The Chatter: Former Gov. Fletcher’s aides become fodder in GOP primary

04/26/2015 03:50 PM

Pointed elbows in this year’s race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination stayed sharp on Saturday as Agriculture Commissioner James Comer conjured memories of a GOP hiring scandal that paved the way for two-term Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s first election in 2007.

Comer, who helped former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup’s 2007 primary challenge against then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher, criticized former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner’s supporters who previously worked under Fletcher during a Jessamine County debate Saturday, according to reports by The Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald-Leader.

His remarks came after a number of former Fletcher aides appeared at a Heiner fundraiser last week.

From the Herald-Leader:

Referring to a Lexington fundraiser for Heiner hosted by former Fletcher allies, Comer said: “I don’t want to see those people back in power again.”

“If it weren’t for some of those people that hosted that fundraiser for you last week we wouldn’t have Steve Beshear as governor,” Comer said. “So there’s a big difference in who we’re surrounding ourselves with in this campaign.”

Heiner shot back, saying that Fletcher “is a good man, and he did surround himself with good people,” assailing Comer for siding with Speaker of the House and former Attorney General Greg Stumbo.

“You know, I hate to see the commissioner here siding with an attorney general who woke up every morning, dedicated every fiber of his being, to taking down the Fletcher administration,” Heiner said.

In 2003, Fletcher became the first Republican to win the office since Louie Nunn’s election in 1967. But by August 2005, Fletcher had issued a blanket pardon for his administration in the wake of a patronage hiring scandal. Fletcher, who faced a misdemeanor, did not pardon himself, but his charges were dropped after settling with prosecutors.

Comer argued that he wasn’t speaking ill of Fletcher, who he called “a good man,” but rather “some bad people around him,” according to The Courier-Journal.

From The Courier-Journal:

Comer acknowledged that he has had a number of former Fletcher appointees work in his agriculture commissioner’s office but said they weren’t to blame for Fletcher’s problems.

After the debate, Heiner said he approached Comer and asked if they could turn down the heat in the future.

Comer said he told Heiner that he would scale back his attacks only if Heiner denounced claims made in a television ad and mailers made by a super PAC that is backing Heiner. Heiner has declined to do so, saying that they are not his ads and he has no control over the PAC.

“He said, ‘Jamie, I don’t have anything to do with it and gave me a creepy grin,” said Comer, who said he voted for Fletcher in the 2007 election after he “weeded some of those people out … He brought Jim Deckard (who served as his general counsel) and some people like that.”

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