Monday, August 31, 2015

Drew Curtis, independent candidate for governor, says he's a pragmatist

"Drew Curtis has been using humor to address serious issues for years, but when things started falling in place for the 2015 Kentucky gubernatorial election, he decided it was time to get serious about making a change," Cheyene Miller writes for the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at the University of Kentucky, in an article headlined "Drew Curtis: long shot, high hopes."

Miller continues, "Running on the Independent ticket, the owner and founder of, a community website where members can comment on news articles with satirical headlines, said he decided to run based on a general frustration with the quality of people that are running for office.

"Curtis has no political background and said that gives him a unique insight," Miller reports. "He doesn’t identify as liberal or conservative, but 'pragmatic,' in that he wants to make the state government work more efficiently." Miller notes that Curtis got 8 percent in the most recent Bluegrass Poll, which showed Democrat Jack Conway at 45 percent and Republican Matt Bevin at 42 percent.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Weekly newspaper posts video of its interview with Bevin

Jay Nolan of The Mountain Advocate in Barbourville interviewed Republican candidate Matt Bevin during Bevin's Aug. 13 visit to Knox County. Here's a video of the interview, also available at

Friday, August 7, 2015

A reporter's impressions of his first Fancy Farm Picnic

OPINION by Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

FANCY FARM, Ky. -- No matter how prepared you think you are, nothing can prepare one for the pugnacious atmosphere that is the political speaking at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic.

Once a year, nearly every Kentucky politician of note converges on the small far-Western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm, population 458 as of the last U.S. census.  A stage is set up for the politicians to speak in the presence of thousands of Kentuckians feasting on both barbecue and partisan diatribes.

I was once told that if you’re a Kentucky politician, it’s news when you decide not to attend Fancy Farm Picnic, as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul did this year, instead campaigning in Iowa for president.

Some view the event as a chance for Kentucky politicians to roast each other and endorse their parties platforms while Kentucky citizens dine on well-cooked meat.

Others, like Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, view it as an event that celebrates the ugly side of our political process in this country. Divisiveness and ideological polarities are certainly practiced, if not outright celebrated.

From Kentucky Republicans poking fun at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Jack Conway’s well-kempt hair to Democrats taking shots at Bevin’s tax history, no politician is safe and nearly all aspects of their background are open to ridicule.

The jokes at times were funny and in good taste – Democrats making cracks at Bevin’s appearance at a cockfighting rally near the end of his primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell last year is always worth a chuckle.

Others were poorly executed and nonsensical.  Democratic agriculture commissioner candidate Jean-Marie Lawson Spann made fun of opponent Ryan Quarles for claiming to have six college degrees and an Ivy League education – last I checked those were things to aspire to and not mock.

The Democratic and Republican candidates gather with their respected parties and sit across the stage from one another, exchanging snarls and the occasional smirk.

The crowd follows suit, holding up signs with outrageous statements -- like Conway supports the killing of innocent babies -- and heckling opposing party speakers at every chance.

The gubernatorial candidates had to work uphill to fight stereotypes that are justified in some ways and the result of partisan mudslinging in others.

Conway detractors say he lacks the private sector experience to serve as governor, having served most of his professional life as an elected official.  Conway could do a better job pointing out that Bevin has only private sector experience and none as an elected official.

Critics of Bevin say he is deceitful and has a shady history as a businessman.  Bevin could probably do a better job fighting this image if he would follow Kentucky tradition and release his tax records.  That is unless he has something to hide, in which case he’s in trouble either way.

Regardless of whether or not Conway and Bevin can shake these negative images that have stuck to them in the past few months, one thing is clear based on my Fancy Farm Picnic experience – Kentucky politics are not for the faint of heart.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Democrats seeking lesser offices attack Bevin while their Republican opponents attack Obama and Conway

FANCY FARM, Ky. – The focus of the political speaking at the Fancy Farm Picnic is on those holding or seeking top-ranking offices, but is also a valuable opportunity for other statewide candidates to connect with the politically minded crowd and a statewide television audience. Cheyene Miller of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications wrote this account of their speeches, in the order they were given Saturday.

Lieutenant Governor

Like her running mate, Jack Conway, state House Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris focused on criticizing Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin.  She did not mention her opponent, Jenean Hampton of Bowling Green.

Overly began by saying that at the picnic, the “line for the barbecue is as long as Matt Bevin’s nose,” and said he wants to keep Kentucky workers at the current minimum wage.

