The attorney general went too far

Published:

The Kentucky Post

Were at a disadvantage.

Because Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo has presented publicly only pieces of what evidence he has against Gov. Ernie Fletcher, we cant possibly know how solid the case against him is.

Some watershed questions have yet to be fully answered.

How many people, for example, were given state merit system jobs because they registered R rather than D and not because they had better references, better educations, better work histories and better skills? A half dozen? A score? Several hundred?

How involved was the governor directly? It is one thing if he told his political lieutenants, as he undoubtedly did, that Republicans, in power for the first time in some 30 years, would need to institutionalize that power by putting the party faithful in state jobs and on state boards. Governors get to do that within the rules, as Fletcher did in revamping the state school board perhaps his most important appointments to date. It is quite another thing if the governor further instructed his political lieutenants to cross the line and fill merit jobs according to political loyalties. That is simply against the law and against the public interest. So was this operation rogue loyalists or loyalists under the clear command of their chief?

The indictment of Fletcher on misdemeanor charges doesnt answer either of those central questions. Consequently, we greet word of the formal charges as perhaps inevitable given the politics of Frankfort, but wholly dissatisfying. The indictments promise to accomplish nothing except a more partisan environment in the Kentucky Capitol.

If Stumbo could find nothing more serious than misdemeanor charges, then we wish he would have exercised his discretion and limited the grand jurys attention to the preparation of a thorough report analyzing what was going on in the early days of the Fletcher administration, where this scandal is rooted. Such a report might recommend preventive measures and legislation.

To be sure, Stumbo has shone a bright light on state hiring practices. And everybody understands that it is a light that should have been turned on a long time ago. ...

Notwithstanding Fletchers vow to continue to govern without interruption, the indictment is certain to affect his ability to, as he put it, move the state forward. The governor faces nothing but bad choices. He could quit, which he wont do. He could pardon himself, which he says he wont do. He could plead guilty, which we cant imagine him doing, or negotiate a plea to fewer or lesser charges. His attorneys could persuade a judge to dismiss the charges against him. He could stand trial.

Our own sense is that Stumbo and the grand jury overreached with the indictments, that it would be enough if the Supreme Court were to allow the release of a grand jury report that laid out the facts and left it to the people of Kentucky to parse them prior to the 2007 election. There has been no suggestion, after all, that Fletcher did anything for personal gain, that he was using the power and prestige of his office to enrich himself. He has become the first sitting governor in Kentucky history to be indicted. Why? Judging from the indictment, for the same sort of things many of his predecessors had done routinely over the past century.

As it stands, the indictments are fact, the grand jury report something that might or might not happen. All thats sure at this juncture, then, is that Kentuckians will have to weigh the allegations against the governor drip by excruciating drip.

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