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Kentucky governor takes limo to cross the street

When Gov. Ernie Fletcher's day is over, he leaves his Capitol office, climbs into a Lincoln Town Car driven by a state trooper and returns to the Governor's Mansion — which is just across the street.
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher, a physician by profession.James Crisp / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

When Gov. Ernie Fletcher's day is over, he leaves his Capitol office, climbs into a Lincoln Town Car driven by a state trooper and returns to the Governor's Mansion — which is just across the street.

Meanwhile, his administration is encouraging Kentuckians to get out and walk more for their health.

The Republican governor — a physician by training — makes no apologies for riding back and forth to work. "I think that's been a tradition for a long time," he said. "That's what security likes."

But his do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do example irks some politicians.

"I just think it's incredible," said Democratic state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, a marathon runner and frequent critic of Fletcher. "The governor should practice what he's preaching. Otherwise it smacks of being hypocritical."

Some governors walk, some ride
Across the country, several governors who live near state Capitols routinely walk to work. In Iowa, Gov. Tom Vilsack sometimes jogs the three miles from the Capitol to his home at the end of the work day.

However, Gov. Chris Gregoire in Washington state, Gov. Rick Perry in Texas and Gov. Haley Barbour in Mississippi routinely ride to work from their homes next door.

"Security is what drives the decision," said Gregoire spokesman Lars Erickson.

In Virginia and West Virginia, the governors have only a short trek from home to office, and they walk it daily. In Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer walks, with his dog Jag, seven blocks to his Capitol office. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush sometimes walks the half-mile to the Capitol. And in Nevada, Gov. Kenny Guinn routinely walked the 10 blocks before he had hip replacement surgery.

In Kentucky, the Fletcher administration has begun running radio announcements across the state, calling on people to walk or bike more. In his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year, Fletcher announced the kickoff of a fitness program to help fight obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

"He has an opportunity to really set a good example for good health, and he's not doing it," Scorsone said. "If anything, he's setting a bad example."

Forgy to the defense
Larry Forgy, a Fletcher supporter and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, said any criticism of Fletcher was unjustified.

"One of the things I do know is that all security people want anybody who is a potential target not to have a routine," Forgy said. "The routine of walking across there at 8 o'clock every morning is what they'd want to break up. It's not about laziness. It's about somebody saying, `We can't have you doing something that routine.'"

Fletcher and his administration have been under fire for the past year. He is under indictment on charges of illegally hiring and firing employees on the basis of their political loyalty.

Fletcher spent about three weeks in the hospital in February and March after suffering complications from gallbladder surgery. But he said he is physically fit, and the decision to ride to and from work has nothing to do with his health.

Lee Jackson, president of the Kentucky state employees union, said driving the short distance to work "shows a lack of respect for the hardworking state employees" who have longer walks from their parking spaces to their offices.

Julian Carroll, governor from 1974 to 1979, said it would take nearly as long to get into and out of a car as it would to walk from the mansion to the Capitol.

"It never occurred to me to do anything but walk," he said. "I can't ever remember an occasion when I did other than walk. For goodness sakes, it's only 500 feet or less."

And when it rained?

"I carried an umbrella," he said.