Thursday, May 15, 2003

Attorney general candidates hurl personal attacks

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - Two of the Democratic candidates for attorney general - Greg Stumbo and Chris Gorman - launched verbal attacks at each other in highly personal terms Wednesday.

Gorman accused Stumbo, the majority leader of the Kentucky House, of trying to "weasel out" of paying child support in a paternity case. Stumbo said Gorman, a former attorney general, hired himself out to a "corporate criminal" after he left office.

The exchanges began during a panel discussion before the Louisville Forum and continued in interviews afterward. The primary election is Tuesday.

The first question from the audience was how Stumbo, who as attorney general would head the Child Support Enforcement Commission, could be trusted for aggressive enforcement, given his own highly publicized paternity case involving a 14-year-old boy he fathered.

A lawsuit by the boy's mother in Fayette County accuses Stumbo of delaying the case when she tried to collect child support. Stumbo said he began paying regular child support last year after a DNA test confirmed he was the father.

"Child support is set by court order," Stumbo told the audience of business and professional people. If anyone can show he violated a court order, "I'll withdraw from the race," he said.

Stumbo said Gorman "needs to explain ... to consumers" why, after leaving office, he went to work for Taylor Building Corp. of America, a maker of manufactured housing which was the subject of consumer complaints to the attorney general's office.

Taylor Building was raised as an issue by U.S. Rep. Anne Northup when Gorman ran against her in 1998. The Courier-Journal reported that the attorney general's office investigated the complaints but found insufficient grounds for filing charges against the company.

Also at the forum were state Auditor Ed Hatchett, a third Democrat in the race, and Republicans Tim Feeley and Philip Kimball. A third Republican, Jack D. Wood, did not respond to an invitation, according to Louisville Forum members.

Stumbo said Hatchett "has a problem when we talk about experience" because he has spent the last 16 years as banking commissioner and auditor, not as a practicing attorney. Hatchett responded that "the people of Kentucky have been my clients."

Feeley said he is best qualified for the office because of his past experience - Army lawyer and assistant U.S. attorney - and present experience as a lawyer with a diverse practice and as a legislator. He is a state representative from Crestwood.

Feeley said "the biggest law enforcement problem" in Kentucky is drugs, followed by consumer fraud and government corruption.

Kimball, who practices law in Louisville, said he would not promise specific initiatives because the attorney general's office has 13 divisions, in fields ranging from Medicaid fraud to utility rates. "You have to do all those things, and they're all important," he said.

In a related development, Gorman used a news conference in Lexington to reiterate that "voter hauling" - paying someone ostensibly to transport voters to the polls - should be outlawed.

Gorman and Hatchett advocated banning voter hauling during a Kentucky Educational Television forum last month. Stumbo defended the practice, citing a lack of transportation by many of the poor in eastern Kentucky.

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