Kentucky Politics Front and Center At Fancy Farm

by Rick Howlett on August 4, 2008

More than a century ago, farm families in a small Catholic parish in far western Kentucky began holding a fall harvest picnic. When politicians started showing up and giving stump speeches, attendance grew. Now, as Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh reports, the annual Fancy Farm Picnic draws thousands.

Tiny St. Jerome parish in rural Graves County was again the epicenter of Kentucky politics Saturday. Democrats sat on the left. Republicans on the right. Out front, a boisterous, but evenly divided crowd. Governor Steve Beshear (pictured below) took advantage of the clear lines of demarcation.

“You all see this bunch over here that have the funeral home fans? Well, we’re glad they got those fans, because they’re going to funeral on November 4th, when we bury their candidates!” Beshear said.

Then, the main event…U-S Senator Mitch McConnell versus democrat Bruce Lunsford. When McConnell won the coin toss and opted to go second, Lunsford had his opening line.

“It was interesting that Senator McConnell chose to go second because that’s where he’s going to end up on November 4th!”

And by the end of his speech, Lunsford was sounding a lot like GOP stalwart Ronald Reagan:

“Are you better off? Is the country better off today than it was six years ago? If not, I’m your guy!” he said. Senator McConnell basically ignored Lunsford, spending his six minutes blaming high gas prices on Presidential hopeful Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders.

“If you can’t afford to fill up your tank,” McConnell said, “here is the Obama plan. Obama says pump up your tires and go to Jiffy Lube. Obviously, they’re not serious about lowering gas prices!”

McConnell left the Lunsford bashing to junior Senator Jim Bunning, who accused the Louisville businessman of standing shoulder to shoulder with “Washington, DC liberals.” But Bunning also had the distinction of being the only speaker to exceed the time limit.

Now, good-natured heckling is a Fancy Farm tradition, but climbing onto the stage is another matter. As Senator Bunning prepared to speak, a white haired man holding a banana suddenly appeared onstage, and started heading down the aisle.

“We knew he wasn’t supposed to be there, state Trooper Dean Patterson said. “We just escorted him off. He didn’t cause any problem. He just had the banana in his hand, but he didn’t give us any problems once we escorted him off.”

Patterson said the man posed no serious threat and was not arrested. Apparently it was just too much excitement. Or maybe it was the heat. As usual, temperatures soared into the upper 90’s and breezes were hard to catch. Everyone was dripping sweat. But up the hill, Mary Ann McDaniel of nearby Mayfield, calmly and coolly played her bingo cards and did her best to ignore the politicians.

“I love playing bingo,” she said. “I never go down that way (where the political speeches are held),” McDaniel added. “Never been interested in that. I hear it all the time on TV anyway!”

She’s not alone. For many, the politics are just a sideshow. For them, the picnic is about family and friends, and homecomings. It’s about great food and raising funds for the parish, so they can do it again next year. Even better. Just like they’ve been doing for 128 years.

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