FRANKFORT, Ky. – Standing under the Capitol rotunda with his hand on a family Bible, Gov. Ernie Fletcher (search) was sworn into office Tuesday as he simultaneously resigned his seat in the U.S. House.
Fletcher was given the state's constitutional oath (search) just after midnight, bringing Kentucky its first Republican administration in more than three decades.
"It's overwhelming," Fletcher told his audience at the private ceremony. "It's hard to know what to feel."
Minutes later, Steve Pence (search), a former federal prosecutor, was sworn in as lieutenant governor.
Fletcher, departing Gov. Paul Patton (search) and their wives planned to attend a private worship service Tuesday morning at First Christian Church in downtown Frankfort. Fletcher's public swearing-in and inaugural address outside the Capitol were scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
Soon after the private ceremony, Fletcher, who had held his House seat for 2 1/2 terms, was in his Capitol office signing orders to appoint some of the members of his new staff and cabinet.
Patton's term expired at midnight Monday, just over a month after Democrat Ben Chandler lost to Fletcher in a race affected at least in part by scandal.
Patton, 66, was seven years into what many considered a productive administration focused on education and the economy when news of a two-year relationship with former nursing home owner Tina Conner led him into retirement.
"It's been eight great years," said Patton, his final paycheck tucked into a shirt pocket. But he added: "I certainly regret some things."
Barred from running for re-election after serving two terms, Patton spent his final day as governor receiving well-wishers, wrapping up paperwork and making several appointments. He also commuted the death sentence to life in prison for inmate Kevin Stanford, who was 17 when he raped and killed a gas station attendant in 1981.
"We ought not be executing people who, legally, were children," Patton said.
Stanford's case attracted national attention after the Supreme Court used it to uphold the death penalty for murderers as young as 17.
Patton at first denied, then tearfully acknowledged his affair with Conner. He has consistently denied doing anything illegal or misusing his power to help Conner - or to harm her businesses after the affair, as she alleged in a sexual harassment lawsuit last year.
Patton settled ethics charges against him last month by acknowledging two instances of using his power and influence to benefit Conner. He agreed to a $5,000 fine and a public reprimand.
Before the scandal, Patton seemed well on his way to national prominence, having aspirations to run for the Senate and serving as chairman of the National Governors Association (search) in 2002.