Purple cows and partisanship

Purple cows and partisanship
The Kentucky State Capitol

FRANKFORT — Sometimes, it's about more than politics or party. Some time it's substantive; there are even times when it might be about principle.

Then again, it might be about purple cows or sending someone a message.

The Kentucky House of Representatives took up what appeared to be a simple bill Thursday, sponsored by Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville.

Moffett's bill would allow property owners to mark boundary lines with purple paint, much as the Forest Service uses red paint to mark park boundaries.

Maybe it was a little odd that an urban lawmaker was offering a bill which might impact rural areas and hunters, but it didn't sound all that controversial. In fact, Moffett said, the measure could "bring harmony" between hunters and property owners.

Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, lives among the mountains of eastern Kentucky where property disputes are common and go back a hundred years or more.

"This will neither beautify or bring harmony to eastern Kentucky," Hatton said. Boundaries in eastern Kentucky "aren't well marked – they're downright confusing."

People will rush to mark boundaries which aren't surveyed or established by deed, she said.

"Walmart will sell out of purple paint — in every shade of purple," Hatton warned colleagues. "They might even paint the cows purple."

Rep. Scott Wells, R-West Liberty, also used humor to explain how he planned to vote.

"I plan to support this bill because it's bi-partisan," Wells said. "(Moffett) didn't choose red paint or blue paint. He chose purple paint."

Others, like Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, wondered if the measure might be used to fortify otherwise unsubstantiated or disputed property disputes.

But when the vote was tallied, it was clear something was afoot besides policy, party or partisanship or even worries about purple cows.

All but three Democrats voted against the measure — but Moffett isn't House Democrats' favorite Republican so that wasn't surprising.

He's also one of the eight House Republicans seeking to expel former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, after Hoover admitted to signing a confidential settlement of a sexual harassment claim by a former legislative aide.

Hoover, however, seems to have retained the support of a majority of House Republicans which might explain the 24 Republican votes against Moffett's bill, helping to defeat it on a 50-39 vote.

It seems noteworthy, too, that the seven House Republicans who joined Moffett in signing the resolution seeking to oust Hoover also voted for the bill. On the other hand, Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, who signed the same settlement agreement Hoover signed voted with Moffett.

The vote split existing House leadership: Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne and Republican Whip Kevin Bratcher voted for the bill while Majority Leader Jonathan Shell and Caucus Chair David Meade voted against it.

A visibly angry Moffett declined to answer questions afterward.

Others deflected questions about the divide among Republicans on a Republican-sponsored bill.

"That never occurred to me," said Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, when asked if her no vote might be related to the division over Hoover.

"I think it's a clear example of the rural-urban divide," said Rep. Steve Rudy, R-Paducah, who also voted against the bill.

Maybe he's right. The three Democrats who voted for the bill are from Louisville, Covington and Lexington and most of the other seven Republicans who are seeking Hoover's ouster and sided with Moffett in Thursday's vote are from urban areas. Osborne and Bratcher, the two members of leadership who voted with Moffett live in Louisville while Shell lives in Lancaster and Meade in Stanford.

Rudy lives in Paducah but he's part owner of Rudy Farm Center, so he should know.

At least there won't be a herd of purple cows roaming Letcher County any time soon.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.