John Stamper is the accountability editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Monticello, Ky., he has been with the Herald-Leader in a variety of roles since graduating from Western Kentucky University in 2000. Reach him at email@example.com
By David Lightman
Herald-Leader Washington Bureau
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul found an appreciative crowd Saturday morning at the North Liberty, Iowa, Community Center, the last stop on his whirlwind Iowa tour.
Paul told fellow Republicans to be inclusive and look beyond primary victories. “You have to be able to present what we stand for in a way to appeal to people who haven’t heard that message,” he said.
He noted that “If you’re an evangelist or a pastor you don’t go beating people over the head to get into your church…it’s the same way with a political party.”
Paul, a first-term senator, concluded his trip to the state that traditionally holds the nation’s first presidential caucus Saturday. Friday, he met with pastors, Republican women and the media, and spoke at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids.
His 20 minute talk Saturday was wide ranging. One of his biggest applause lines: “Not one penny more to countries that are burning our flag.”
He segued into a critique of what he termed government waste. Look at the Commerce Department, Paul advised. “You wouldn’t notice if you woke up tomorrow and it was gone,” he said.
Paul also urged tax reform that cuts taxes, and spoke about his plan for a 17 percent corporate and income tax with few deductions.
If the nation adopted Reagan-era economic policies, he said, 12 to 13 million jobs could be created.
“It is not inherently unfair to pay the same rate. It would stimulate economy,” Paul insisted.
PIKEVILLE — The federal government would face a deadline to issue or deny surface-mining permits under legislation Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he will file next week.
McConnell said Monday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to act on dozens of proposed permits for surface mines in Eastern Kentucky, holding up some for years as coal jobs in the region plummet.
Repeating a familiar theme as he ramps up for a re-election campaign in 2014, McConnell said the EPA’s inaction is part of the Obama Administration’s attack on the coal industry.
“The war on coal waged by this administration is costing Kentucky our jobs, our livelihoods and indeed, our future,” McConnell told a receptive audience gathered in a cavernous repair bay at Whayne Supply Company in Pikeville.
McConnell acknowledged in a later speech to the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Pikeville that it will be hard to get the proposed legislation through the Democrat-led U.S. Senate, but said he is trying to bring attention to the problem. He said Kentucky’s junior senator, Republican Rand Paul of Bowling Green, will co-sponsor the legislation.
FRANKFORT — Longtime Owsley County Clerk Sid Gabbard must resign and repay the state more than $61,000 after entering an Alford plea Friday to charges of tax evasion and abusing the public trust.
Gabbard, who has first elected clerk in 1985, will not serve any jail time as a condition of his plea, state officials said Monday. He entered the plea in Franklin Circuit Court to three counts of abuse of public trust and three counts of willfully filing false tax returns or failing to pay taxes.
In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there is enough evidence to be found guilty.
Attorney General Jack Conway’s office opened an investigation into Gabbard’s bookkeeping after a 2010 review by state auditors showed repeated problems in the office. The attorney general’s investigation revealed that Gabbard withheld state income tax from employees’ checks but didn’t forward it to the state.
“The citizens of Owsley County elected Sid Gabbard to represent them with honesty and integrity,” Conway said. “Mr. Gabbard betrayed that public trust. He treated public funds as his own at a time when communities across the commonwealth have struggled to fund vital programs and protect services.”
Gabbard must resign after his June 14 sentencing date, but he may step down sooner, said Wade Rasner, Gabbard’s attorney.
By Jack Brammer — firstname.lastname@example.org
FRANKFORT — Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane Beshear, picked up an extra source of income last year: Social Security checks.
The Beshears listed retirement income from the Social Security Administration in their latest financial disclosure form filed with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
Gov. Beshear will turn 69 on Sept. 21. Mrs. Beshear turned 66 last December.
The Beshears listed five sources of gross income exceeding $1,000 in 2012 other than his $133,644 annual salary as governor. They included four from the previous year: a Schwab One investment account in Lexington, two Hilliard Lyons investment accounts in Hopkinsville, and income from Hourglass Farm in Lexington.
By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Kentucky is seeking federal approval to alter its methods for monitoring selenium pollution, a move environmental groups say is designed to protect the coal industry from lawsuits over polluted waterways.
The Kentucky legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review subcommittee voted 5 to 1 Tuesday to approve new regulations that would allow the state Energy and Environment Cabinet to test fish tissue for chronic levels of selenium, a naturally-occurring element that can be hazardous at high levels.
Selenium can be discharged during surface coal mining, road building or other activities involving excavation.
Currently, the state tests water areas for selenium. If excessive amounts of selenium are found, a citation can be issued. Under the proposed new regulations, if selenium is detected in the water a second test on fish tissue would have to be conducted to determine if there was chronic accumulation.
