The Fifth

Fletcher shouldn't take it

In this country, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Nor is the accused required to provide evidence against himself.

Those fundamental principals of our justice system apply to Gov. Ernie Fletcher and to his scheduled appearance Tuesday before a special grand jury investigating his administration's hiring practices. His new attorney, James Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor, seeks a delay in Fletcher's appearance and will almost surely recommend Fletcher invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination whenever he appears.

That doesn't mean Fletcher has something to hide. Zealous prosecutors have in the past used grand jury proceedings to snare witnesses with perjury charges even though their testimony differed from earlier testimony for innocent reasons.

But Fletcher has more than legal considerations. He is a first-term governor, the first Republican governor in Kentucky in 32 years, and one who presumably wants to seek re-election. Taking the Fifth will be devastating to his political fortunes.

He also has responsibilities to those who elected him, to the people of Kentucky who looked to him to be better. He should ponder what his obligations are to Republicans who suffered in Kentucky's political wilderness for 32 years, who worked so hard for his election and who held such high hopes for his administration. Finally, he should think of how he will be remembered: as a governor who lacked political guile and experience and made mistakes but owned up to them - or as a politician who promised to be different but wasn't and tried to hide it.

Ernie Fletcher faces an agonizing choice when he appears before the grand jury. We don't know what the governor's personal culpability is or what he knows. But he does, and he can do more than anyone to put this mess behind us. Our advice, Governor, is to answer questions candidly, admit your mistakes, and take responsibility.

If you do, Governor, you might really change the culture in Frankfort.

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