LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Republican lieutenant governor candidate Richie Farmer says recent news stories that question his spending as Kentucky's Agriculture Commissioner are “aggravating” because they aren’t true.
Farmer and Senate President David Williams embarked Thursday on the "Lead, Follow or Get out of the way" campaign bus tour leading up to the GOP primary less than three weeks away.
After a month that included his wife filing for divorce and the questions about his spending, Farmer is looking forward to some friendly crowds. As a UK basketball Wildcat “Unforgettable” in the early 1990’s, Richie Farmer became accustomed to the cheers of fans. But as David Williams' running mate, he's facing the toughest questions of his political career.
“There seems to be a story about me, everyday,” Farmer told WHAS Political Editor Joe Arnold, “but I think it's aggravating that the way that it gets out there is not true. All of those things, they don't print all the facts so it's aggravating, but I have not had no reconsideration about being on the ticket.”
Williams, meanwhile, chuckled at the scrutiny while addressing supporters at Louisville’s Republican Party headquarters.
“When we started, I thought you were shooting three pointers and I was taking charges,” Williams said, “You're taking some charges yourself. And I want to tell you Richie, when they are talking about you, they're leaving me alone.”
Supporters of David Williams hope that the glow of Farmer's statewide popularity reflects a positive light on the powerful Senate President, and translates to votes for the Williams/Farmer ticket. Yet, it's Farmer's actions as agriculture commissioner that are now under increased scrutiny.
Farmer and Williams are both defending him spending $1,600 for a Lexington hotel suite and meals while attending the Sweet 16 boys basketball tournament, because Farmer was promoting the Kentucky Proud agriculture initiative.
“When I came in, there was a couple of dozen members of the Kentucky Proud program,” Farmer explained, “We've grown that program to more than 2,400 members. And the last four years alone, we've done more than a half a billion dollars in retail sales.”
“I've brought a lot of my former teammates that did the commercial ‘The Unforgettables’ at low cost,” Farmer continued, “brought in Coach Pitino, Tubby Smith, people like that. I've given a lot of myself personally. And the fact that I was there I don't have any regrets about it. We get a lot of bang for our buck there.”
“They're trying to do a death of a thousand cuts on Richie,” Williams said, “Everyday there's going to be a different article and a different sort of exposure about this or that.”
Just this week, Farmer apologized for not sharing in the sacrifice sooner with statewide employees on furlough. Farmer announced he would donate a portion of his salary proportionate to the pay lost by state employees who were required to take unpaid furlough days. Farmer is also defending other actions as agriculture commissioner, including buying 19 new SUV's during state cutbacks and spending $10,000 for him and three others to attend an agriculture conference at a Caribbean resort.
Farmer explained that he has attended every Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA) conference since being elected commissioner, where he addresses such issues as EPA regulations and the World Trade Organizations “attack of Burley tobacco.”
He said he has no control over where the conferences are held.
“They have been in such exotic locations as Tulsa, Oklahoma, Birmingham Alabama and Nashville Tennessee,” Farmer laughed.
“It's not like we're doing all this extravagant stuff,” Farmer continued, “We have cut back. We are doing the things that are necessary to take care of business with agriculture.
Farmer says in the last year of the previous commissioner, Democrat Billy Ray Smith, the agriculture department spent more than double his department's annual travel budget.