The new standards will not take effect unless the Environmental Protection Agency approves them. The EPA will not make a decision until later this year.
Opponents told the legislative panel that testing fish tissue to determine selenium levels is too cumbersome and unenforceable.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell asked the FBI Tuesday to investigate a secret recording of a private meeting in which he and his campaign aides discussed Ashley Judd’s mental health and religious beliefs as possible points of political attack.
In public statements, McConnell accused “the left” of using “Nixonian tactics” to bug his campaign headquarters in Louisville.
“Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Sen. McConnell’s office without consent,” said Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager. “By whom and how that was accomplished presumably will be the subject of a criminal investigation.”
The FBI acknowledged the request from McConnell’s campaign but did not elaborate.
The liberal-leaning publication Mother Jones released the recording Tuesday, saying it was obtained last week from a source who requested anonymity.
Judd, a Democratic actress and activist, had considered running against McConnell next year but decided last month not to challenge the Senate Republican leader.
“This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington D.C.,” said Cara Tripicchio, a Judd spokeswoman, in a statement. “We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter.”
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer expressed optimism Thursday that state lawmakers next week will approve a bill to regulate hemp farming in the state.
Comer said he was open to compromise with lawmakers on the bill but stressed that he could not support any change to it that would delay getting permits from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to grow the crop. For example, he said a bill that merely study’s hemp farming would not fly.
Comer’s comments came after a meeting of the Industrial Hemp Commission. Most of the meeting focused on the status of Senate Bill 50.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Paul Hornback, R-Shelbyville, has cleared the Senate and a House committee. It is intended to allow Kentucky to quickly license hemp growers if the federal government lifts a ban on the plant, a botanical sibling of marijuana.
House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, proposed an amendment last week to the bill but Comer said it was an effort to kill the bill, especially its provision to allow five years of hemp growing demonstration projects by licensed growers.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — A Kentucky Department of Agriculture employee who was charged with ethics violations Monday after an investigation of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has been placed on unpaid leave.
Meanwhile, Farmer’s sister, who also was charged with ethics violations, was placed on special leave with pay Tuesday as assistant executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance for a period not to exceed 60 working days, pending further investigation by the agency.
Farmer, who was state agriculture commissioner from 2004 to 2011, was charged Monday with 42 counts of violating state ethics law, the most ever issued against one person by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
The charges against Farmer, a popular University of Kentucky basketball player during the 1990s, included misuse of state employees and state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of Kentucky Proud marketing funds. Farmer’s attorney, J. Guthrie True of Frankfort, said he doesn’t think Farmer has done anything wrong.
Also charged with ethics violations were seven other people — two of whom were on the state payroll.
Holly VonLuehrte, chief of staff for Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said Tuesday that deputy Agriculture Commissioner Bruce D. Harper has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, pending resolution of his case. He was charged with three counts of ethics violations.
By Jack Brammer — email@example.com
FRANKFORT — Former Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer was charged Monday with 42 counts of violating the state ethics law, the most ever issued against an individual by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
The ethics panel also charged seven other people, six of whom are former or current employees of the state Department of Agriculture. The commission also charged Farmer’s sister, who works for the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
The charges against Farmer included misuse of state employees, misuse of state resources, improper use of grants and improper use of “Kentucky Proud” marketing funds.
“We have not seen misuse of office at this level in the nearly nine years I’ve been with the commission,” commission director John R. Steffen told reporters.
Steffen said the ethics commission is working with several other investigative agencies but he declined to identify any of them.
The ethics commission now will initiate administrative proceedings against the charged individuals to determine whether the alleged violations occurred. If the charges are found to be true, the commission may issue a cease-and-desist order, issue a public reprimand, recommend removal from office and set a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.
By Linda B. Blackford
A proposal to regulate hemp farming in Kentucky that appeared dead received an 11th hour reprieve from House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins late Tuesday night.
Adkins announced just before 10 p.m. that he was filing an amendment to Senate Bill 50 that would tie potential hemp production to more research and current tax incentives for energy production. He said work on the bill would continue over the next 10 days, and then be considered by both chambers on March 25 or March 26.
The original version of SB 50 would set up a licensing framework for Kentucky farmers to grow hemp if federal restrictions are lifted. The bill, pushed by Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, won Senate approval last month but stalled in the House. It had broad bipartisan support but was opposed by several law enforcement agencies.
Adkins said he met with Comer and many other advocates and opponents of the bill and “tried to really craft a path forward that hopefully will … put a policy in place that really gets bang for the buck.”
But Comer’s chief of staff, Holly Harris VonLuehrte, said the commissioner was “blindsided” by Adkins’ announcement. Comer did meet with Adkins on Friday but she said there was no specific discussion of an amendment to the bill.