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John Steffen to leave executive ethics to head election finance registry

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – John R. Steffen, head of the Kentucky Executive Branch Ethics Commission, is leaving the post in mid-May to become head of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Steffen, 48, of Georgetown, will replace at the registry Sarah M. Jackson, who retired last fall. The registry administers Kentucky’s campaign finance law and ensures public access to campaign financial data and reports.

The ethics commission, which is to meet May 4, will determine who will replace Steffen at the independent agency which oversees ethical standards that govern the conduct of all executive branch employees.

Steffen’s annual salary at the ethics commission is $97,488. Jackson’s salary when she left the registry was $121,182.

During his seven years as executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, Steffen has been involved in several heavily publicized cases, including investigations of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the state Fish and Wildlife Department, nepotism involving property valuation administrators and the state merit system.

“I’m very excited about this new opportunity but I will miss the people I’ve been working with at the ethics commission,” Steffen said in a phone interview Monday.

Steffen was general counsel of the ethics commission from 2004 to 2008, before being named director.

He also is a major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, where he has been a reservist since 2000. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, serving in active duty form 2003-2004 and 2008-2009.

Before his service at the ethics commission, Steffen was assistant general counsel for the state Finance and Administration Cabinet and staff attorney for the Public Service Commission and the Labor Cabinet.

“John is uniquely qualified for the position of executive director at the registry,” registry chairman Craig Dilger, a Louisville attorney, said in a statement.

“His range of experiences will quickly prove to be a tremendous resource, not only for registry members and staff but also for candidates, committees, the media and the public.”

Steffen has a law degree from the University of Kentucky and a bachelor’s degree in history and government from Centre College.

Beshear signs bill authorizing state bonds for UK medical research center

photo (39)By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Monday a bill that will provide the University of Kentucky with $132.5 million in state bonds for a six-story medical research center.

“This projects represents the potential to improve the lives of so many, both within Kentucky where our health outcomes are so poor, and beyond,” Beshear said at a Capitol news conference with several legislators and Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president of research.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto was not able to attend because of a stomach virus.

House Bill 298, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, authorizes spending $5.6 million on debt payments for the bonds this year and $11 million in subsequent years.

UK will provide another $132.5 million for the project through research contracts and private donations.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the project is personal to him since he has had many relatives and friends treated at UK for cancer.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the ramifications of the center are “wide-ranging.”

Stumbo also apologized to Capilouto, saying he initially thought Capilouto was “not up for the job” to be UK president but that Capilouto has proved him wrong.

The center, which would house researchers from several disciplines, is to be built on UK’s campus near South Limestone and Virginia Avenue.

UK plans to begin construction by the end of the year.

The health challenges those researchers will address include cancer, heart and pulmonary disease, stroke and other preventable illnesses.

Beshears invite Kentuckians to March 17 prayer breakfast

HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU

FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear invite Kentuckians to attend the 2015 Governor’s Prayer Breakfast March 17 at the Frankfort Convention Center.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author and executive director of Blessed Earth, will deliver the keynote address.

The breakfast dates back to 1965 and includes representatives of all three branches of government.

The nondenominational gathering provides Kentuckians an opportunity to give thanks for blessings and ask for strength to lead Kentucky toward a better future, said a release from the governor’s office.

“For decades, the prayer breakfast has provided people the opportunity to slow down for a moment, take a deep breath and reflect on how to grow and serve during the upcoming year,” said Beshear.

Sleeth heads Blessed Earth, an educational non-profit that inspires and equips people of faith to become better stewards of the earth.

He is a former emergency room physician and chief of hospital medical staff who resigned from his position to teach, preach and write about the biblical call to be good stewards of the earth.

Recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders, Sleeth has spoken to more than 1,000 churches, campuses, and events, including serving as the monthly guest preacher at The Washington National Cathedral.

The 2015 Prayer Breakfast also wil feature music from Larnelle Harris, special readings and a breakfast including bacon, country ham, eggs, grits, hash brown casserole and biscuits.

Doors will open at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time and the program will begin at 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Tickets are $10 each at the door or $125 in advance for a reserved table of 8.

For more information or to a reserve table, go to http://governor.ky.gov/prayerbreakfast.

Beshear to choose among 3 attorneys to fill Supreme Court seat

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT —The names of three attorneys were presented to Gov. Steve Beshear Thursday from which he is to choose a replacement to fill the Kentucky Supreme Court seat held by Justice Will T. Scott.

