Ernie Fletcher

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Ernie Fletcher
Governor of Kentucky
Former Officeholder
In office
PredecessorPaul E. Patton
Date of birthNovember 12, 1952
Ernest Lee Fletcher (born November 12, 1952) is a Republican politician from Kentucky. He served as governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 2003 to 2007. He previously served as U.S. Representative of Kentucky's 6th Congressional District and as a state representative from Lexington, Kentucky.


Ernie Fletcher served as an Air Force fighter pilot, engineer, family doctor, lay minister, state legislator and United States Congressman. He was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, was a longtime resident of Lexington, Kentucky and currently resides in Frankfort, Kentucky. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering in 1974 and later graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He was a member of Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at UK.

Fletcher’s career began in the United States Air Force, where he served as an F-4E Aircraft Commander and NORAD Alert Force Commander.

Fletcher worked as a family practice physician in Lexington for 12 years, including two years as CEO of the Saint Joseph Medical Foundation.

Fletcher’s legislative career began in 1995 as a State Representative for Kentucky’s 78th District, during which time he served on the Kentucky Commission on Poverty and the Task Force on Higher Education.

After only one term, Fletcher ran for Congress in the Lexington-based 6th District. He was soundly defeated by incumbent Scotty Baesler, who painted him as an extremist.

Two years later, however, Baesler gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful run for the United States Senate. Fletcher easily won the Republican nomination and won a narrow victory, largely due to a third-party candidate siphoning off support from the Democratic nominee. He soundly defeated Baesler in 2000 and faced only third-party opposition in 2002. In Congress, he served as a member of the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and was selected to chair the Policy Subcommittee on Health.

Fletcher is married to his high school sweetheart, Glenna Foster. Their daughter Rachael and her husband, Daniel, have four children: Callie, Hannah, Joshua and Mason. Their son Ben and his wife Kara live in Munich, Germany.

Throughout the month of February 2006, Fletcher was hospitalized for gallstones and complications from the removal of his gallbladder, including pancreatitis. He was readmitted on March 9, 2006 for what his doctors called a "life-threatening blood-clot."The condition was serious enough that he transferred power to Lieutenant Governor Steve Pence before undergoing a procedure to dissolve the clot.[1]

Political Career

Governor of Kentucky 2003-2007

Fletcher defeated the Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler 55-45 percent in the 2003 general election. As Governor, he was a member of the National Governors Association, the Southern Governors' Association, and the Republican Governors Association.

As Governor, Fletcher reorganized parts of state government, condensing the number of cabinets from fourteen to nine, and dissolved the former Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and instead created the new Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which promotes and regulates Kentucky's signature industry. He has rolled back Medicaid requirements and unveiled a plan to "modernize" Medicaid and focus on improvements in care, benefit management and technology. Governor Fletcher unveiled "Get Healthy Kentucky!," an initiative to promote healthier lifestyles for Kentuckians. He has also supported the statewide community college system during his tenure.

On June 9, 2004, while en route to memorial services for former president Ronald Reagan, the governor's plane inadvertently caused a security scare. It caused the Capitol to be evacuated, because the transponder of the plane failed while in restricted airspace. The security scare happened just moments before the plane with Reagan's body touched down at Andrews Air Force Base.

Fletcher had low approval ratings for much of his first year in office. Most controversy focused on increasing costs of health insurance for state employees.

However, during his second year in office, Fletcher achieved the passage of a comprehensive tax reform package. The passage of tax reform was one of Fletcher's key campaign pledges. By March 2005, Fletcher's approval rating reached 52 percent, according to a Louisville Courier-Journal poll; a Survey USA poll around the same time found his approval rating below 40 percent and lower than that of every other governor in the nation at the time save for two.

