01/06/2004 12:00AM

Ky. Gov. names new commission

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FRANKFORT, Ky.- Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher abolished the Kentucky Racing Commission on Tuesday and established a panel under a different name, the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. The move came one day after Frank Shoop, chairman of the Kentucky Racing Commission, issued his resignation.

Fletcher - the first Republican to be elected governor in Kentucky in 32 years - named 11 Republicans and two Democrats to serve on the authority. Republican Bill Street of Louisville, the former chairman of Brown-Forman Corp., was named the authority's chairman.

Besides governing the horse industry, the authority will work to strengthen economic development, solidify ties between Kentucky's horse industry and the state's universities, and promote Kentucky's horse and tourism industry, said Jeannie Lausche, press secretary for Fletcher.

"The past [commission] dealt more with regulation," she said. "The governor wanted to step up the responsibility to oversee, preserve, and strengthen the horse industry and its farms."

The new authority will be heavily represented by conservative horse owners and breeders, including some, such as Don Ball of Donamire Farm, who have been vocal opponents of an expansion of gambling in Kentucky. Fletcher has also been reluctant to support adding slot machines at Kentucky racetracks, even as a means to ease the state's budgetary crisis.

"I think the governor's goal was to put forth what an important industry racing is to Kentucky," said Kerry Cauthen, counsel to Walmac Farm and an appointee to the authority.

In addition to the 13 appointed members of the authority, there will be three ex officio members: LaJuana Wilcher, secretary of environmental and public protection; Jim Host, secretary of commerce; and Gene Strong, secretary of economic development.

Shoop and other members of the Kentucky Racing Commission began delivering their resignations Monday. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Paul Patton had reappointed him and others in November before before he left office.

The Kentucky Racing Commission had been criticized in recent years for its mishandling of issues, largely in regard to its Backside Improvement Commission. Ed Hatchett, Kentucky's state auditor, lambasted the backside commission in August, noting that its members had not met in more than a year and that the director was paid nearly $80,000 in salary and benefits. The backside commission was then eliminated.

The new authority must now be approved by the legislature before it officially becomes the regulatory body, Lausche said.