Tuesday, October 10, 2000

Most Kentuckians like Patton's performance

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Gov. Paul Patton's work ethic is the main reason he has earned such a high approval rating among Kentuckians, a professor of history and politics says.

        Mr. Patton took office in December 1995 and was elected to a second term last year. According to the Courier-Journal's latest Bluegrass State Poll, conducted last month, 60 percent of the 801 adults in the survey said they approved of his performance, 24 percent disapproved and 16 percent had no opinion.

        Paul Blanchard, director of the Eastern Kentucky University Center for Kentucky History and Politics, said Mr. Patton's standing is a reflection of his good record as governor.

        “He's a very hard worker, works very long hours and tries to master the basics of policies and politics,” Mr. Blanchard said.

        Mr. Patton has had unusual success with the legislature, Mr. Blanchard said, although “partisan wrangling” prevented him from having as much success this year as he had in the 1998 session.

        The poll also said Mr. Patton, a Democrat, was rated as highly among Republicans as he was among those in his party.

        The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

        Mr. Patton did best in the Louisville and north-central regions of the state, the poll said. One of Mr. Patton's lowest ratings came from his home region of eastern Kentucky, where coal miners and others have blamed him for making it harder to obtain workers' compensation.

        In 1996, Mr. Patton pushed a new workers' compensation law through the General Assembly in response to business leaders' complaints that Kentucky's high workers' compensation costs put their companies at a competitive disadvantage. The new law made it harder for coal miners to qualify for black-lung benefits.

        Mr. Patton has since acknowledged that the law needs to be amended to make it easier for miners to obtain benefits.

        Apparently, that's not good enough. Only 49 percent of those surveyed in eastern Kentucky approved of the governor, compared with 63 percent elsewhere in the state, the poll found.

        Mr. Patton agreed that his relatively low rating in eastern Kentucky was the result of changes to the workers' compensation law. He said the changes had saved the jobs of coal miners, although “it is obvious that many people still don't realize the importance of what we did.”

        In this year's session, the Republicans controlled the Senate for the first time in history. And while Mr. Patton claimed major victories, including his early childhood development initiative, he encountered some stinging defeats, including tax reform and collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

        But things could have been worse, some observers said.

        If Senate Republicans hadn't said no to higher taxes proposed by Mr. Patton, his job approval would have been substantially lower, said Ellen Williams, chairwoman of the state Republican Party.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, made a similar remark.

        Rusty Cheuvront, a spokesman for the governor, called the comments “silly political statements and a ridiculous analysis of the governor's high approval rating.”

        Among Mr. Patton's accomplishments, Mr. Blanchard said, most people would probably mention higher education first. Mr. Patton's leadership, he said, has brought more money, more accessibility and higher standards to higher education.

        Lisa Mingis, 26, a poll respon dent and a nurse in a Louisville pediatric practice, said she thought Mr. Patton's administration also deserved some credit for enrolling low-income children in a free health insurance program.

        The Kentucky Children's Health Insurance Program got off to a slow start, but by August the state had signed up about 55,000 children, officials said. It was made possible by money appropriated by Congress to the states.

        Kevin Moore, 31, a poll respondent from Fern Creek, disapproved of the governor partly because he said Mr. Patton and the legislature had been lax in addressing traffic safety on Interstate 65. Mr. Moore, a retail store manager, said he travels the highway weekly to visit relatives in Bowling Green. He said it's a dangerous road because there are so many speeders and only recently has he noticed more traffic enforcement.


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