Saturday, October 12, 2002

Governor's “victim”

Hard to work up girlfriend sympathy

Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton has one thing going for him in the sex scandal plaguing his office.

His alleged victim, Tina Conner, comes across like brass knuckles wrapped in barbed wire. There are members of the Gambino crime family with more sympathetic qualities than this woman.

Ms. Conner's latest display of vindictive purpose came this week, when she amended her sexual-harassment lawsuit against the governor. Now she says he defamed her by denying their affair.

For crying out loud. Yes, the governor lied — for four days. Then he went on TV, admitted the sex, sobbed, sealed the extinction of his career and drove his wife into hiding.

Apparently, Ms. Conner missed it.

Don't get me wrong. I have no sympathy for the governor. At best, he screwed around on our dime. At worst, as Ms. Conner alleges, he arranged favors for her businesses and retaliated when she cut him off.

Mr. Patton denies this. Regardless, he deserves to be taken down.

Then again, so does Ms. Conner.

Dangerous game

She willingly played a dangerous game, flaunting her connections when it served her ambitions.

I spoke this week with Norris Beckley, former director of Kentucky's Office of Minority Affairs.

In 2000, Ms. Conner's fledgling construction business applied for “disadvantaged” status, because it was female-owned. Such firms get special consideration for state contracts.

Several times, Mr. Beckley recalls, Ms. Conner reminded him she was Hickman County's “contact person,” meaning the governor's office called her for suggestions on who should get state jobs or appointments.

“She made it pretty clear she had influence with the governor,” Mr. Beckley says. “It kind of had me on pins and needles.”

Nevertheless, he was troubled. Her net worth appeared to exceed the program's threshold of $750,000, he says.

When Mr. Beckley balked, he was called into the office of Transportation Secretary James Codell, he says. With Ms. Conner in the room, the secretary asked Mr. Beckley to work closely with her on getting certified.

The message was clear, Mr. Beckley says. Ms. Conner submitted new documents showing a lower net worth, and her application was approved.

Patients suffered

More troubling is the saga of Ms. Conner's nursing home. She claims the governor's office gave her advance warning of at least one inspection, which the governor denies.

After their affair ended, a complaint from a resident's relative led to an investigation of the home. State officials found numerous deficiencies, including evidence that a woman died because of a lack of prompt medical care, records show.

Ms. Conner has not denied the findings, only blamed Mr. Patton for bringing them about.

I hope her lawsuit doesn't get settled. Let a jury have at the both of them.

E-mail or phone 859-578-5584

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