By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press
OWENSBORO - Heading into western Kentucky and a showdown with Ben Chandler, Republican Ernie Fletcher on Friday promised a new attack on a particular scourge of the region - the illicit trade in methamphetamine - if elected governor.
Fletcher, the 6th District Congressman, proposed an enforcement initiative showcasing his running mate, Steve Pence, a former U.S. attorney with experience prosecuting "meth" cases.
Elsewhere, Chandler courted labor votes at the annual Building and Trades Labor Luncheon in Paducah, blaming Fletcher and other national Republicans for a federal budget deficit and mounting job losses in the weak economy. Chandler, the state's attorney general, has been pounding the national economy theme for several days.
The two rivals are to go head to head today at the 123rd Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County, the ceremonial kickoff to the general election campaign.
Fletcher said Pence would be the administration point man on drug enforcement if the slate wins in November. A key part of their proposal is to get more federal prosecution of cases involving the manufacture or trafficking of methamphetamine, regardless of quantity.
Promises of a war on drugs, even with local, state and federal authorities joining in, are nothing new. "But we must have better coordination, and I believe we need better leadership in Frankfort," Fletcher said.
Pence, who was the chief federal prosecutor for western Kentucky before becoming Fletcher's running mate for lieutenant governor, said it was his policy as U.S. attorney to take on any meth trafficking or manufacture case. He said federal prosecution is more likely to result in jail time, even for a first-time offender.
Pence and Fletcher also promised to give local law enforcement agencies more resources for fighting drugs - redirecting money from elsewhere in state government if necessary. But Fletcher said federal grant money is available and that he and Pence would be better able to appeal from help from Kentucky's mostly Republican congressional delegation and the Bush administration.
Chandler's campaign said Fletcher was being hypocritical. A campaign spokeswoman said the budget for which Fletcher voted actually reduced funding for a Clinton administration program that put more police officers on the street. The spokeswoman, Susan Dixen, said Fletcher "says one thing in Kentucky and does another thing in Washington."
Fletcher's spokesman, Wes Irvin, said he could not immediately get access to federal budget figures so he could not confirm or rebut Dixen's comment. But Irvin said Chandler, as attorney general, could have done more about the methamphetamine problem.
Chandler has spent most of the week in western Kentucky, an area of mounting job losses from factory closings. His ideas for the region include some major road projects, including the proposed Interstate 66 across southern Kentucky and a complete four-laning of "Highway 68-80" - U.S. 68 and Ky. 80 - including new bridges over Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
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