After Fletcher issued pardons to members of his administration for violations of state merit system laws in mid-2005 (see next section), polls indicated his approval rating had decreased even more. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents said that they planned to vote to re-elect Fletcher in 2007, and 73 percent disapproved of the pardons Fletcher issued for members of his administration. A Courier-Journal poll released in mid-September found Fletcher's approval rating at 38 percent, tying the low rating previously reached by his predecessor Paul E. Patton.[2] Another poll released by SurveyUSA in February 2006 found his approval rating at 35%, with 57% disapproving.

On September 12, 2007 Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo sued Fletcher for appointing too many Republicans to the governing bodies of state universities. State law requires "proportional representation of the two leading political parties" based on voter registration. A majority of registered voters in Kentucky are Democrats, but Fletcher has appointed seven Republicans and two Democrats to the University of Kentucky and eight Republicans and two Democrats to the University of Louisville.[3]

Merit system investigation

In May 2005, state Attorney General Greg Stumbo began an investigation of the Fletcher administration's practices within the state merit system in hiring, promoting, demoting and firing state employees based on political loyalties. The investigation was based on a 276-page complaint filed by Douglas W. Doerting, the assistant personnel director for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Stumbo's motivations have been questioned because of his potential interest in challenging Fletcher in the 2007 gubernatorial race. Fletcher and his defenders also claim that the investigation is politically motivated because previous administrations engaged in similar conduct.

In June, a circuit court judge unsealed a so-called "hit list" of employees appointed during previous administrations whose politically appointed positions were examined. Positions that were evaluated are expected to change with new administrations.[4]

On June 14, 2005, a special grand jury that was impaneled by the Attorney General in Franklin County handed down indictments of three Transportation Cabinet officials: Acting Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, Deputy Secretary Jim Adams and administrative services commissioner Dan Druen.[5] On July 7, 2005, more indictments were handed down including Fletcher's deputy chief of staff.[6] On July 11, 2005, the grand jury struck closer to the Governor's mansion as three more indictments were handed down: against state Republican Party chairman Darrell Brock Jr., who was also the former commissioner of the Governor's Office for Local Development; Basil Turbyfill, the Governor's personnel adviser, and deputy personnel secretary; and Bob Wilson, deputy personnel secretary.

On August 29, 2005, Fletcher announced he had granted blanket criminal pardons to nine administration officials, including deputy chief of staff Richard Murgatroyd, who were or might have been indicted by the grand jury in this case (he did not pardon himself). On August 30, Fletcher invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination before the grand jury and refused to testify.

On September 14, 2005, Fletcher fired nine employees, including four of the nine he pardoned two weeks earlier. Fletcher called for the firing of state Republican Party chair Darrell Brock, Jr. due to Brock's role in the merit scandal. On September 17 GOP leaders voted to retain Brock as state party leader.

On October 24, 2005, Fletcher filed a motion asking Franklin Circuit Court Judge William Graham to order the grand jury to stop issuing indictments for offenses that occurred prior to Fletcher’s August 29 blanket pardon and to bar it from writing a final report on its findings. On November 16, Judge Graham denied Fletcher’s motion. The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed Graham. On May 18, 2006 the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in a 4-2 decision holding that the grand jury investigating state hiring practices by the Fletcher administration could not issue any more indictments for offenses covered by Fletcher's blanket pardon for offenses related to the hiring investigation. The court also rejected the attorney general's challenge to Fletcher's authority to issue such a blanket pardon. Fletcher's indictment and the indictments of two officials for offenses allegedly to have occurred after the pardons were not affected. The Court as constituted for that decision included a justice appointed by Fletcher as directed by the state constitution in instances in which more than one justice is recused. The court also ruled that the grand jury could issue a general report of its findings from the yearlong investigation; a later Court of Appeals decision held that any such grand jury report could not name pardoned individuals.

