Sunday, April 13, 2003

Chandler running on roots, record

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

This is part of a series on candidates in the May 20 gubernatorial primary.

FRANKFORT - As the grandson of Major League Baseball's second commissioner, Ben Chandler knew his baseball career was over when he couldn't hit a curveball.

Now, the Democratic attorney general is playing political hardball, seeking his party's nomination for governor in the May 20 primary.

"I'm trying to take my message of experience, my message of preparedness to the public and hope that they will put their faith in me," Chandler said. "They've given me the opportunity to serve in the positions that I've served in, and I'm asking them to give me that opportunity again."

Chandler, 43, has won three statewide elections, starting with a 1991 race for auditor.

He was elected attorney general in 1995 and re-elected in 1999. The Kentucky Constitution bars him from seeking a third term for that office.

Chandler now is aiming for the governorship, which his grandfather, Albert B. "Happy" Chandler, won in 1935 and 1955.

Chandler comes from a family rich in Kentucky history.

Between terms as governor, "Happy" Chandler was a U.S. senator and commissioner of baseball. Ben Chandler's father has published the Woodford Sun in Versailles for more than four decades.

Chandler said he is running on his own 12-year record. As attorney general, he pushed the General Assembly to clamp down on telemarketers.

He also recovered $45 million from current owners of the former Kentucky Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance Co. after contending its assets were public property because the company was founded as a nonprofit.

He also worked for a law aimed at increasing protection for women and children from sex offenders.

With Louisville businessman and multimillionaire Charlie Owen as his running mate, Chandler says his administration would be well suited to guide the state through the current economic times.

Owen, as his lieutenant governor, would have an increased role in state government.

"I want to utilize Charlie Owen's talents as much as I possibly can," Chandler said.

In February, Chandler reported raising $1.3 million for his campaign. A bit more than $1 million of that came in January.

He has been traveling widely, but otherwise is showing little of his hand.

He talks about creating jobs and improving education, as do other candidates, and has taken some editorial heat for seeming to rule out new taxes.

In his campaign kickoff in December, Chandler said: "I will not rely on higher taxes to address Kentucky's needs."

He banks in part on a national economic recovery, looking back to recent years of budget surpluses.

"We didn't need to cut and we didn't need to raise taxes during those years," Chandler said.

"In fact, we were funding a myriad of new programs and projects. And I think as soon as we get back to those conditions, we'll be in good shape."

As for taxes, Chandler said it is the duty of elected officials to show people their money is being spent "wisely and properly" before proposing tax hikes.

"People have less money in their pockets," Chandler said.

"And when people have less money in their pockets, it's not time to ask them for more revenue. ... I'm not in favor, right now, of raising any taxes."

But what ultimately awaits the next governor depends on what kind of budget the General Assembly passes.

"That will give us a clearer picture of where the needs are," Chandler said.

If elected, he would aim to create jobs attractive to talented young people, Chandler said.

He said they have been leaving the state in droves for better jobs elsewhere.

"They don't have the opportunity to prosper and get good job opportunities. We educate some of them very well, and they end up being exported to other places," Chandler said.

"It's just an outward migration, and I want to stop that."

Chandler said he believes bolstering the state's current economy would also help to mend Kentucky's budget woes.

A self-professed "very, very amateur" athlete who loves sports, Chandler did not have an extensive career in organized athletics.

He was a Little League All Star player, and played on his high school tennis team. He said he enjoys playing basketball and football among other sports.

"My Little League career ended, I guess, when I first had to confront the dreaded curveball," Chandler said. "I couldn't hit the curveball."

Chandler lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their three children near Versailles on a farm that's been in his family since the 1780s.

Growing up across the street from his famous grandfather helped him to learn about Kentucky and its people, he said.

"I think it's very important that the people of Kentucky know who their governor is, and have a comfort level with that person, and that they have a sense of faith in that person's integrity and their honor and that they be proud of that person," he said.

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