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Fletcher shines in national spotlight

FRANKFORT -- He got a call from "Ahr-nold," caught four hours of sleep and woke up to find himself a national story.
He sat down with his predecessor who was skeptical about cutting waste as a singular path to balancing the state budget and he work up to marvel and he met the capitol press corps for the first time as governor-elect.

Busy time for Fletcher
Important dates and events awaiting Gov.-elect Ernie Fletcher

• Resignation of 6th District congressional seat. Special election to choose successor. Schedule dictated by timing of Fletcher's resignation.

• Dec. 9 -- Takes oath of office immediately after midnight. Ceremonial public inauguration later in the day.

• Jan. 6 -- General Assembly convenes.

• Jan. 15 -- Deadline for Fletcher to submit proposed budget to General Assembly, deliver budget address.

Ernie Fletcher's first day as the next governor of Kentucky was only a little less hectic than the last 18 months on the campaign trail.

He had planned to sleep in Wednesday after staying up until 4 a.m. Election Night, celebrating his feat of becoming the first Republican to be elected to the office since 1967. Instead, Fletcher said half-joking, he was up about 8 a.m., checking the newspapers to make sure his win was for real.

"It's a sense that you do have to say, boy this is something I never, ever anticipated. It's a tremendous responsibility, but I'll have to say I did feel good this morning," Fletcher, 50, told reporters Wednesday at his first press conference as governor-elect.

First stop was a luncheon with his campaign staff. Next, a meeting with legislative leaders and Gov. Paul Patton. Then, a press conference. Wednesday night, he met for the first time with the "pre-transition" team that has spent weeks coming up with recommendations for possible reorganizations and cabinet appointments.

Fletcher, a U.S. congressman from Lexington, said he doesn't plan to take time off until around Thanksgiving.

"I felt like it was important to get the ball rolling on a lot of transition initiatives," Fletcher said.

Fletcher's first stop in Frankfort Wednesday was for a meeting of the Legislative Research Commission, a committee made up of House and Senate leaders, where he was greeted with a standing ovation.

"I want you to know that my leadership approach is one of working as a team," Fletcher said, vowing to work with both parties. "No one of us has all the answers."

Fletcher later met privately with legislative leaders and with Gov. Paul Patton, the term-limited Democrat whose personal scandals helped hand Fletcher a 10-point win over Democrat Ben Chandler Tuesday. Patton's extramarital affair with a western Kentucky businesswoman and subsequent investigations into whether he abused his power to help, then retaliate against his mistress helped sell the Republican theme of cleaning up "the mess in Frankfort."

Patton refused to comment to reporters Wednesday whether he thought his affair cost Democrats the governorship.

Fletcher said Patton offered him whatever help necessary to make a smooth transition and talked about the state's budget situation.

Patton told reporters earlier in the day that he didn't think there was enough waste, fraud or inefficiency to cut in state government to balance the budget. Fletcher, he said, would either have to raise revenues by $500 million or cut services by $500 million.

"This state is stretched way thin," Patton said at the Capitol. "Services are beginning to suffer."

Fletcher said he still believed there was room to cut in the budget without raising taxes or severely impacting essential state services.

"If you look at most of the surrounding states, they're able to deliver services with less tax dollars per capita," Fletcher said.

Fletcher said his first priority is to put together his team, then that team will focus on the state budget, for which there is a projected $262 million deficit this year.

He said he had not considered who would fill cabinet slots and other important jobs in state government, but assured there would be regional equity in his decisions. That included Northern Kentucky, Fletcher said, where the region's three largest counties put up impressive numbers for him Tuesday night.

"We are not going to take somebody from a region just because we need somebody from a region. They've got to be able to do the job," Fletcher said. "But I don't think that's a problem. We've got talent all over this state."

Kentucky's next first lady, Glenna Fletcher, 51, spent part of Wednesday tying up loose ends at the campaign office. She said she plans to focus on bettering pre-natal care for women and reduce teen pregnancy in Kentucky.

She also wants to work on Fletcher's Read to Achieve plan, an initiative to ensure all Kentucky children know how to read by the third grade.

Glenna Foster Fletcher and Ernie Fletcher were sweethearts at Lafayette High School in Lexington and were married after their freshman year at the University of Kentucky.

Mrs. Fletcher is a registered nurse and worked on her husband's campaign, mostly raising money. She said she was still reeling from Tuesday night's result.

"We were still just -- I can't believe it," she said. "And to make the front page of USA Today and CNN -- it was just amazing. I mean, golly."

She said she's hoping her husband's new office will lure their children back to Kentucky.

Son Ben, 28, practiced anti-trust law in Washington, D.C., before leaving in July to work on his father's campaign. He said he and his wife, Kara, are considering moving back to the state, though he wouldn't take a job in state government.

Living in the state where his dad is governor, Ben said, "would be really cool."

The Fletchers' daughter, Rachael Fletcher Nichols, 32, is a stay-at-home mom in Rockville, Md. She and her husband, Daniel, who works for the U.S. Department of Labor, have four children: Kallie, 6; Hannah, 4; Joshua, 3; and Mason, 7 months.

Mrs. Fletcher said they have no plans to move back to Kentucky.

"But parents never give up," she added.

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