Saturday, February 15, 2003

Barrows apologizes to House, keeps job


He had rigged budget

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A House leader managed to keep his job Friday after an emotional apology for rigging a budget bill to accommodate his pet project - renovation of the center that contains Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky's wildly popular basketball team.

Rep. Joe Barrows survived a close vote to hold onto his position as majority whip during a two-hour, closed meeting of the House Democratic caucus, some familiar with the balloting said.

Thursday, Barrows stunned his colleagues by announcing to the House that he had slipped into the budget bill $1.4 million for debt service on bonds to complete the half-finished renovation of Lexington Center, which includes Rupp Arena.

That violated an agreement Democrats had struck with the Republican minority to submit a lean budget bill with no tax increases and no construction projects.

Barrows argued the merits of completing the Lexington Center project - always referring to it as Rupp Arena - but offered an amendment by which the House could delete the project if it wanted. That made matters worse, especially for Lexington-area legislators who saw themselves being maneuvered into what the public could construe as a vote against Kentucky basketball.

The state put up $15 million for the $48 million renovation in 2000 and promised to match it two years later. Work was well under way when the economy soured, state revenues plunged, and Gov. Paul Patton omitted further funding from the budget he sent to the 2002 General Assembly.

No budget was enacted because of House and Senate disagreements. The legislature now is working on a catch-up budget to get the state through fiscal 2004.

Barrows, who is a graduate of the University of Kentucky law school, said he mistakenly thought the House would go along with him. "I knew there was pretty broad general support for Rupp Arena," he said. In hindsight, it "clearly was stupid," he said. "It was received a whole lot worse than I could ever have expected."

Friday, Barrows submitted his resignation as whip to the Democratic caucus, which voted by secret ballot on whether to accept it. Two legislators in the meeting said the final vote was 31-29. The House has 65 Democrats.

Barrows left the room before the vote. He paid a visit to a separate meeting of the 35-member Republican caucus and delivered another apology.

"I did what I thought was a good thing, but in retrospect obviously a very stupid thing to do," Barrows said. Most Republicans politely applauded.

Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown said the Democrats' decision to keep Barrows as whip was an internal matter. More important was "internal management and control of the budget process," Hoover said.

In a separate vote, Barrows was removed from the Appropriations and Revenue Committee. He will not be one of the House conferees in final budget negotiations with the Senate, House Speaker Jody Richards said.

Hoover, meanwhile, said he wanted Bobby Sherman, executive director of the Legislative Research Commission, to investigate the incident. "There are still a lot of unanswered questions and concerns about the Democrat Party's handling of the budget situation," Hoover said.

Though he had angered his colleagues Thursday, Barrows reportedly had several defenders inside the caucus, including Rep. J.R. Gray of Benton, who made a speech in Barrows' defense.

"I've just always been opposed to kicking a man when he's down," Gray, chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, said in an interview. "Joe recognizes what he did was wrong. He admitted to everyone he was wrong. He asked us to forgive him."

On the other side, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian said she argued in the meeting that a change had to be made for the sake of the Democratic Party, already reeling from the scandal of an extramarital affair by Patton.

"With the hits that the party has taken, with the governor's breach of trust, we really need to try to regain the public's trust," Marzian, D-Louisville, said in an interview.




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