By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - Gov. Paul Patton, his political career in tatters due to an extramarital affair, surprised Democrats and Republicans alike Wednesday when he pardoned four men - including his former chief of staff Andrew "Skipper" Martin - who faced charges of breaking elections laws in the 1995 gubernatorial election.
At an appearance in Covington, Patton said he pardoned the four not only because he believes they are innocent but also because Attorney General Ben Chandler was trying to score political points by investigating Patton's 1995 election victory.
"It's obvious Ben Chandler is trying to make this a political show," Patton said. "There is just no point putting these innocent people through the trauma and expense that defending this would take."
Chandler has alleged the four men colluded to help Patton's Democratic campaign get around spending limits during his 1995 campaign. The Democratic nominee for governor, Chandler has clashed with Patton and launched several investigations of his administration.
After announcing the pardons in Frankfort, Patton kept a commitment in Covington to attend an evening reception on the Belle of Cincinnati riverboat crowded with more than 400 people, including about 70 state lawmakers in the region for two days of committee meetings and visits to attractions.
Patton issued the pardons two days after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of the indictments.
Chandler issued a statement calling on Patton to resign.
"He has substituted his judgment for that of a jury before evidence was ever heard," Chandler said. "This causes a further loss of faith in our leaders in government and in our political process. I believe Governor Patton, through today's action, has again betrayed the trust and confidence of the people of Kentucky."
"I haven't paid any attention to Ben Chandler for about eight years, so I'm certainly not going to pay any attention to him now," Patton responded.
Democrats and Republicans both said Patton's pardon of Martin, labor liaison Danny Ross and Teamsters Lon Fields and Robert Winstead will have implications in this year's governor's race between Chandler and Republican Ernie Fletcher, a Lexington Republican.
"Like most Kentuckians, Congressman Fletcher is disappointed by this entire good-ole-boy political saga," Fletcher campaign spokesman Wes Irvin said. "It's one more example of why we need a change in Frankfort."
"This is more bad news for a party in disarray," said state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the vice chairman of the Kentucky GOP. "The Democratic Party, its base, its core leadership, is in trouble. Patton hates Chandler, Chandler hates Patton and I don't think they can put it back together in time to win in November."
Patton said Chandler brought any political fallout on himself by investigating the election.
"He wanted the publicity of conducting a high-profile trial during the height of a gubernatorial campaign," Patton said. The fair thing, Patton said, would have been to defer the prosecution to the next attorney general.
"I think a lot of people expected the pardons," said House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder. "I just didn't think they would come now, that maybe the governor would wait until he was closer to leaving office. But I'm sure he has reasons for doing what he did."
Republicans said Patton, who ends his second term in early December, has little to lose. He already destroyed his political career by admitting a sexual relationship with western Kentucky businesswoman Tina Conner. A federal grand jury in Covington is investigating charges Patton used his office to first reward, then punish Conner's construction and nursing home businesses. He has denied the charges.
"It's a disgrace," said Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park. "And this is just another (instance) of him promoting the disgrace that he has put on the state of Kentucky."
"You've got a group of people down there who don't make what I would call ethical decisions," said state Rep. Charlie Walton, R-Florence.
Kentucky House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said Patton should have let the case play out in court.
"You'll have so many unanswered questions now about the whole case, and that's what bothers me," said Richards, who is supporting Chandler despite losing a close Democratic primary to him in May.
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