Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 20, 2013

Fined $210,000

Allegations of misdeeds as commissioner plague Farmer

The Independent

ASHLAND — If the 2011 gubernatorial election had gone as the Kentucky Republican Party had hoped, former Senate President David Williams would be governor and former two-term Agricultural Commissioner Richie Farmer would be lieutenant governor.

But it was not to be. The team of Williams and Farmer lost in a landslide as Gov. Steve Beshear coasted to victory, with former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson replacing former state Sen. Dan Mongiardo of Hazard as lieutenant governor.

Williams, then the most powerful Republican in Frankfort, resigned from his Senate seat when Beshear appointed him a circuit court  judge in southern Kentucky. His acceptance of the judicial seat essentially removed Williams as a significant political force in Kentucky.

But Williams’ rapid fall from political power was voluntary. Had he not accepted the appointment of a governor with whom he had had numerous political disagreements, there is no question David Williams still would be directing Republicans in the Senate.

However, the rapid fall from grace of Richie Farmer since his term ended as agriculture commissioner has not been voluntary. It has largely been self-inflicted, with one of his chief critics being James Comer, his Republican successor as agriculture commissioner. Soon after taking office, Comer requested then newly elected Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen investigate numerous complaints Comer said he received about Farmer’s eight years at ag commissioner. The audit was scathing and likely ended any future Farmer, a former University of Kentucky basketball star, may have had in state politics.

In the latest chapter in the saga of Richie Farmer, the Executive Branch Ethics Commission has charged the former agriculture commissioner with 42 ethics violations for misusing state funds and state employees during his time in office.

The charges, announced by the ethics commission on Monday, include Farmer placing his friends in jobs that had no specified duties and asking them to carry out his personal errands. He allegedly had employees chauffeur him to doctors’ appointments and shopping trips as well as build a basketball court on his property.   

Just before leaving office, Farmer, who was going through a rather nasty divorce but was still married, gave his girlfriend a high-paying job for which she had not apparent qualifications. Hers was one of many jobs Comer eliminated soon after becoming ag commissioner.

Farmer faces a $5,000 fine for each count, which amounts to $210,000, but last year, Farmer filed a motion for a change in his child support payments claiming he has no regular source of income. Based on that, the odds of the fine ever being paid are not promising.

Seven employees who worked with Farmer also face ethics charges. And the commission issued an advisory opinion stating employees must report suspected ethics violations.

During his eight years in Frankfort, few knew exactly what Richie Farmer did as agriculture commissioner. We now know we should have all been paying more attention to the well-liked former basketball star and the department he headed. If we had, maybe some of the mismanagement and wastful spending under Farmer could have been avoided. As it is, Farmer was basically given a free ride through two terms.

Should Farmer face criminal charges? That’s not for us to decide, but we do know this: He should never again be elected to any office.