Thursday, September 19, 2002

Allegations discussed at picnic

Patton didn't show, but gossip swirled anyway

By Patrick Crowley,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MELBOURNE — Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton didn't make Wednesday's 35th Annual Campbell County Senior Citizens Picnic. But he was still a topic of conversation.

        The governor, who usually makes the major political circuit event every year, was in Frankfort, denying allegations that he had an improper sexual relationship with a state lottery board appointee.

[photo] Gov. Paul Patton denies allegations of sexual harassment during a news conference in Louisville Wednesday. With him is his wife, Judi.
(Associated Press photo)
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        In between rounds of horseshoes and while bingo was being played, as hot dogs were being devoured and beers were being poured, many in the crowd of about 1,000 at Pendery Park offered opinions on the allegations aimed at the two-term Democratic governor from Pikeville.

        There were those like Ruth Baumann, a long-time Campbell County Democratic Party activist, who does not believe accusations that Mr. Patton carried on a sexual affair with the Western Kentucky businesswoman and then sicced state regulators on her Hickman County nursing home after they broke up.

        “I've known him for years and I've never seen anything that would lead me to believe something like what that woman is saying happened,” said Mrs. Baumann, clearly irritated at the mere mention of the burgeoning scandal.

        “Somebody is just coming after him politically, so they defame him on the news. You can't believe that stuff.”

        There were those like Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards, a Bowling Green Democrat, who urged restraint in rushing to judgment over what thus far are unsubstantiated allegations.

        “In America we say that people are innocent until proven guilty,” said Mr. Richards, at the picnic to campaign for his own gubernatorial election in next year's Democratic primary.

        “I would certainly hope it's not true; we'll just have to see how it unfolds.”

        Asked if the allegations will damage Mr. Patton and other Democrats politically, Mr. Richards said, “It's just too early in the whole scenario to know anything about permanent consequences. We'll just have to see. You're going to have to hear the evidence from both sides before you really know what's going on.”

        And there were those like former Campbell County District Judge Tim Nolan, who is working in the Campbell County fiscal court campaign of Republican Lloyd Rogers.

        Mr. Nolan said because of former President Bill Clinton's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky it might be easier for voters to believe that Mr. Patton did have an affair.

        “This could definitely hurt Democrats on the ballot this fall,” Mr. Nolan said. “It sure won't help them.”

        In an interview first broadcast Tuesday night on WHAS in Louisville and carried in newspapers across the state Wednesday, Tina Conner alleged that after she broke off an affair with Mr. Patton he used his power as governor to begin a state investigation of her nursing home.

        Mr. Patton has acknowledged knowing Ms. Conner, and he did appoint her to the Kentucky Lottery Board. But at the Frankfort press conference and in a lengthy statement he denied her allegations Wednesday.

        A lawsuit against Mr. Patton was filed by Ms. Conner late Wednesday.

        Mr. Patton is serving his second term. He wants to run against U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican and Campbell County native, in the 2004 Senate race.

        But if there is political blood in the water, leading Republicans aren't diving in just yet.

        Kentucky Republican Party Vice Chairman Damon Thayer was mute. “I don't want to say anything.”

        And there was no returned phone call from Mr. Bunning's Washington office.

        The pols at the picnic were more talkative.

        The allegations could seriously damage Mr. Patton's future political plans, mused Steve Taylor, a Fort Thomas Republican running for Campbell County Sheriff.“Kentuckians are pretty conservative,” Mr. Taylor said. But he added the story is still so fresh that all the facts aren't known and it could turn out that by the time Mr. Patton is on the ballot, the voters will have either forgotten about the episode or no longer care.

        “The story is so far ahead of the Senate race he's going to be in if the story's dead by then I'm not sure how much it really hurts him long term,” Mr. Taylor said after making his way through the line at the hot dog booth.

        The entire episode shows how easily politicians can be subjected to the frustrating circumstance that a charge made is a charge believed, said Campbell County Fiscal Court candidate Ken Rechtin, a Newport Democrat who was working the hot dog line.“Politicians are always vulnerable to anybody saying anything of any kind about us,” said Mr. Rechtin, a Newport City Commissioner.

        “It's difficult when you have to defend yourself against something that may or may not be true.”


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