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Sign of the Times?
Voters Remembered the Pardons.
MAYFIELD, Ky. – It was almost election day, and Gov. Ernie Fletcher was way behind in the polls.

Some of the Republican faithful rallied in Lexington, his hometown. They were hungry for rhetorical red meat. They got a big hunk of homophobia.

“Do you want a couple of San Francisco treats, or do you want to reelect Gov. Ernie Fletcher?” the Louisville Courier-Journal Internet blogsite quoted Robbie Rudolph, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Of course, the crowd got the implication: the Democratic ticket is gay.

It isn’t.

Rudolph had to know it. But he figured the homosexual innuendo would pay off on election day.

It didn’t.

Fletcher and Rudolph lost by almost 184,000 votes.

“I don’t think the Three Gs resonate in this state like they did in the past,” said Charles Wells, a Kentucky labor and Democratic Party leader. He meant God, Guns and Gays.

“I think a lot of people have come to realize that they are being duped and manipulated by politicians who use these so called ‘values’ issues to get elected,” Wells said. “Even people of faith understand now that they are being taken advantage of.”

The governor-elect is Steve Beshear. The lieutenant governor will be state Sen. Dan Mongiardo. The two Democrats ran as moderates, at least by Kentucky standards, polling almost 59 percent of the vote to about 41 percent for their opponents.

Fletcher and Rudolph campaigned as “family values” Christian conservatives. They are for God and guns. They are against gay rights.

Fletcher added a fourth “G,” gambling. He doesn’t want casinos.

An ex-lay minister, Fletcher must have hoped the Three Gs -- make that Four Gs -- would cause voters to forget that he is evidently the only Kentucky governor indicted while in office.

The voters remembered.

“The election was clearly a repudiation of Fletcher, who was seriously damaged by a scandal over his administration's hiring abuses in the state merit system,” said the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Fletcher refused to testify before a grand jury, was indicted on three misdemeanor counts -- later dismissed -- and pardoned those around him who had been charged.”

From start to finish, Fletcher trailed Beshear in every opinion poll. The closer the race got to election day, the harder he ran on God and gays.

A day before Kentuckians went to the polls, the governor ordered a copy of the Ten Commandments “and other historical documents” displayed in the state Capitol in Frankfort . At the same time, the GOP revved up the gay-baiting.

The Fletcher campaign pounced on a state gay and lesbian rights group's endorsement of the Beshear-Mongiardo ticket. State Rep. Stan Lee, the Republican candidate for attorney general, joined Rudolph in branding Beshear and Mongiardo “San Francisco treats," Joe Gerth, a Courier-Journal reporter, also posted on the newspaper's blog.

Lee lost by more than 213,000 votes to Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate. Conway got more than 60 percent of the vote to less than 40 percent for Lee.

The Republicans backed up Rudoph and Lee’s double-barreled bigotry with a flood of automated "robo calls" linking Beshear to the gay rights group. Gerth got one.

He heard the recorded voice of Pat Boone, the famous 50s crooner who is a conservative Christian and a Republican. “Boone told me that he is concerned about the upcoming governor’s race and that I should vote for Ernie Fletcher,” Gerth wrote. He quoted Boone: “[Fletcher’s]…opponent is so ultra-liberal, he has just been enthusiastically endorsed by C-Fair, a prominent gay rights advocacy group. Do you really want Kentucky to become another San Francisco?”

Other Kentucky phones rang with similar robo calls. “For the first time in 20 years the homosexual lobby proudly endorses a candidate for governor, Steve Beshear,” the message said. “Beshear is receiving major support from out-of-state gay activists."

The Fletcher campaign denied any connection to the calls, the source of which is still a mystery.

Wells thinks the robo calls -- from Boone and from whomever else -- backfired, further energizing already pumped-up Democrats and possibly causing some moderate Republicans to vote for Beshear, too.

“I know plenty of Republicans who are hanging onto their party affiliation by a thread,” claimed a post on BluegrassReport, probably the most widely read Kentucky political blog site. “Pronouncements such as these by Rudolph and Stan ‘I am not an extremist’ Lee should induce them to sever ties once and for all.”

I wouldn't bet the farm that conservative Republicans like Rudolph and Lee -- and some conservative Democrats -- will stop pandering to Kentuckians’ prejudices.

But maybe this election means that most Kentuckians really don't consider bigotry a "family value." And maybe the next time a Bluegrass State politician is tempted to pander he might ponder "One Term Ern," the Democrats' nickname for Fletcher that came true on election day.

-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.

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