Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Prosecutor joins GOP ticket

Pence gained prominence investigating Democrats

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Steve Pence, a prosecutor who has investigated corruption charges against state officials, became Ernie Fletcher's gubernatorial running mate Monday, said he joined the candidate's race because he's disgusted with events in the capital.

"I know that Frankfort needs change, and I know that the top leadership needs to change," Pence said.

"Some of us have been disgusted to see many of the things that have gone on there," the Republican said.

Age: 49
Born: Louisville
Education: Bachelor's in business, Eastern Kentucky University, 1976; Master's in business administration, EKU, 1978; law degree, University of Kentucky, 1981.
Professional experience: Kentucky assistant attorney general, 1981-82; assistant U.S. attorney, 1988-1995; private practice in Louisville, 1995-2001; appointed U.S. attorney for Western District of Kentucky, September 2001.
Military: Lt. Col., judge advocate general corps, U.S. Army Reserve; active duty 1982-87.
Personal: Married to attorney Ruth Ann Cox. Five children.
Pence, who until Sunday was U.S. attorney for the western half of the state, replaces Hunter Bates, whom a judge declared ineligible because he failed to meet the residency requirement.

Pence entered the picture suddenly. Last week, he telephoned James Milliman, an attorney for Fletcher's organization, to let it be known that he was interested in filling the No. 2 spot.

"I was surprised and very happy," Milliman said. "His name had never been mentioned."

Fletcher, the congressman for central Kentucky's 6th District, has been trying to position himself as a reform candidate who will "clean up the mess in Frankfort" from 32 years of Democratic administrations.

Pence gained prominence for prosecuting or investigating Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Steve Henry and Don Blandford, former speaker of the House. He also has been involved in the investigation of whether Gov. Paul Patton misused his office during an extramarital affair.

Fletcher said Pence's expression of interest "immediately caught our attention." The pair met in Washington last week.

"It seemed like just a perfect fit," Fletcher said. "We made the decision at that point - a decision I just couldn't feel better about."

The announcement was delayed until Monday to give Pence time to notify his staff, federal justice officials and some key supporters, including U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who nominated him for U.S. attorney in 2001. Pence said he did not discuss his plan with McConnell ahead of time.

As with Bates, Fletcher said he promised "a very significant role" for Pence if elected, though both declined to go into details.

Pence was appointed U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky in September 2001. He had been in private law practice since 1995. Before that, he was an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted some of the defendants in a legislative bribery and influence-peddling scandal known by its FBI code name, Operation Boptrot.

Defendants included former House speaker Blandford, and Bruce Wilkinson, nephew and appointments secretary of then-Gov. Wallace Wilkinson. Both were convicted of taking bribes from lobbyists.

As U.S. attorney, Pence declined to file criminal charges but sued Henry, an orthopedist as well as lieutenant governor, for what Pence called "systematic misbilling" of Medicare and Medicaid. Henry is fighting the allegation.

Fletcher is among four Republicans on the May 20 primary ballot. The others are Rebecca Jackson, Virgil Moore and Steve Nunn, whose campaign is still pursuing a court battle to keep Fletcher from being able to replace Bates on his ticket.

Four candidates also are seeking the Democratic nomination.

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