University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
FANCY FARM, Ky. – The political speaking at this year’s annual Fancy Farm Picnic featured the usual barbs traded between Kentucky politicians with the notable exception of the Republican candidate for governor.
Instead, Matt Bevin bemoaned the combative nature of the events and called for unity to solve the state’s problems.
One person who was not impressed was independent gubernatorial candidate Drew Curtis, who was not allowed to participate in the speeches.
“I was bored to tears. I was told that speeches here were supposed to be interesting and relevant, and I didn’t hear either of those things,” said Curtis, who operates a news entertainment website.
After losing the traditional coin flip, Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway spoke first, and kept to his campaign talking points of painting Republican Matt Bevin as a deceptive businessman from New England.
“Matt Bevin isn’t from Kentucky, he’s wrong for Kentucky, and he lies to Kentucky,” said Conway, who poked fun at Bevin for attending a cockfighting rally and for falsely claiming to have attended MIT before attacking his business history.
Conway brought up other talking points from last year’s Republican primary, repeating many of the same charges used by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was sitting on the stage;Conway called Bevin an “East Coast con man” and a “pathological liar.”
He criticized Bevin for saying that early childhood education “serves no purpose,” for opposing a raise in the minimum wage, and for promising to kick a half-a-million Kentuckians off their health-care plans and telling Kentuckians who don’t like it to move. (Bevin last week backed off his vow to immediately end the recent expansion of Medicaid.)
“That’s not Kentucky,” Conway repeated time and again, adding that “after all these questions, Matt Bevin still won’t release his tax returns, just like I have and just like Republicans have in the past.”
Conway accused Bevin of lying to Kentucky about paying his taxes on time, attending a cockfighting rally during last year’s primary race and wanting to hide his finances.
The raucous crowd of several hundred people in and around the covered pavilion waved flags and campaign banners and frequently interrupted the speakers with cheers or chants of derision. But the Republican side of the crowd was unable to maintain any lengthy chants, perhaps reflecting the attitude of the party nominee.
Bevin took an unusual route by not responding to Conway’s remarks and not participating in the usual mudslinging for which Fancy Farm has become famous since it became an obligatory stop for statewide politicians many decades ago.
“We are literally celebrating the very worst elements of the political process,” Bevin said. “We are celebrating our divisions, and we are doing it in a childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues that we face.”
Then he invited the entire crowd, both Democrats and Republicans, to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance to the American flag hanging near the stage.
Bevin said the flag is physically just a piece of cloth, but it represented the great sacrifice of brave men and women. He then pointed out the Kentucky flag, which he said represented unity.
“You can boo all you want, but it doesn’t solve the things that face us in this country,” he said, and Democrats booed louder and longer. He added that prosperity is not a Democrat or Republican thing — nor is having a good paying job, getting a quality education, or treating veterans with respect.
“This is more than just simply whether you’re going to elect a Republican or whether you’re going to elect a Democrat. It’s bigger than the values we represent,” Bevin said. “Despite the division, we are Kentucky.”
Bevin mentioned a few issues, such as pensions and health care, but didn’t outline his positions on them.
After the speeches, Curtis said he wondered where some of the speakers’ jokes came from.
“I don’t know if these guys hired comedy writers or not, but if they did they should fire those people,” Curtis said. “It takes away from them having to explain specifics about what they’re actually going to do.”
Curtis disputed Bevin’s Friday-night claim that Conway’s lack of business experience makes him unqualified to be governor, noting his long experience in government.
“I think they’re just saying it because that’ll stick to him more than anything else,” said Curtis, who said he also dislikes Conway’s constant criticism of Bevin not being from Kentucky.
“I wish they wouldn’t keep playing the East Coast thing over and over again, because … it sounds like anti-immigrant stuff.”
Curtis said the candidates are trying to throw accusations at the wall and see which ones will stick rather than give solutions to Kentucky’s problems.
Curtis has not filed the required petitions with 5,000 registered voters to get on the ballot, but said he will by the deadline of 4 p.m. Aug. 11. The election for governor and other statewide offices is Nov. 3.