On July 15, 2006, Judge David E. Melcher dismissed the indictment against Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, ruling that part of the alleged offense was covered by Fletcher's blanket pardon. The judge left open the option for prosecutors to seek a new indictment against Nighbert focusing solely on conduct not covered by the pardon.[7]

Executive orders

In April 2006, Fletcher signed an executive order removing language from the state's affirmative action plan specifically protecting state workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Fletcher handed down his executive order on Kentucky's ninth annual "Diversity Day," reversing an order signed by former Governor Paul Patton two years earlier that protected state employees from bias including their sexual orientations or gender identities.[8]


Indictment of Fletcher

On May 11, 2006, Fletcher was indicted by a grand jury for three misdemeanors: conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination. All were related to the merit system investigation. The grand jury has returned a total of 29 indictments in the case — 14 of which remain sealed by the court.[9]

The charge of conspiracy states Fletcher "ordered, directed and otherwise approved the development and implementation" of what became known as the governor's personnel initiative. In the second indictment for official misconduct, Fletcher is accused along with other "co-conspirators" of ordering or approving "the appointment, promotion, demotion, transfer or dismissal" of rank-and-file state workers who are supposed to be judged on their qualifications, not political affiliations. The third count charges Fletcher with violating the prohibition against political discrimination because he "willfully ordered, directed or approved" the firing of Michael Duncan, an investigator in the Transportation Cabinet's Office of Inspector General.[10] Fletcher's personal attorney, R. Kent Westberry of Louisville, responded to the indictment by filing a motion in Franklin Circuit Court to have Greg Stumbo, his investigators and the prosecutors removed from the case. The filing claims that Stumbo, a political rival considering running for governor next year, should be disqualified from the proceedings. Responding to filing Fletcher said, "I think there is substantial conflict of interest there." In August 2006 Stumbo, in conjunction with an appearance at the annual Fancy Farm picnic, stated that he was contemplating a campaign for governor in 2007, but by this time Stumbo himself had been removed from participation in the prosecution of Fletcher. Fletcher himself indicated that he has no plans to step down from office.[11]

Fletcher was arraigned on June 7, 2006 in Franklin District Court in Frankfort. Fletcher, who did not appear in court as he was on vacation in Florida, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Executive immunity while in office

On August 11, 2006, Special Judge David E. Melcher ruled Fletcher is protected by executive immunity and cannot be prosecuted while in office. This ruling essentially stayed the case until Fletcher was no longer Governor.[12]

Dismissal of criminal charges

On August 24, 2006, an agreement was reached between Fletcher and Attorney General Greg Stumbo. The agreement resulted in an agreed order dismissing the criminal charges against Fletcher. According to that agreed order, "The governor acknowledges that the evidence strongly indicates wrongdoing by his administration with regard to personnel actions within the merit system. Further, the governor hereby states that these actions were inappropriate and that he regrets their occurrence and accepts responsibility for them as head of the executive branch of state government." Fletcher also acknowledged that Stumbo’s investigation and prosecution were "necessary and proper exercises of his constitutional duty." The Office of the Attorney General, in turn, "recognizes and acknowledges that any action taken by the current administration with regard to the state’s classified system were without malice." The agreement encourages former or current state employees who think they were affected by improper hirings to seek redress through the state Personnel Board. The deal calls for four members of the board who were appointed by Fletcher to resign immediately. The order allows Stumbo to recommend three names for each vacancy and requires Fletcher to choose the new Personnel Board members from those names submitted by Stumbo. Shortly after the agreement was reached and entered, Fletcher claimed he was exonerated, and Stumbo maintained that claim to be untrue. Stumbo was quoted at the Kentucky State Fair as saying it was "highly, highly unlikely that the governor would ever stand trial," indicating that he believed Fletcher would have pardoned himself before leaving office, a charge Fletcher has denied. While Stumbo acknowledged that the abuses of the merit system may have "stretched back before the Fletcher administration," he said he hopes the ultimate effect of this investigation will be a new respect for the existing state employee regulations. Stumbo also stated that the agreement dismissing the charges would not influence a grand jury report of its investigation of hiring practices in the Fletcher administration.[13][14][15]