Scott, of Pikeville,stepped down from the state’s highest court Jan. 2 to run as a Republican for governor.

The three attorneys selected by the seven-member Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., are David Allen Barber of Prestonsburg, Roger Donald Riggs of Mount Sterling and Janet L. Stumbo of Van Lear.

James Comer’s first TV ad for governor to begin airing Wednesday

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer

By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer will begin running his first ad in the Republican primary for governor on Wednesday, touting his record as commissioner and proclaiming himself “a blue-collar guy.”

The ad, shared first with the Herald-Leader, features video clips from Comer’s entrance into the race last September at an event in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

“I represent the farmers, the teachers, the factor workers, all the hard-working middle-class Kentuckians,” Comer says in the introductory ad.

He pledges to run state government efficiently, making reference to his decision to shut down the state-run fuel testing lab established by his predecessor, Richie Farmer.

“After conducting an efficiency audit, Comer found that a previously established fuel lab project was costing Kentucky taxpayers $900,000 per year,” Comer’s campaign said in a news release. “He immediately privatized the project, sold the testing equipment and returned $1.65 million back to Kentucky taxpayers.”

The newspaper headline “Comer returns $1.65 million to state” appears on the screen as Comer says people want leaders who will “actually achieve.”

“You can operate government more efficiently,” Comer says. “We’ve proven that at the department of agriculture.”

Comer’s first ad comes about a year after Republican Hal Heiner, a former Louisville councilman, aired his first introductory ad. Heiner returned to the airwaves several weeks ago with ads that tout him as a “Frankfort outsider” and blast career politicians, who Heiner says “don’t have a clue” about how to create jobs.

Two other GOP contenders, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and former state Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, have not yet begun airing ads ahead of the May 19th primary election.

Group seeks end of controversial campaign finance measure

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT –Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court shook up the world of campaign finance by ruling that corporations and unions may spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

Since then, a very small part of the American public –0.01 percent — has donated 40 percent of all the contributions.

That needs to be stopped, said a small group in front of the Capitol Wednesday that offered the statistic to reporters.

They were in support for a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to do away with the 2010 high court ruling called “Citizens United.”

A tiny portion of this country is funding elections and, in effect, controlling their outcome, said Richard Beliles, a Louisville attorney who is chair of Common Cause of Kentucky.

The group is part of the national Common Cause organization that advocates open, honest and accessible state and local government.

Common Cause held rallies across the country Tuesday similar to the one at the Kentucky Capitol and urged members of Congress to join the efforts in curbing campaign spending.

Joining Beliles in Frankfort were Louisville retired attorney George Schuhmann with Public Citizen, a non-profit, consumer rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.; Amy Waters of Louisville with 350.org, a global climate movement; and Jan Christensen of Louisville with 350.org and the environmental group, Sierra Club.

State Democratic Party mails out first family’s Christmas cards

By Jack Brammer jbrammer@herald-leader.com FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Democratic Party has mailed out about 1,200 Christmas cards that feature Gov. Steve Beshear and his family. For this year’s Christmas cards, all Beshear family members are decked out in casual attire. “Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,” say the cards that the state Democratic Party has […]

State receipts show ‘strong’ jump in November

By Jack Brammer jbrammer@herald-leader.com FRANKFORT – The General Fund, which pays for most state programs, took in 12.8 percent more money in November than it did in November 2013, state budget director Jane Driskell said Wednesday. Driskell, in a news release, said sales and individual income taxes accounted for much of the gain. “We are […]

Official list of KY Senate GOP committee appointments

Here’s the official list of all Republican appointments made to the Kentucky Senate standing committees Monday by Senate Republican leaders.

Attorney General Conway has back surgery

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT – Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2015, underwent successful back surgery Wednesday in Louisville, his office said in a release.

The release said Conway, 45, had a minimally-invasive, microdiscectomy to relieve persistent pain caused by a herniated lumbar disc impinging on his sciatic nerve root.

The procedure was performed at Baptist Health Louisville by neurosurgeon Steven J. Reiss.

Doctors anticipate a complete recovery, and Conway is expected to keep a full schedule for all of calendar year 2015, the release said.

He will have a limited public schedule for the next couple of weeks while he recovers, it added.

Conway thanked the doctors and medical staff for their care and all those who have sent prayers and well wishes.

“He looks forward to hitting the ground running in 2015,” the release said.

Conway is running for governor of Kentucky next year with state Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, as his running mate.