finally, Williams gave his pick for which governor he thought did the best job in working with lawmakers since Williams joined the legislature in 1985. Hint: it’s not a Republican.

- Ryan Alessi


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