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Old Time Kentucky: Mighty flap over Frankfort fluttered when butterfly named official state insect

By Berry Craig
KyForward columnist

It probably wasn’t the state Senate’s finest hour.

Debate was buzzing, but not over the budget or other weighty legislation. At issue was a bill making the monarch butterfly Kentucky’s official insect.

The measure seemed sure to pass, according to James R. Russell’s story in the Feb. 12, 1976, Louisville Courier-Journal.

But the scribe conceded that rumors were aswirl “that special interest groups were touting the tobacco horn-worm, the horsefly, the long-legged barfly and the nightcrawler.”

The monarch butterfly was runner up to the viceroy  as Kentucky's official state insect (Berry Craig Photo)

This is a painted lady butterfly (Berry Craig Photo)

When it came time to vote on the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tom Ward, D-Versailles, Sen. Eugene Stuart, R-Louisville, offered a counter proposal. The Falls City lawmaker challenged the chamber to make House Speaker Norbert Blume, D-Louisville, state insect.

Stuart acclaimed his nominee as “the silver-tongued, round-chested, ever-present representative from Jefferson 43,” Russell wrote.

Before Stuart’s flight of fancy could take wing, the Blume-for-bug boom went bust.

Undaunted, Stuart proposed an amendment substituting another candidate — “the graying, silver-tongued, broad-chested, fleet-footed” Rep. Larry Hopkins, R-Lexington, a future congressman and candidate for governor.

Sen. Mike Moloney, D-Lexington, suggested Stuart’s “amendment re-enforced the notion that Hopkins was a ‘gadfly.’”

The Democrats enjoyed hefty House and Senate majorities. Moloney warned that if the Hopkins amendment passed, “there would be great danger that somebody might step on the insect and there would be one less member of the minority.”

Laughter ensued as senators rose to hype Hopkins. Stuart’s amendment was defeated “but only after some senators changed their votes when it looked as if Hopkins might, indeed, be in the running.”

Sen. Donald Johnson, R-Newport, was unamused. He harrumphed that “the playful debate” was “a waste of time and money.”

Besides, Johnson predicted the press would lampoon the legislature’s upper chamber for the “silly and frivolous” debate.

Ward, peeved, observed that Johnson “has not introduced any legislation.” Thus, “If money is being wasted, maybe it’s there,” he jabbed Johnson. Stuart, perhaps playing peacemaker, “said that some humor was necessary to drive away the tedium that marks the General Assembly,” Russell wrote.

He added that “after the flapping was over,” the solons agreed, 30-2, to designate the monarch butterfly as Kentucky’s official insect. Johnson, evidently still bugged, apparently voted “nay.”

The House must have swatted down the butterfly bill. Not until 1990 did the General Assembly name a state insect—the orange-and-black-winged viceroy butterfly, which closely resembles the monarch.

Sen. John “Eck” Rose, D-Winchester, sponsored the viceroy bill. The measure was “treated regally” because he was senate president pro tem, the Associated Press explained in a Feb. 26, 1990, C-J story.

The bill “winged out of a House committee” with Rep. Bill Lear, D-Lexington, the only naysayer. Lear was a critic of similar “frivolous” bills, according to the AP.

“I know the entire insect world is holding its breath to see what we do on this,” Lear mocked. “I believe I’ll vote no.”

Lear admitted his dissent could cost him political capital. He mused “that the bills he has sponsored that are pending in the Senate ‘may have just fluttered away,’” the AP reported.


Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history from West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and the author of five books on Kentucky history, including True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo and Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase. Reach him at bcraig8960@gmail.com

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