Friday, March 28, 2003

Candidate steps down after eligibility ruling

Bates had sought lieutenant governor post

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
[photo] Jennifer Bates wipes tears while her husband Hunter Bates announces he is withdrawing from the election.
(Associated Press photo)
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LOUISVILLE - Hunter Bates on Thursday said he would step aside as a candidate for lieutenant governor to allow Republican gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher to find a new running mate.

Bates, a Harvard-educated lawyer, decided against challenging a judge's ruling a day earlier that he had not lived in Kentucky long enough to run for the state's second-highest office.

"There is a time to go to court and there is a time to move on," Bates said at a news conference at local Republican Party headquarters. "My wife and I have thought long and hard about this, we prayed with friends and family, and we've come to the very difficult decision that now is the time for us to step aside."

Bates' voice choked with emotion at the start of his announcement. His wife dabbed tears from her eyes.

Bates, 35, who was making his first bid for elected office, said Fletcher had allowed him to make the decision.

"I'm still not sure that I've convinced him that it was the right decision, but I know for me it was the right decision," Bates said.

Absent a Bates appeal of the judge's ruling, Secretary of State John Y. Brown III will certify a vacancy on the ballot after five days. That will enable Fletcher to select a new running mate, Brown said Thursday.

If Bates formally withdrew - filed a written notice - Fletcher would be forced out as well, Brown said. Fletcher campaign spokesman Wes Irvin said Bates did not intend to file for withdrawal.

As Fletcher's campaign turned its attention to finding a replacement, campaign manager Daniel Groves said "there's a lot of folks who would love" to be Fletcher's running mate. Groves said the selection likely would be made by month's end.

The primary is May 20.

Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore quashed rumors Thursday that Fletcher will tap him as a running mate.

"Nothing to that at all," said Moore, a two-term Republican judge-executive seen as a rising political star by the state GOP.

Moore also disputed speculation that the episode will damage Fletcher's gubernatorial bid.

"When you get down to it, people vote for the top of the ticket in a governor's race," Moore said. "By the time the election rolls around, this will be old news and forgotten by most people."

But Democrats intend to talk about it during the gubernatorial campaign season.

"With all the people who looked at (Bates' qualifications) it's hard to believe something like this got through," said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. "I think that certainly puts into question Ernie Fletcher's ability to guide this state as the top elected official."

Bates said Fletcher's campaign would "not miss a beat."

Fletcher, a congressman from Lexington, is one of four candidates in the GOP primary.

Bob Heleringer, running mate of one of Fletcher's opponents, Steve Nunn, said that Fletcher should formally withdraw from the race. Heleringer said he would go to court for an injunction if Fletcher tried to field a substitute running mate.

"This is not about Hunter Bates. He's the victim," Heleringer told reporters. Fletcher "was willing to run the risk for the money and the connections" Bates could bring to his campaign, Heleringer said.

Bates is a protege of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the state's most powerful Republican. A former chief of staff to McConnell, Bates spent most of the last six years in a Virginia suburb of Washington. He returned last year to Kentucky to manage McConnell's landslide re-election campaign.

A native of Whitley County in southeastern Kentucky, Bates and his wife, Jennifer, now live in the Oldham County community of Goshen, just outside Louisville.

The Kentucky Constitution requires candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to be citizens and residents of the state for six years preceding the election.

An Oldham County judge Wednesday ordered the removal of Bates' name from the primary ballot after his eligibility was challenged in a lawsuit by Curtis Shain, a Republican college student. Heleringer later joined the suit.

Earlier Thursday in Lexington, Fletcher said it was ironic other candidates lament the "brain drain" from talented young Kentuckians bolting for jobs in other states.

By attacking Bates, "they've said to every young individual who goes off to work in the nation's capital, `You're not welcome to come back,'" Fletcher told an audience at a candidates' forum.

Bates predicted that Republicans would unite behind their eventual nominee, but he had harsh words for Nunn and Rebecca Jackson, another GOP candidate. He accused the two of trying "to turn a question of legal interpretation into a question of integrity."

Heleringer and Nunn also criticized Jackson and her running mate, Robbie Rudolph, who they said stayed safely on the sidelines during the Bates dispute.

Nunn said he asked Rudolph to join in the suit as Heleringer had done but got no answer. Rudolph, of Murray, said he told Nunn plainly that he would not. "If a lawsuit was filed, I didn't see the need for there to be another lawsuit," he said.

Beginning with the 1995 election, Kentucky candidates for governor and lieutenant governor have had to run as a slate.

McConnell on Thursday called Bates an "outstanding Kentuckian" who "still has a bright political future - it will just begin another day."

Charles Wolfe of the Associated Press in Frankfort and Enquirer Reporter Patrick Crowley contributed.

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