Stivers defends David Williams' 'strong' style and says Farmer isn't a liability to ticket

05/09/2011 05:08 PM

This weekend’s profiles in both major newspapers of the front-running Republican gubernatorial ticket explored whether David Williams lived up to the nickname “the bully from Burkesville” and whether his running mate Richie Farmer brought too much baggage.

State Sen. Robert Stivers, the Republican floor leader in the Senate, said Williams leadership style is “strong” but takes into account the will of the GOP caucus.

“It is definitely strong. I don’t deny that,” Stivers said Monday on Pure Politics.

He said he disagreed with the nickname for Williams as the “bully from Burkesville,” which was coined by former Democratic state Sen. David Karem of Louisville.

“It was a catchy soundbite that sells,” Stivers said. “But I don’t think it was really indicative.” (1:45 mark of the video)

In the Courier-Journal’s profile of Williams, written by Andrew Wolfson, several prominent Republicans described Williams as being vindictive with his actions.

House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover told Wolfson, “If you disagree with him, he doesn’t take that very kindly and is sometimes punitive in his actions and his words.”

And GOP state Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville told Wolfson that Williams pushed for a bill this year to create charter schools as a way to “exact revenge” on the Kentucky Education Association.

Stivers sought to downplay any friction in that GOP caucus.

“Tom is a tremendous and interesting guy … but again, not everyone agrees with his assessment,” he said. “I don’t believe David Williams, nor the Republicans in the Senate, put the charter schools bill up to be vindictive. I think it was a true belief.” (4:18)

And Stivers said he didn’t think those comments meant that Williams will have problems uniting the Republican base for the November general election if Williams wins the May 17th primary over Louisville businessman Phil Moffett and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.

“Any time you’re in a political race, you have to deal in reality,” Stivers said. “No matter what your party is, if you’re a Republican, you’re going to have some Republicans who won’t support you.” (5:58)

Stivers hails from Clay County — the home of Williams’ running mate, Richie Farmer. Farmer was a basketball star for Clay County High School and later the University of Kentucky before being elected as state agriculture commissioner in 2003.

But Farmer has hit a rough patch, including his wife Rebecca filing for divorce on April 5. In addition, he has come under fire for his spending as agriculture commissioner, including for overnight stays in Lexington and Louisville to attend events to promote the Kentucky Proud program, not disclosing the use of a state vehicle on his taxes and initially declining to give up part of his salary in support of state workers who are being furloughed. He later relented and opted to donate several thousand dollars of his $110,000 salary to charity.

But Stivers said he didn’t think Farmer is a liability to Williams. (7:48)

“Everybody has bumps in the road,” he said.

As for the Farmers’ divorce, Stivers said, “That’s the personal life, and I think that’s the personal life that’s much more exposed because of the fishbowl.”

- Ryan Alessi

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He has covered politics for more than 10 years, including 7 years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Follow Ryan on Twitter @cn2Alessi. Ryan can be reached at 502-792-1135 or


  • Ray wrote on May 10, 2011 10:04 AM :

    The story doesn’t mention Farmers biggest “bump in the road”- a taxpayer funded trip with his staff to the lovely Carribean islands. Taxpayers would blow the whistle on Farmer if they only knew. Therefore, this conservative media bias to protect the Williams-Farmer ticket is most telling. Once again we see the conservative media bias in Kentucky which has led to a majority Republican federal office holder state!

  • Bruce Layne wrote on May 10, 2011 11:41 AM :

    Williams is a crafty career politician. I think it’s likely that his reason for pushing charter school legislation wasn’t to take a jab at the teacher’s union. I think he did that knowing he’d be facing TEA Party candidate Phil Moffett in the May primary. It’s a way of co-opting Moffett’s message. If Phil Moffett talks about how he entered politics after being frustrated with Kentucky’s failing schools, approaching Frankfort politicians with better ideas, having the door slammed in his face, and then side stepping government and starting a very successful charter school program in Louisville, Williams can respond by saying that he fought hard for charter school legislation. Williams is also sprinkling the “constitution” buzzword into his campaigning, as a way of fooling people into thinking he’s somehow the TEA Party candidate. He talks a good talk about smaller fiscally responsible government even though he presided over a debt increase from $3.5B to $10B in the last ten years. Anyone not paying attention would think he’s the solution to the problems, when in fact, he CAUSED the problems.

    Richie Farmer’s scandals? Too many to list. Sadly, he’s probably still an asset to the Williams campaign because a lot of Kentuckians will vote for the basketball player. If so, we deserve what we get. I was disgusted when I noticed that the weird graphic between “Williams” and “Farmer” in their logo was a basketball. Really? A basketball? Is this the level of sophistication of Kentucky political discourse?

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