Sunday, February 25, 2001

State officials tangled in the politics of Capitol

        FRANKFORT — We all know that politics — not judgment, prudence, fairness or civility — rules the state Capitol. But lawmakers, God love 'em, can always be counted on to remind us of that.

        Take the recent circumstances involving two top state officials — Attorney General Ben Chandler and Public Service Commission Director Marty Huelsmann — who are learning hard lessons about the politics of Frankfort.

        Mr. Chandlerhas been pushing to put some teeth into a consumer protection law that allows Kentucky residents to block calls from telemarketers.

        About 70,000 people have signed up for the “no call” lists.

        But in the last Legislative session, lawmakers, who seemed to be taking their orders from lobbyists and special interests in the telemarketing industry, watered down the bill like a well drink at a Newport bar.

        So after the Legislature caved and loaded the bill with 22 exemptions, 95 percent of the calls were still getting through to people on the no-call list.

        Angry that the law wasn't living up to its potential, Mr. Chandler called the Legislature for buckling to special interests.

        “Paid lobbyists are running the show (in Frankfort), using campaign money as both the carrot and the stick,” Mr. Chandler said.

        “It is no wonder that we are losing faith in government,” he said.

        Though the comments are more than a little true, members of the Legislature were peeved at Mr. Chandler.

        That's fine. Mr. Chandler knew when he spoke those words that he wasn't going to win any friends over at the Capitol.

        So how did lawmakers react a couple of weeks ago, when Mr. Chandler showed up to testify for a newer, tougher version of the telemarketing bill?

        They treated him with childish rudeness, refusing to vote on the bill and basically giving him the cold shoulder. It was evident the posture toward Mr. Chandler was personal because last week House members barely voted the bill out of committee. The vote came probably because Mr. Chandler didn't show up at the meeting.

        Will lawmakers continue to hold their breath over Mr. Chandler's statements, or will they pass what looks to be a pretty darn good piece of legislation?

        Mr. Huelsmann, a Fort Mitchell Democrat, could be in for a similar treatment from Senate Republicans.

        They have to confirm Mr. Huelsmann, who was appointed the state's top utility regulator earlier this year by Gov. Paul Patton.

        But Mr. Huelsmann could run into trouble because he has supported Democrats in the past, including giving them campaign contributions, and because his wife, Shirley, is the former chairwoman of the Kenton County Democratic Party and a big Patton supporter.

        Republican Senators from Northern Kentucky, including Jack Westwood of Erlanger and Katie Stine of Fort Thomas, said they'll vote for Mr. Huelsmann — provided he comes up for a vote.

        There's the rub. Dems fear Senate Republican leadership may not call Mr. Huelsmann's nomination for a vote. And the way gubernatorial nominations work, no vote, no confirmation.

        Is Mr. Huelsmann doing a good job for the PSC? Will Republicans just review campaign finance reports and retaliate against a Democratic supporter?

        Hey, this is Frankfort. It's politics, not policy, that matters.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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