Grand jury report

On November 16, 2006, the grand jury investigating the Fletcher administration's practices within the state merit system released its report. According to the grand jury, "The report details a widespread and coordinated plan to violate merit hiring laws. This investigation was not about a few people here and there who made some mistakes as Governor Ernie Fletcher has claimed. The Governor's Personnel Initiative was formulated at the highest level of state government and approved by Governor Fletcher." The report continues by stating, "Entire cabinets and departments were tasked with carrying out various parts of this illegal plan. Senior administration officials were charged with the duty to give periodic reports regarding its status. Those who got in the way of the plan were fired or moved. The long range goal was to implement this plan in all of the Executive Cabinets, and the groundwork had been laid for that to happen." Fletcher responded to the report by stating, "Given that the prosecutors have dropped all charges, the document reads more like a savvy litany of political sound bites rather than a legal document of purported evidence." Fletcher added that the grand jury report's allegations are inconsistent with the August settlement between Fletcher and Stumbo that dismissed the three misdemeanor charges against the governor. In the settlement, Stumbo acknowledged that Fletcher's administration acted "without malice." The grand jury report concluded by acknowledging that the blanket pardon issued by Fletcher, coupled with Fletcher taking the Fifth, made it "difficult to get to the bottom of the facts of this case....As a result, [the grand jury was] in part forced to rely on documentary evidence to piece together the facts of the case."[16] Attorney General Greg Stumbo had previously stated that the public would probably never know the full details of Fletcher's involvement in meetings that prosecutors said were crucial in developing state hiring practices.[17]

Possible Justice Department referral

On November 28, 2006, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Attorney General Greg Stumbo was considering referring information uncovered during the grand jury's investigation of hiring practices to the U.S. Department of Justice.[18]

Views on teaching intelligent design and scientific creationism

In 2005, members of the Kentucky Academy of Science voted unanimously to oppose any attempt by legislative bodies to mandate specific content of science courses, and specifically to attempts to equate scientific creationism or intelligent design as scientific theories equal, or superior to, evolution.[19]

In response, in a February 13 2006 letter to the Kentucky Academy of Science, Fletcher, an outspoken intelligent design advocate, argues that evolution conflicts with the Declaration of Independence.

My educational background provided me with thorough understanding of science and the theory of evolution. Our nation, however, was founded on self-evident truths. Among these truths are inalienable rights 'endowed by their Creator.' From my perspective, it is not a matter of faith, or religion, or theory. It is similar to basic self-evident objective truths that are the basis of knowledge. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. It disappoints and astounds me that the so-called intellectual elite are so concerned about accepting self-evident truths that nearly 90 percent of the population understands.[20]
University of the Cumberlands pharmacy school

The Kentucky Fairness Alliance and the Kentucky Equality Federation asked Governor Ernie Fletcher to veto $11 million that state lawmakers approved for a planned pharmacy school at the University of the Cumberlands.[21] The Kentucky state budget, passed by the 2006 Kentucky legislature, includes $10 million of state debt to construct a pharmacy building on the school's Whitley County campus. Additionally, one million dollars for scholarships for the pharmacy program are included. The $10 million building is to be funded out of a $100 million pool of money titled the "infrastructure for economic development fund for coal-producing counties." Money to repay the bond issuance would come from coal severance taxes. On April 21, 2006, Brett Hall, the governor's director of communications reported that "Fletcher's office has received 421 calls and emails urging him to veto, compared to 115 who want it kept in the state budget."[22]

On April 24, 2006 Governor Fletcher made a special television address announcing his budget cuts, which did not include the University of the Cumberlands. In response, members of the Kentucky Equality Federation protested outside the Governor’s Mansion on May 06, 2006 during the Governor’s Annual Derby Breakfast Celebration.


2007 Gubernatorial election

Fletcher sought re-election in 2007. He faced former Congresswoman Anne Northup and multi-millionaire businessman Billy Harper in the Republican primary.

