On Tuesday, Democrats in Kentucky will choose their nominee to battle notoriously corrupt Governor Ernie Fletcher this November. This is not just a typical Democratic primary, but another chapter in what some have described as the ongoing battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
The race pits relatively progressive Attorney General Steve Beshear against multimillionaire healthcare executive Bruce Lunsford, who’s running as a Democrat even though he’s given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, endorsed Fletcher in ’03 and has been involved in a number of questionable business ventures. Oh, and his political consultant is Doug Schoen, former partner of Mark Penn.
This race involves a candidate in Bruce Lunsford, who not only belongs in the Republican primary, but he belongs in the Ken Lay wing of the Republican Party. Lunsford made his millions founding the healthcare company formerly known as Vencor. While he was the CEO, the federal government brought a fraud claim of $1.3 billion against it, alleging that Vencor overbilled Medicare.
The company eventually agreed to pay a $104.5 million settlement, and ended up in bankruptcy. However, Lunsford’s attacks on Kentucky’s working families may not have ended there. Lunsford split his Vencor company before it headed to bankruptcy and created a second company, Ventas. It may not be to anyone’s surprise that the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, current Secretary of Labor to George W. Bush, Elaine Chao, was named to the Board of Directors.
In 1997, Lunsford and his partners were sued for "insider trading, fraudulent omissions and stock prices punctured by bad news in the health care industry." (Lexington Herald Leader, 6/1/2001) The lawsuit was tossed by a Louisville judge but in 2001, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated the case after holding that the plaintiffs arguments "permit a strong inference that defendants engaged in securities fraud." (Courier-Journal, 6/7/2001)
Lunsford never learned to steer clear of his crowd of Republican friends, and ran for governor with a coterie of advisors that looked like a Jack Abramoff foursome returning from a Scottish golfing trip. One of his top advisors in 2003, Larry Townsend, followed Lunsford’s lead in supporting George W. Bush, and even took it a step further by co-chairing "Democrats for Bush" with Zell Miller.
There’s speculation in Kentucky that Lunsford, who supported Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for re-election in 2002, made a deal to support (or at least not actively oppose) him again. McConnell is one of the Democrats top targets in ’08. That’s one of the reasons why Tuesday’s race has ramifications beyond the Bluegrass state.