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Beshear win is top story

FRANKFORT


Steve Beshear won a lopsided victory in November over a scandal plagued incumbent to become governor of Kentucky in a remarkable political comeback more than 20 years after he last held an elective office.

His defeat of Ernie Fletcher was voted the top Kentucky story of 2007 by The Associated Press member editors and broadcasters.

Beshear had climbed the political ladder in the 1970s and 1980s as a state lawmaker, attorney general and lieutenant governor, but had lost two subsequent elections, after which he steered clear of politics. The Dawson Springs native defeated an incumbent governor who had been accused of violating state hiring laws to reward political supporters in a saga that dominated headlines for more than two years.

“Politics is certainly always a major topic of discussion and it generates a lot of interest in Kentucky,” said Joe Gershtenson, head of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University. “In an gubernatorial election year, especially, it would probably take something pretty notable to bump that out of the top spot.”

Beshear’s return to public office edged out a number of other high-profile events that made news over the past 12 months. That includes the continuing legal battle over whether administering lethal injections to put condemned inmates to death constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The issue was debated throughout the year in courtrooms and took the No. 2 spot on the list of top stories. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments from the attorneys of two Kentucky death row inmates at the center of the issue. They argue that lethal injection causes pain and that its protocol is unconstitutional. Arguments are scheduled Jan. 7.

Third on the list was the release of a final report in August by federal investigators of the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in Lexington that killed 49 of 50 people aboard. Investigators concluded that the pilots were primarily responsible for the crash on Aug. 27, 2006. The report reiterated that the primary cause was a failure by pilots Jeffrey Clay and James Polehinke to notice clues they were going down the wrong runway ¿î one that was too short for a commercial jet to take off from.

In sports, University of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith called it quits, and was replaced by Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie. That high-profile change in personnel made the editors’ list of top state stories at No. 4.

Gillispie hammered out a seven-year agreement that pays him $2.3 million a year in base salary, broadcasting fees and endorsements, with raises of $75,000 each year, annual performance incentives up to $750,000 and academic incentives of up to $100,000. However, Gillispie and the university haven’t yet signed a contract.

Problems on Lake Cumberland took the No. 5 spot on the list. Federal officials reduced the water level on the massive lake beginning in January because of fears that the nearly mile-long Wolf Creek Dam might fail, flooding cities along the Cumberland River in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. They also began a $309 million project to repair the dam weakened by erosion of limestone beneath the structure. Besides frightening downstream residents, the situation had a dramatic effect on the state’s tourism economy. The lower water levels forced some businesses to relocate docks and the state had to extend boat ramps.

The U.S. Supreme Court made the list a second time with its ruling involving Louisville school assignments. A half-century after outlawing segregated schools, a sharply divided Supreme Court imposed new limits on school districts attempting to make sure children of different races share classrooms. The court voted 5-4 to strike down school integration plans in Louisville and Seattle, a decision that imperiled similar plans that hundreds of cities and counties use voluntarily to integrate their schools. The ruling made No. 6 on the AP list.

The war in Iraq made the list at No. 7. It has been a top story in the state since it began, and Kentucky casualties continued mounting through 2007. Eleven service members with Kentucky hometowns of record died in the war in 2007, out of 61 since the start of the war. The 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell has lost 172 soldiers since the Iraq war began in 2003.

A tragic house fire in Bardstown that killed 10 people in February made the list at No. 8. Investigators determined that a cigarette left burning near a chair likely caused the fire. The victims, four adults and six children in an extended family, all died from smoke inhalation.

The death of a horse, 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, made the list at No. 9. Barbaro was euthanized in January after complications from a gruesome breakdown at the Preakness, ending an eightmonth ordeal that had been followed closely by racing fans around the world.

A gruesome accident on an amusement ride rounded out the list of Kentucky’s top 10 stories. A teenage girl’s feet were severed by a broken cable on the Superman Tower of Power ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in June. Doctors were able to reattach Kaitlyn Lasitter’s right foot, and in December, she took her first steps using a prosthesis.


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