Saturday, September 28, 2002

Comics joke, but Patton's not laughing


Fellow Democrat urges the governor to step down

By Howard Wilkinson, hwilkinson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With the national news media, late-night comics and even radio shock jock Howard Stern homing in on Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton's problems, one of the governor's fellow Democratic officer-holders in northern Kentucky is calling on him to resign.

        Mr. Patton should resign now and “spare the people of Kentucky the grief,” said one Democratic Campbell County commissioner Dave Otto.

Patton
Patton
        “We need a governor who can work a 10-hour day without this hanky-panky,” said Mr. Otto, a former Republican who has supported Mr. Patton since switching parties six years ago.

        Mr. Patton's admission that he lied about having an affair with nursing home operator Tina Conner and the investigations into whether he used his power to ruin her business has “taken away his ability to govern,” Mr. Otto said.

        On Friday in Louisville, Mr. Patton again said he would not resign, as a state ethics commission in Frankfort decided to join a public corruption investigation opened by Attorney General Ben Chandler on Thursday.

        Mr. Patton predicted the outcome of an investigation would be “reassuring to the people of Kentucky, regardless of how they may feel about me as an individual.”

        Under Kentucky law, the commission could hold public hearings if it found reason to believe the ethics law, with its prohibition of conflicts of interest, had been violated.

        At most, the commission could impose a $5,000 and a public reprimand for each violation.

        Mr. Patton said he would cooperate with the commission. He said it was “important that the people of Kentucky know how their governor administered the office.”

        The scandal has already apparently cost Mr. Patton a U.S. Senate bid. He made clear Friday that he did not intend to seek Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning's seat in 2004, a race for which he long has been positioning himself.

        “I cannot envision circumstances under which I would be a candidate,” he said in Louisville.

        Mr. Patton could be removed from office only through impeachment, which must be initiated by the House of the General Assembly, where Democrats make up 66 of the 100 members.

        As for resigning, he said calls to his office “are overwhelmingly to not resign, to continue to do this job as long as I can do it effectively.”

        The ethics commission's five members all were appointed by Mr. Patton, and some have known him socially, but the group has no qualms about investigating him, said Cindy Stone, the chairwoman. “There is no communication between me and the governor's office. I only met the governor and his wife one time,” she said.

        “I just don't think that, for the next year, the people of Kentucky should be concerned about picking up the front page of the paper every morning and reading about their governor's problems,” Mr. Otto said.

        The state, the Campbell County commissioner said, has “significant issues” it needs to deal with, such as education funding and unemployment. Mr. Patton, the commissioner said, “isn't going to be effective. The legislature isn't going to take him seriously. I don't see how he can lead.”

        Mr. Patton's affair with Mrs. Conner and the lawsuit she filed against him and the state has been the butt of Jay Leno's jokes on the Tonight Show.

        Friday morning, on Mr. Stern's nationally syndicated radio show, Mr. Patton's tearful apology was played over and over, with Mr. Stern saying the governor should have kept the affair going.

        “He's becoming a laughingstock all over the country,” said Mr. Otto of Mr. Patton.

        The governor, said Mr. Otto, is a “big boy who did a big-boy thing and he ought to be willing to pay a big-boy price.”

        Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Jerry Johnson — who, until earlier this year, was a political operative in the governor's office — “won't make any comment on this at this time,” said Susan Wilcox, communications director of the Kentucky Democratic Party. “He's trying to buckle down and focus on the election.”

        U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Kentucky Republicans have argued that the scandal in the Patton administration is a good argument for electing Republicans in the Bluegrass State.

        Mr. Otto said the Patton affair “has handed them an issue.”

        “They will make hay with this as long as they can,” Mr. Otto said.

        Friday morning, Ms. Conner appeared on NBC's Today show, where she told host Katie Couric she has a meeting with FBI agents Monday and wants to turn over what she says is evidence that the closing of her Clinton, Ky., nursing home was retaliation after the two-year affair ended.

        Ms. Conner said on the Today show that, in October, 2001, she received a “rather confrontational phone call” from the governor “wanting to know where I had been, why I had not been to Frankfort and had I forgotten about him.”

        She said that “approximately a couple of months later” her nursing home was inspected by the state and was decertified a few months later.

        Health and Human Services reports issued on the nursing home alleged failure to provide proper nursing services, failure to file physician's orders and general poor care of patients.

        Follow-up inspections stated that nothing was done to correct the citations.

        Health Services chief Marcia Morgan said Thursday that her agency, which licenses and inspects nursing homes, would cooperate with the investigations and invited “public, independent verification” that no assistance was given, nor retribution leveled at, Mrs. Conner's facility.

        On the Today program, Ms. Couric read a letter Ms. Conner sent to Mr. Patton in July, which said “I believe the public needs to know how badly I've been treated by the state, and for that matter, how you have treated me.”

        The Conner letter that Ms. Couric read on the show made accusations of “group sex and perversions” that Ms. Conner said in the letter she “went along with ... to save my business.”

        The governor did not respond to Ms. Conner's letter, she said on the show.

        Ms. Conner's attorney, Fred Radolovich of Louisville, has said he has counseled his client not to “try this case in the media,” and had advised against television appearances.

        Ms. Conner, on the Today program, also said that she had been in touch with assistants for Gennifer Flowers, a woman who came forward with allegations of an affair with former President Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

        The Associated Press contributed.

       



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