By Al Cross
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - The Fletcher/Bates gubernatorial ticket went into the weekend as the Fletcher/TBA ticket, but indications are that it will become the Fletcher/Pence ticket sometime this morning.
Steve Pence, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, has submitted his resignation, a spokesman said Sunday.
The confirmation came after a Courier-Journal report that Pence is the choice as running mate for U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor.
The Fletcher campaign, forced to move on without Hunter Bates of Goshen, who was declared ineligible to run for lieutenant governor in mid-campaign, has scheduled the new running-mate announcement for 11:30 a.m. today in Lexington.
"I strongly believe Steve Pence will be Dr. Fletcher's choice when he announces his running mate on Monday," Dave Disponett, a leading Fletcher supporter who is active in the campaign of the Lexington congressman and physician told the Courier-Journal for an article that ran Sunday.
Disponett, a Lawrenceburg contractor and member of the State Board of Elections, said he based his belief on discussions with people close to Fletcher.
He wouldn't elaborate, but three people close to Pence said Saturday that Pence had told them he is resigning as U.S. attorney for the western half of Kentucky to join Fletcher's ticket. The three spoke to the Courier Journal on the condition of anonymity.
An employee at the U.S. attorney's office, speaking on the same condition, said members of Pence's staff were informed Saturday that he was resigning to run for lieutenant governor.
Bates was deemed ineligible after a judge ruled that he failed to meet Kentucky residency requirements.
Fletcher is one of eight major-party candidates who have filed for the governor's seat being vacated by Democrat Paul Patton. Fletcher will face three other Republicans in the primary: state Rep. Steve Nunn of Glasgow, former Jefferson County Judge-executive Rebecca Jackson and state Sen. Virgil Moore of Leitchfield.
Four Democrats also are seeking the post: state Attorney General Ben Chandler of Versailles, House Speaker Jody Richards of Bowling Green, businessman Bruce Lunsford of Louisville and demolition contractor Otis Hensley Jr. of Wallins.
Bates did not appeal the ruling removing him from Fletcher's ticket, which resulted from a lawsuit filed by a University of Louisville student that was joined by Nunn's running mate, former state Rep. Bob Heleringer of Eastwood.
Pence, 49, has been the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Kentucky since September 2001.
He was selected by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after Heleringer publicly sought the appointment.
Hancy Jones, an assistant U.S. attorney and a spokesman for Pence's office said Pence submitted the resignation last week.
"I can confirm that he's submitted his resignation," Jones said. He would not comment further when asked if Pence would join Fletcher's ticket.
Pence ran unsuccessfully for Jefferson County attorney in 1998, but he is best-known as the leading prosecutor in "Boptrot," the sweeping federal investigation of corruption in state government, mainly the legislature, in the early 1990s.
"Given Steve's success in prosecuting Boptrot, he would add immediate credibility to Ernie's main campaign theme, that it's time to clean up the mess in Frankfort," said Louisville consultant Ted Jackson, who ran Pence's 1998 campaign.
Disponett, the Fletcher loyalist, agreed. "Steve has a history of cleaning up Frankfort," he said.
Former U.S. Attorney Joe Whittle, a Nunn supporter and Pence's boss in Boptrot, said Pence's record in the probe would bolster Fletcher's pledge to abolish what Fletcher calls "the good old boy system" in state politics.
Heleringer said Pence "is a nice guy," but his experience is "not particularly relevant. I don't see where putting legislators in prison qualifies you to be lieutenant governor." He said his 23 years as a legislator, including 12 working with Nunn, are more relevant.
Heleringer said Pence's selection would resemble that of Bates. "Here's another pre-arranged marriage, right off the Washington, D.C., bridal registry. Nobody's going to believe, most of all me, this is Ernie's real choice."
Fletcher said the choice would be his alone but declined further comment.
Louisville lawyer Scott Cox, Pence's friend, said Pence also would help Fletcher because he is from Louisville and would cut into Rebecca Jackson's support.
Jackson said Pence's entry would have no significant effect on her support in the Louisville area, because voters there like her record as judge-executive and county clerk.
Jackson said of Fletcher, "I'm glad he's found a running mate, and the next six weeks ought to be a lot of fun."
Selection of a new running mate today would enable Fletcher to have a full slate when he appears with Jackson, Nunn and Moore on a Kentucky Educational Television debate at 8 p.m. EDT today.
Heleringer sought an injunction last week to keep Fletcher from naming a replacement, but Franklin Circuit Judge William Graham denied his request. An injunction, if upheld, would have finished Fletcher's candidacy because a candidate for governor must have a running mate.
Oldham Circuit Judge Paul Rosenblum ruled March 26 that Bates did not meet the constitutional requirement that governors and lieutenant governors reside in Kentucky for the six years preceding their election.
Bates returned to Kentucky in March 2002 after living about 61/2 years in Alexandria, Va. For the last five-plus years of that period, he worked as a top aide to McConnell.
Heleringer appealed Friday to the Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel has given Fletcher until Thursday to file a response, after which the panel will decide whether to hold a hearing.
Fletcher's campaign manager, Daniel Groves, said Fletcher decided to name his new running mate today because the appeals court did not issue an injunction preventing it.
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