Fletcher did not run with Steve Pence, his current lieutenant governor. In May 2006, Pence announced that he would not run for re-election on the same slate with Fletcher. In February 2007, Pence formally endorsed Northup over Fletcher in the 2007 Republican primary for governor.[23]

On May 22, 2007, Fletcher defeated Northup and Harper, and prepared to face Democratic former Lieutenant Governor Steve Beshear in the November general election.[24]

In the campaign, Fletcher attempted to attract voters' attention by making the negative aspects of casino gambling an issue in the election. Steve Beshear supports putting an expansion of gambling before the voters, while Fletcher, who in his first run for governor (and, for that matter, during the early part of his term as governor) refused to state his position on the issue, but now vociferously opposes it. It should be noted, however, that several casino operators and supporters backed Fletcher in his 2003 bid for the governor's office.

Fletcher trailed Beshear in polls after the primary, by large margins. The most recent SurveyUSA poll (released October 10, 2007), which was conducted for WCPO-TV in Cincinnati and WHAS-TV in Louisville shows Beshear with a 56-40 percent lead, with 4% of those surveyed reported as "undecided." The poll has a margin of error of 4.2%.

Fletcher conceded to Beshear at 9:00 PM on November 6, 2007.

Party Candidate Votes  %
Democratic Steve Beshear 619,553 58.7
Republican Ernie Fletcher 435,772 41.3

See also

External links


  1. Gov. Fletcher in hospital with blood clot United Press International, March 10, 2006
  2. Fletcher's approval rating sinks to 38% (timed out) by Tom Loftus, The Courier-Journal, Sept. 17, 2005
  3. Stumbo sues Fletcher over board appointments (timed out) The Courier-Journal, Sept. 12, 2007
  4. 'Hit list' appears to target Democrats. State workers identified by family ties, contributions to candidates by Mark R. Chellgren, The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 28, 2005
  5. [ The Courier-Journal, June 15, 2005
  6. |accessdate=05/11/2006 Governor's deputy chief of staff among those indicted in hiring probe (timed out) (dead link) WKYT, May 11, 2006
  7. Judge dismesses Nighbert's indictment Associated Press, July= 15, 2006
  8. Fletcher removes language protecting gays from bias by Joe Biesk, The Kentucky Post, April 12, 2006
  9. Term extension sought for grand jury that indcted Fletcher (timed out) by Tom Loftus, The Courier-Journal, May 17, 2006
  10. Grand jury indcts Gov. Ernie Fletcher by Ryan Alessi, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 11, 2006
  11. FLETCHER INDICTED Three counts allege misconduct, conspiracy, political discrimination by Ryan Alessi and Jack Brammer, Lexington Herald-Leader, May 12, 2006
  12. Judge rules Ky. gov. can't be prosecuted (dead link) by Roger Alford, Associated Press, Aug. 11, 2006
  13. Deal drops charges against Fletcher by Ryan Alessi and Jack Brammer, Lexington Herald-Leader, Aug. 24, 2006
  14. Fletcher charges dropped, but bickering continues (timed out) by Tom Loftus and Deborah Yetter, The Courier-Journal, Aug. 25, 2006
  15. Fletcher investigation ends by John Whitlock, Grayson County News-Gazette, Aug. 30, 2006
  16. Grand jury blasts Fletcher by Jack Brammer and John Stamper, Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 16, 2006
  17. Stumbo isn't sure he saw all evidence (timed out) by Elisabeth J. Beardsley, The Courier-Journal, Aug. 26, 2006
  18. Stumbo may send jury's findings to D.C. by John Stamper, Lexington Herald-Leader, Nov. 28, 2006
  19. Press Release from Kentucky Academy of Science Dec. 22, 2005
  20. KY: Governor Knows Best - The Panda's Thumb
  21. Kentucky Fairness Alliance asks Fletcher to veto (dead link)
  22. Callers urge Fletcher to veto Cumberlands pharmacy plan (timed out)
  23. Pence endorses Northup for governor (timed out) The Courier-Journal, Feb. 26, 2007
  24. [ LEX18 - Lexington, KY - Fletcher, Beshear To Face Off In Nov
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul E. Patton
Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Steve Beshear