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Farmer's last stand? Girlfriend's hiring spurs criticism, Comer reacts

Farmer's last stand? Girlfriend's hiring spurs criticism, Comer reacts

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 20, 2011 at 11:22 PM

(WHAS11) -- The Kentucky Agriculture Department's hiring of Commissioner Richie Farmer's girlfriend spells the end of Farmer's political career, a veteran Republican strategist said after the revelation.

"I really don't know how an individual -- if he had set out to destroy himself politically -- could have done a more complete job than Richie's done." said Ted Jackson.

From the outset of the 2011 gubernatorial campaign, Jackson was critical of the choice of Farmer as the running mate of eventual nominee David Williams.  Jackson dismissed Farmer, a former University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball "unforgettable," as a novelty candidate.  Jackson said that Farmer was an ineffective campaigner and could not withstand the heightened scrutiny of the gubernatorial campaign.

And now, this.

Eight days before the election, Farmer hired 38 year old Stephanie Sandmann to a $5000 a month job as a "special assistant" in the Agriculture Department.  Sources confirm that Sandmann is Farmer's girlfriend.

"Just disbelief, absolute disbelief," Jackson said, "It's so absolutely arrogant and reckless and unfair to the voters to do such a thing.  Whether it was eight days before the election or not, you don't hire your girlfriend to work in your office, as an elected official."

A spokesman for the agriculture department says neither Farmer or Sandmann would be available for comment and the department has nothing to say on the matter.

Farmer was married at the start of the campaign.  In January, his wife and their children accompanied him when he filed for office.  In April, one month before the Republican primary, Rebecca Farmer filed for divorce.

The divorce filing was a surprise to then gubernatorial candidate David Williams, and apparantly so was Farmer hiring Sandmann.

"I was not aware that Ms. Sandmann was an employee of the Department of Agriculture until press inquiries and have never been involved in the Commissioner's internal hiring practices," Williams said in a statement.

Farmer's replacement as agriculture commissioner - fellow Republican James Comer - criticized the hiring.

"It looks really bad," Comer told WHAS11, "Just from what I have read, it's troubling.  It wouldn't happen under my watch."

Sandmann's Personnel Cabinet paperwork shows that she applied for a non-merit job, which is legally at the discretion of elected officials like Farmer and other top staffers.  Sandmann specified that she would only work in Frankfort.

Comer said he does not know Sandmann, and as a result could not comment on her qualifications or whether Sandmann would keep her job once Comer takes office in January.

Yet all signs point to an abbreviated tenure for Sandmann at the ag department.

Comer said every non-merit employee under Farmer would need to reapply for a position and that he expects "a lot of turnover in non-merit employees."

Comer said he is appointing a transition team over the next couple of weeks, a "who's who of Kentucky agribusiness."

It is a list that does not include Richie Farmer.

"I don't see any political redemption for this guy going forward," Jackson said.

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