Daniel Groves, longtime top aide to Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher, has become the second administration official to resign in recent days. His resignation comes amidst continuing controversy over the administration's hiring policies.
I wrote in Governing (5th item) a couple of months ago that this didn't seem like the worst sort of scandal to get worked up about. Why shouldn't a new administration -- especially one that represents the state's first Republican governor in three decades -- hire its own people?
But I noted that actual law-breaking, such as skirting the state's standing merit requirements, was not a good idea. It wouldn't bother me if Fletcher managed to change the law, but flouting it while it's on the books is troubling.
That's why Fletcher is paying a political price for having recently granted blanket pardons to nine administration officials. A poll suggests that 73 percent of Kentucky residents disapprove of the pardons. More troubling for Fletcher, perhaps, is the fact that pollsters asked whether he should resign -- meaning that option has become a legitimate part of the political dialogue.
Just one-third of the respondents thought Fletcher should step down. But clearly Fletcher has forgotten the main lesson of Watergate -- it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.
Fletcher came to power after his party's long drought in large part because outgoing Democratic Governor Paul Patton was caught in an admitted affair in which he apparently steered state business his lover's way. The distaste this left in the minds of voters tainted his would-be Democratic successor.
It's a long wait until 2007, to see whether Fletcher will be ousted for his handling of the hiring mess. But clearly he's already been wounded. Which brings me back to my original point -- patronage hiring isn't such a bad thing, because the party in power pays the price when things go wrong.
UPDATE (9/15/05): Fletcher Fires 9 Staffers Over Merit Investigation