The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

FUTURE AT STAKE
Patton must meet obligations


Near the end of his tearful confession of marital infidelity Friday, Gov. Paul Patton turned to the cameras and made this pledge to the people of Kentucky: "I promise to all of you that I will do my job as governor."

The future of Patton's administration rests on that pledge. If the governor cannot shake allegations he abused his high office in pursuing a tawdry sexual affair, he will be unable to command the public respect and trust necessary to lead the state.

From a more practical standpoint, Patton must also prove that he is capable of overcoming the distractions of the scandal and focusing on the day-to-day tasks of governing.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Patton said he would not be involved in the "political process" while he concentrates on dealing with "personal legal issues" and his duties as governor.

Even if Patton manages to disprove or at least deflect serious charges of abuse of power and so far, he has done little to refute the allegations he still must demonstrate that he hasn't lost his effectiveness as governor.

If Patton spends the remaining 14 months of his term in office fending off lawsuits, ethics probes and criminal investigations stemming from his relationship with Tina Connor, he cannot fulfill that solemn promise: "I will do my job as governor."

One of the jobs the governor must do in the coming months is serve as the state's chief industrial recruiter and economic development official.

The state recently lost a battle with Alabama for a Hyundai auto plant that would have brought thousands ofjobs to the Hardin County area.

Presumably, Patton was fully engaged in that battle, which appeared to go down to the wire.

The governor must be alert to future economic development opportunities. He cannot delegate the tasks of recruiting or retaining major employers such as USEC Inc., which is deciding whether to build a new-generation uranium enrichment facility in Paducah or Portsmouth, Ohio.

More than 1,400 workers are employed by USEC at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The loss of those jobs, coming on the heels of layoffs and plant closings that have drained more than 2,500 high-wage jobs from western Kentucky in the past two years, would seriously damage the region's economy.

Patton knows this several weeks ago he called the USEC gas centrifuge plant his "top economic development project in the state." But local officials are concerned that the governor, crippled by scandal and preoccupied with efforts to restore his credibility, may not be able to give the project the attention it needs.

The state faces an Oct. 25 deadline for presenting an incentive package to USEC. By all accounts, Ohio officials are working overtime to lure USEC to the abandoned site in Portsmouth where the U.S Department of Energy built a facility for a gas centrifuge in the 1980s.

"We're working on such a narrow window," Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton said. "Somebody has to lead this, and that's always been the governor. At this time, we still expect it to be him."

Patton insists that he is continuing to work on the USEC incentive package. He now plans to meet with Paducah officials next week to discuss the status of the project.

A hope is that this is a reflection of his earlier commitment to the project and not a part of the "political process" to control the damage from his admission of an affair with Connor, a Clinton nursing home owner.

It's understandable that Patton would like to avoid public scrutiny while he's dealing with the fallout from the scandal, but the USEC recruiting battle shows the governor's responsibilities cannot be put on hold.

The fact is, if the governor does not lead, the state will suffer on the USEC project and many other pending issues.

Keep in mind the state is still operating without a budget.

School districts are struggling to hold their budgets together amid uncertainty over the state budget and the state's revenue forecast.

The Medicaid health care program is bleeding red ink.

A dark cloud of scandal has descended over the Transportation Cabinet.

The governor must either step up to meet these challenges, or step down and allow the state leadership void to be filled.