Even though there are no state elections this year, the political rhetoric was no less feisty at the annual Fancy Farm picnic in far western Kentucky.
Now in its 137th year, Fancy Farm benefits St. Jerome parish in Graves County and combines the bingo and barbecue of a classic church picnic with the rowdy crowds and fiery stump speeches of an old-time political rally.
This year’s picnic, held on Aug. 5, was dominated by Republicans, who are enjoying their majorities in Frankfort and Washington, D.C. Here are highlights of the day’s speeches.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell
McConnell (R) noted how state and national Democrats are struggling and said the party is unlikely to recover from their recent electoral losses. He then cited the clout Kentucky Republicans now wield in Washington with him as Senate Majority Leader, his wife, Elaine Chao, as Secretary of Transportation, and Glasgow native Kelly Knight Craft as the newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador to Canada.
“As a majority leader, I got an opportunity to help President Trump stop the war on coal,” the senator said. “And we stopped the war on coal flat in its tracks.”
McConnell said the most consequential decision of his political career was to block former President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee from confirmation. The senator said that paved the way for President Donald Trump to nominate conservative judge Neil Gorsuch to the high court.
U.S. Rep. James Comer
The 1st district Republican congressman who is serving his first term in Washington said the two major political parties bring vastly different philosophies to the nation’s capitol. He said Democrats want to grow government, create more welfare programs, and accrue huge deficits, while Republicans want to shrink government and move people from welfare to work.
“For Americans to have access to good-paying jobs that provide health care benefits, we must grow the economy… We must eliminate burdensome regulations, reduce middle-class and small business taxes, and cut out-of-control government spending,” Comer said. “I am so happy that we finally have a leader who understands these principles, and I am very proud to have a close working relationship with that leader, President Donald J. Trump.”
Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover
Hoover told the Fancy Farm crowd he was the first Republican House Speaker to address the picnic and he wouldn’t be the last, thanks to sweeping GOP gains in the commonwealth. He said in the eight years of the Obama Administration, 308,000 Kentuckians became newly registered Republicans whereas state Democrats only gained 18,000 new registrations.
Even as the commonwealth has become more Republican, Hoover admitted to having some pity for Kentucky Democrats.
“I feel sorry for them because the last eight years they’ve been running and hiding and trying to defend the anti-Kentucky policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” Hoover said.
State House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins
The Democrat from Sandy Hook said he’s been travelling the state since the legislative session to hear how the policies passed by the GOP majorities are already hurting Kentuckians. Adkins said the repeal of the prevailing wage law is taking money from the pockets of blue-collar workers, and he said the passage of charter school legislation would take public education funding and give it to private, for-profit companies that would operate the charters. He also criticized Sen. McConnell for secretly drafting health care legislation that [would] cost 500,000 Kentuckians their insurance coverage.
Adkins then urged the crowd to join state Democrats in their efforts to protect public education, health care, and pension benefits for teachers and state employees.
“If you believe in standing up for hard working people who build our communities from the ground up, then I would encourage you to stand with us, stand with the Kentucky House Democrats,” said Adkins.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear
The Democrat noted his ongoing battles with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, and said it’s his job as attorney general to defend the state constitution and serve as a check against any governor who claims absolute authority.
Beshear praised Congressman Comer for releasing his tax returns and said that he was doing the same. Beshear then challenged every statewide constitutional officer as well as Speaker Hoover and state Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) to follow suit ahead of a potential special legislative session to overhaul the state tax codes.
“At a time when their plan for tax reform would let millionaires keep more while you and I pay more, we deserve to know if our leaders are enriching themselves,” Beshear said.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles
Qaurles (R) listed the promises he made as a candidate and has kept since becoming commissioner 19 months ago. He said he has launched an initiative to address food insecurity among impoverished Kentuckians, opened international markets for Kentucky farm products, and expanded the state’s hemp crop and processing capacity.
“Kentucky is leading the nation in the race to become the epicenter of the hemp industry,” said Quarles, “just like we used to be when my great-grandfather grew hemp for World War II.”
Quarles also teased a forthcoming major announcement about a signature agricultural industry that he said would benefit the entire state.
Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon
Harmon (R) recapped several of the high-profile audits his office has conducted, including the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program Fund, the KFC YUM Center in Louisville, and the University of Louisville Foundation. Harmon said his office provided U of L with a roadmap for correcting the foundation’s problems for a fraction of the cost of the organization’s own forensic audit.
“The motto that we brought to the auditor’s office is to follow the data, which means we’re not going to target anyone, nor are we going to give anyone a pass,” Harmon said. “Instead we’re going to keep a watchful eye on how your tax dollars are being spent at all levels of government.”
State Sen. Stan Humphries
The Cadiz Republican said some lawmakers question paying for a special session to address pension and tax reform. But he said if a person needs immediate help in an emergency room, you don’t ask how much gas money it will take to get there. He said enacting those reforms will take a bipartisan effort.
“The solvency of our pension system is in jeopardy,” Humphries said. “We want it to be 100 percent solvent. That’s going to take a lot of work on both sides of the aisle: Republicans and Democrats… I assure you your Kentucky Senate is committed honoring and saving our state pension plans.”
Rep. Stan Heath
Heath credited President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell for turning the nation around and fighting for Kentucky’s coal and farming communities. The Mayfield Republican also promoted pro-life and pro-business legislation passed by the GOP-controlled state House this year, which he said will help unleash the state’s potential.
“The new majority in Frankfort is focused on doing the people’s business,” Heath said. “We are working hard to bring each and every one of you a better Kentucky.”
Libertarian Party National Committee Chairman Nicholas Sarwark
Sarwark traveled from his home in Phoenix to address the Graves County crowd. After taking several shots at Washington politics and politicians, Sarwark said Libertarians have crazy ideas, such as not sending American soldiers to fight in the civil wars of other nations. He also said military veterans suffering from physical and psychological injuries should be allowed access to marijuana to help treat their pain instead of being left to become addicted to opioids.
“I don’t know why my friends on both sides of the aisle want to have veterans keep coming back here and dying of opioid overdoses because neither of them have the bravery to stand up and legalize marijuana here in the state of the Kentucky,” said Sarwark.