Saturday, March 29, 2003

Nunn moves to declare Fletcher ineligible

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Steve Nunn's gubernatorial campaign tried for a knockout Friday against rival candidate Ernie Fletcher.

Nunn's running mate, Bob Heleringer, asked a judge in Frankfort to declare Fletcher ineligible for the Republican primary on May 20.

The request came one day after Hunter Bates stepped aside so that Fletcher could choose a different running mate for lieutenant governor.

On Wednesday, a judge in Oldham County declared Bates ineligible to run because he had not lived in Kentucky for most of the past six years - a period specified by the Kentucky Constitution. Bates declined to appeal.

Heleringer contends that neither the constitution nor the various election statutes permit substitution of a candidate who was ineligible from the beginning.

His petition in Franklin County Circuit Court cites a statute that permits substitution when a candidate is disqualified for reasons "which arose after the slate formed a campaign committee."

"Bates' disqualification existed even before he filed," the petition said. It asked for an injunction forbidding state election officials from letting Fletcher proceed with a new running mate.

Fletcher's campaign wants the state attorney general's office to indicate it won't oppose Bates' decertification from the ballot so a new running mate can be named by Monday, attorney James E. Milliman said.

If the attorney general refuses, Fletcher's campaign plans to ask Franklin County Circuit Court on Monday to order the secretary of state to allow a new lieutenant governor candidate on the ballot, Milliman said.

"There is no question that you can replace a disqualified candidate," Milliman said. "It would lead to an absurd result if you couldn't."

Fletcher, a congressman from Lexington, called the court action "antics." He said Nunn and another Republican candidate, Rebecca Jackson, seemed intent on dividing the party.

"It does appear that our opponents want to conduct this election in the courtroom rather than at the polling place," Fletcher said.

The court action - a petition for a declaratory judgment - was filed against Secretary of State John Y. Brown III, who heads the State Board of Elections. A hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday before Judge William L. Graham.

The dispute is wreaking havoc for the board and Kentucky's 120 county clerks. An absolute deadline for printing ballots for the May 20 primary would be around the second week of April, Lisa Cleveland, a spokeswoman for Brown's office, said Friday.

One Kentucky statute says a notice of a substitute candidate can be posted in polling places if the ballot is not changed. Election board officials wonder "is that enough?" Cleveland said.

"Can a candidate be elected if their name never appears on the ballot? There are other statutes that say something totally different," she said.

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