By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - With the construction site as a backdrop, Bruce Lunsford assailed the Transportation Cabinet's spacious new building as a boondoggle Tuesday. He called it the "Trans Mahal."
He also promised to make it a regular symbol in his Democratic campaign for governor - a way to keep up the criticism of a rival candidate, Attorney General Ben Chandler, whose contributors include road contractors.
Lunsford, who is self-financing his campaign from a personal business fortune, said the new building "makes no economic sense whatsoever" at a cost of $115 million and a capacity of 1,325 state employees.
"This is an example of using money that protects the special interest groups that have had their way with Frankfort for so long," Lunsford told reporters and about 20 onlookers.
He said Chandler, as attorney general, should have delved into the Transportation Cabinet, which has seen a series of scandals in recent years.
"Instead of looking into it, he is taking money from the special interest groups who have funded that building," Lunsford said. He later said he "misspoke" about who funded the building. He said he meant to say the building was the "symbol of a transportation department that for years has been beholden to a few selected road contractors."
Chandler's campaign countered with more reminders that Lunsford's former company, Vencor Inc., went into bankruptcy reorganization. Until then, Lunsford had planned to build a grand headquarters in Louisville.
"To actually go to a building and attack a building is hilarious," said Mark Riddle, Chandler's campaign manager. "People who live in Louisville know Vencor was going to be this big building, but he bankrupted the company and left a big hole. That is the symbol of his campaign - a big, moral hole."
Vencor was the theme of an attack ad the Chandler campaign began airing Monday night. On Tuesday, Lunsford's campaign aired a 30-second rebuttal commercial.
Lunsford used the building site as a starting point for a driving tour - 20 cities in five days - in a red, white and blue motor home labeled "Fed Up Express." Afterward, the Finance Cabinet, which arranges for state government building projects, said the state is not spending $115 million for the new transportation building alone. The project includes two parking garages and a utilities plant to serve multiple state buildings in downtown Frankfort, Finance spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said.
Two other gubernatorial candidates - Democrat Jody Richards and Republican Steve Nunn - campaigned at a Kentucky Jailers Association meeting in Louisville.
Richards said he would cancel the state's contracts with private prison operators "as soon as I possibly could" if elected, with at least some inmates being diverted to local jails. He also said he would consult with jailers before naming his corrections department staff and try to cut jailers' costs for inmate medical care.
Nunn said he, too, would try to reduce the county share of inmate medical expenses. "It's a budget buster for a lot of county governments," Nunn said. He also said he would offer rehabilitation instead of jail time for first- and second-time drug offenders.
Elsewhere, Republican Rebecca Jackson campaigned for a third straight day in northeastern Kentucky, primarily the Ashland area. She promised to periodically send state agency officials and staffs out of Frankfort and into local cities and counties if elected - an idea popular with a number of past governors.
Another Republican, Ernie Fletcher, campaigned in Owensboro, visiting a YMCA after-school program with state Rep. Brian Crall, the YMCA director. Fletcher also was scheduled to have a fund-raiser with physicians. Republican Virgil Moore, a state senator from Leitchfield, was at the Capitol for a legislative committee meeting.
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