We’re on the verge of Richie Farmer burnout. There’s been such a relentless stream of news about the former commissioner of agriculture’s outrageous conduct while in public office that it’s becoming ever more difficult to feel shocked by new revelations. Outside of backing a truck up to the gold depository at Fort Knox and making off with the bullion, what more could he have done?
State Auditor Adam Edelen’s exhaustive review of the Farmer administration’s hubris largely confirms the news reports we’ve been reading over the past few months and adds a few tidbits we hadn’t heard. We’re given additional details about the manner in which the Clay County native used his office to harvest rewards for himself, friends and family . Without the auditor’s sweeping indictment, we might not have known about state workers being pressed into service to construct a basketball court with donated concrete at Farmer’s Frankfort home, mow his yard and look after his dog. We might have missed out on a testy email exchange between the commissioner and his ex-wife, livid because a refrigerator purchased with state money ended up in the Franklin County classroom where she worked as a teacher’s aide. And we might have been deprived of knowledge of the former basketball star’s unsportsmanlike conduct in shooting a deer from a state vehicle and then ordering the state worker who’d driven him to the kill site to field-dress the carcass.
The big remaining question is whether he’ll face criminal charges for these and other presumptions. His lawyer, Guthrie True, thinks not. He anticipates no prosecution and hopes this sordid story has finally run its course.
True regards the auditor’s report as “very political and self-serving.” We seem to recall similar words being spoken when former Gov. Ernie Fletcher got indicted because his Republican administration manipulated the Merit System to advance its own personnel priorities. Politics is always a convenient alibi in Frankfort.
At least, several arms of government will have the opportunity to undertake further action if they find abuses revealed by the audit sufficiently egregious. The report is being sent on to Attorney General Jack Conway, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, the Kentucky Department of Revenue, the Personnel Board and the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which takes a dim view of shooting deer from vehicles).
If Farmer gets out of this mess without further humiliation and/or prosecution, he’ll still have to decide what to do with the rest of a life that’s strayed far from the straight and narrow. After losing his campaign for lieutenant governor on the David Williams ticket and concluding his term as agriculture commissioner, he ignited new indignation by applying for jobless benefits. The unemployment office was not persuaded. Defeated politicians don’t qualify for the assistance the state provides to laid-off workers.
It’s all been a tremendous blow to Kentucky’s one-time Mr. Basketball, who went on from high school glory to became a popular member of coach Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables” at the University of Kentucky. Others who achieve athletic success in their youth should take note of his precipitous fall from grace. Politics might enable sports has-beens to luxuriate in the style of NBA mega-stars for a while, but taxpayers eventually tire of a game that finds them looking on in disbelief and ending up the real losers.