Sunday, May 20, 2001

Kentucky politics

Patton has air of a man with a mission

        Some state Republican Party officials got a little mileage recently in downstate papers calling Gov. Paul Patton, who is about midway through his second term, a lame duck.

        Are you kidding me?

        Mr. Patton, a Pikeville Democrat, still has plenty of legislation and initiatives he wants to move through the legislature, among them workers' comp reform and a bill mandating trash collection in all of Kentucky's counties.

        Whether he will succeed is another matter, but he certainly will try.

        But the real reason Mr. Patton has no plans to sit on his laurels is because he wants to take on Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, in the 2004 U.S. Senate race.

        So expect to see more activity from Mr. Patton as we did this week.

        First, Mr. Patton signed an executive order creating a task force that will concentrate on smart growth.

        Smart growth is a broad term that basically means better planning when it comes to development. It's a big issue in the urban and suburban areas of Northern Kentucky, Louisville and Lexington.

        Friday, Mr. Patton formally proposed giving 30,000 state government workers the opportunity to join labor unions.

        This isn't to suggest that Mr. Patton has any political motives in either of these moves. But you can make the case that his actions could boost his Senate campaign.

        The smart-growth deal could help with suburban voters who have fled the Democratic Party in recent years. Lots of dads and moms are tired of sitting in traffic as strip malls and subdivisions spread unchecked and their kids' classrooms begin to burst at the seams.

        The move toward allowing state workers to join unions is an overture to organized labor, which is still steamed at Mr. Patton for his original 1995 workers' comp reform bill that made it harder for injured workers, especially coal miners, to collect benefits.

        Mr. Patton will need his once-solid coal mining/eastern Kentucky base to beat Mr. Bunning. The governor tried to grease labor during the General Assembly session earlier this year with a bill relaxing some of his original workers' comp reforms, but Senate Republicans - ever mindful of Mr. Patton's plans to take on Mr. Bunning - killed the reform before it came up for a vote.

        Look for Mr. Patton to stay plenty active. The 2004 race is closer than you think.

        Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd's plan for a Northern Kentucky regional jail hit the ground with a thud..

        Boone County is about to build a new jail without the public opposition the Kenton County Fiscal Court finds every time it comes up with a new jail site. And Campbell County has a relatively new, problem-less jail in Newport.

        Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Kenton County.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at (859) 578-5581, or at


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