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Monday, April 22, 2013

Joseph Gerth | Former Kentucky basketball legend Richie Farmer followed wrong game plan

A federal grand jury in Lexington will likely soon write the final, sad chapter in the troubled political career of a Kentucky legend.
The grand jury is looking into the actions of former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the University of Kentucky basketball fan favorite who just a few years ago looked like he was destined to turn his star power into a long, successful political career.

It may have been a sense of entitlement that comes with an uncanny ability to put an orange ball through an 18-inch hoop from the time he was in middle school and then being the most beloved player on the state’s most celebrated college basketball team.

It could have been that he just couldn’t tell right from wrong and didn’t have the people who would tell him when he was screwing up — or that he wouldn’t listen to them when they did.
Whatever it was, Farmer’s wrongdoing has resulted in a record 42 findings of ethics violations against him, findings against employees and even a finding against his sister, Rhonda Monroe, who was placed on leave from her job at the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Those violations could cost him $210,000.

What did he do?

He allegedly used state employees to mow the lawn at his home, build a basketball court in his back yard, take him shopping and hunting and even chauffeur his dog.
Farmer took home guns that were purchased for attendees of a conference in Kentucky, he hired a girlfriend to a $5,000 per month job for which she rarely showed up and did little work, and he kept a compact refrigerator at his home that was purchased by the state.

Some of those actions could result in federal corruption charges against him.
It really didn’t have to be that way, if only Farmer could have learned to survive on the constitutional officers’ $113,616 per year salary without extra perks he allegedly created for himself, he could have spent decades bouncing around the minor constitutional offices.
He got more votes than anyone on the ballot in other than Ernie Fletcher in 2003 and more votes than anyone when he ran for reelection in 2007.

The only reason he is back home in Clay County, selling cars at last report, is that he ran for lieutenant governor in 2011 on a ticket with former Senate President David Williams, whose personal approval ratings were toxic.
In touring the minor offices, maybe he could have spent eight years as treasurer, eight years as secretary of state and another eight years back in the agriculture commissioner’s office. With that, he could have retired with a generous retirement package.

Yes, Farmer, a Republican, could have been the next Frances Jones Mills.
Mills won her first statewide office in 1971 when she became clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and went on to win two terms as secretary of state and three terms as state treasurer.

But the story doesn’t end there.

See, Jones, a Democrat, lost her last race for office under the cloud of an ethics investigation.
She was the first person found guilty under Kentucky’s ethics law after an investigation found she had accepted Kentucky Derby tickets at no cost from a bank with a state contract, failed to report the Derby tickets and New York trips she received from banks, made personal use of a state storage room and required her employees to perform personal errands for her.
Mills also was found to have violated the ethics law by directing one of her Treasury Department employees to speak to another about forgiving a $5,100 campaign debt.
So, in a way, it seems that Farmer did become Mills. It’s just unfortunate for him that he that he followed in her ethical, rather than political footsteps.

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