Wealthy Louisville businessman enters governor’s race

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – A wealthy Kentucky businessman entered the race for governor on Monday, pairing up with one of the state’s most recognizable names as his running mate.

Bruce Lunsford announced his candidacy with running mate Attorney General Greg Stumbo at a press conference in Frankfort. Lunsford, a Louisville businessman who spent $8 million of his own money before dropping out of the last governor’s race days before the primary, is the seventh Democrat to enter the race.

“This time I really feel a calling,” he said.

Lunsford, who served as commerce secretary under former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr., said he will spend “as much as it takes to get the governor’s chair back for the Democrats.” He said he would “prime the pump” with an initial $2 million.

Candidates who have already declared for the May 22 primary are state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, demolition contractor Otis Hensley, Lexington attorney Gatewood Galbraith, House Speaker Jody Richards and former lieutenant governors Steve Henry and Steve Beshear.

On the Republican side, Gov. Ernie Fletcher has drawn two challengers, former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup of Louisville and businessman Billy Harper of Paducah. Both challengers say they entered the race because they don’t think Fletcher, whose first term has been marred by legal troubles, can be re-elected.

Fletcher, the first Republican governor elected in more than 30 years, was indicted last year on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs. The indictment was later dismissed in a deal with prosecutors.

Fletcher has maintained that the investigation into his administration’s hiring practices was politically motivated and gave a blanket pardon in 2005 to anyone except himself who could be charged in the probe. He blamed Stumbo for trying to improve political standing in the upcoming governor’s race.

A Franklin County special grand jury found that Fletcher had approved a “widespread and coordinated plan” to skirt state hiring laws.

Lunsford, a thoroughbred owner, broke ranks with Democrats and endorsed Fletcher in the 2003 general election. However, he said he now considers that a mistake.

“The mistake was I really overestimated Ernie,” Lunsford said.

Kentucky is one of three states that will elect a governor in 2007.