By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - Republican Bob Heleringer went on the attack Friday against Hunter Bates, one day after challenging his rival's eligibility to run for lieutenant governor on Ernie Fletcher's slate.
Heleringer, running mate of gubernatorial hopeful Steve Nunn, accused the Fletcher-Bates ticket of "hiding behind their lawyers" on whether Bates meets residency requirements. Heleringer said the matter also raised questions about Fletcher's judgment.
Fletcher's campaign declined to comment. Bates' lawyer, James Milliman, said the Nunn campaign should be "embarrassed" by its attack and called it a sign of desperation. Milliman said Bates deferred to his lawyers on the case so he could concentrate on meeting voters and discussing issues.
Bates, 35, a native of Whitley County in southeastern Kentucky, spent five years as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Bates had wanted to return to Kentucky in 1998, but remained in Washington at McConnell's request until last year, Milliman said.
"If that disqualifies a man from being on the ticket, then we have a real problem in this state," he said.
Heleringer claims Bates was a Virginia resident until moving to Oldham County last year, when Bates ran McConnell's re-election campaign. Heleringer said Bates paid taxes and registered his vehicles in Virginia.
Kentucky's Constitution requires candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to be Kentucky residents for at least six years preceding the election.
"No man is above the law," Heleringer said at a news conference Friday. "Our Constitution is not a loophole to be exploited, explained away ... and finessed to death by an army of attorneys to solely satisfy a candidate's obvious hunger for high public office."
Heleringer, a former state representative from Louisville, filed a motion Thursday in Oldham County Circuit Court asking to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks Bates' disqualification from the May 20 primary.
The suit was filed Tuesday by Curtis Shain, a University of Louisville student. Heleringer said he does not know Shain. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday in La Grange before Judge Paul Rosenblum.
Milliman said the burden of proof rests with Shain and Heleringer to show that Bates intended to become a Virginia resident Bates continued to vote in Kentucky while working in Washington, Milliman said. Bates always intended to return home, and thus never bought a house in Virginia but instead rented, his lawyer said.
"To me, if you're going to be up there six or seven years and intend to stay there, you're going to buy a house," Milliman said.
Heleringer said Fletcher added Bates to his ticket because of Bates' fund-raising connections. Fletcher, a congressman from Lexington, has opened a big fund-raising lead over Nunn and the other two GOP candidates, Rebecca Jackson of Louisville and Virgil Moore of Leitchfield. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor must run together as a slate.
"He was willing to risk this and risk our party's chances this fall for the money that Hunter Bates could produce and has produced," Heleringer said.
Candidates in the Democratic primary are Attorney General Ben Chandler, House Speaker Jody Richards, Otis Hensley of Harlan County and Louisville entrepreneur Bruce Lunsford, who began running television ads this week.
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