She talked about being raised in Bourbon County with Kentucky values, which she says Bevin lacks. Sounding a refrain used by other Democrats, she said, “Matt Bevin isn’t from Kentucky, he’s wrong for Kentucky, and he’s lied to Kentucky.”

Overly said she had never seen anything like the Republican primary, which “had three very qualified Kentucky candidates with long histories in their community, and they went with Matt Bevin.”

Hampton made history by becoming the first black woman to speak on the stage at Fancy Farm, which she immediately referenced.

“I know for some of you I’m an anomaly, I know I’m something you haven’t seen, I’m a black conservative,” said Hampton, asking the crowd to judge her by her character and qualifications.

Like her running mate, Hampton avoided attacks and counterattacks. She spoke about her service in the Air Force and growing up in Detroit saying she “rose from the wreckage of the inner city by rejecting voices that said I was a victim.”

Hampton said that success can often depend on someone saying “you’re better than this,” and that applies to Kentucky.

Agriculture Commissioner

Democrats continued to make things personal, as agriculture-commissioner candidate Jean Marie Lawson Spann said Republican opponent Ryan Quarles has said he has six college degrees and quoted one of her friends as saying “This fella has spent so much time getting degrees that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”

Spann called herself a proud product of public education in Kentucky, and cited her experience growing up in a farm family as one of her qualifications for the job.

Quarles implied that his opponent’s farm credentials are suspect. “Kentucky deserves a commissioner with a real farm background,” he said.

Quarles recounted his experience growing up on a farm, doing everything from working with tobacco and livestock to shoveling cow manure, a job which he says “prepared me well for Frankfort politics.”

Promising to stand up to “Obama liberals both in Washington (D.C.) and in Frankfort,” Quarles said the choice is between someone who voted for the president and someone who didn’t.

Attorney General

Democratic candidate Andy Beshear, the son of Gov. Steve Beshear, Beshear said he has consistently been ranked among the top attorneys in America and that he takes on the “big, complex cases.”

He promised to fight Marathon Oil to make sure that Kentuckians pay fair gas prices, fight child abuse and drugs, find better drug-treatment methods, and protect senior citizens from fraud.

Beshear then returned to grilling his opponent, state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville, accusing him of not understanding the attorney general’s budget.

Earlier, he said politicians try to avoid put their feet in their mouths at Fancy Farm, but “We know that if my opponent puts his foot in his mouth, it’ll be clean, well-trimmed and polished.” That was a reference to a news report that Westerfield missed work to get a pedicure.

Westerfield replied, “I did have a pedicure at lunch but I’m ready to go toe-to-toe with you right now.”

Westerfield pointed out that he’s the only candidate who’s been a prosecutor, and that he has experience fighting drugs and child abuse.

Alluding to Beshear’s heavy funding from interests who stand to gain or lose at the hands of his father’s administration, Westerfield said, “The Beshears are cashing checks that should never have been written.”

Quoting the old expression that there is no education in the second kick of a mule, he said ”There’s no sense in electing another Beshear in Kentucky.”

Westerfield concluded by saying the state needs to protect religious freedom and public officials who exercise it – a reference to the three or four Kentucky county clerks who are refusing to issue any marriage licenses in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision for nationwide gay marriage.

Secretary of State

After sitting through jabs at her refusal to say who she voted for in the 2012 presidential election, Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes wasted no time in returning the heat toward Kentucky Republicans.

Repeating McConnell’s attacks on Bevin in last year’s Senate primary, she said, “See, Mitch and I actually do agree on some things.” Grime lost to McConnell in the general election.

Grimes then fired at her opponent, Erlanger Council Member Steve Knipper, saying “The last time this office was on the ballot, the Republican who wants to be Kentucky’s chief election official … didn’t even vote.”

Rehashing Republican attack ads from last year’s Senate race, Knipper began his speech by accusing Grimes of spending half her work time running for the Senate.

“You actually have to be in office to accomplish something, and that hasn’t always been the case with Ms. Grimes,” he said.

Knipper said Democrats had attacked Bevin for having something to hide while Grimes had been away from her duties.  He then threw in his approval of Bevin, saying that he had the job experience to improve Kentucky’s economy, and that Knipper himself had the technological skills.

Auditor of Public Accounts

Republican state Rep. Mike Harmon of Danville sarcastically said that the Democratic side of the crowd would boo him even though they knew deep in their hearts that he would be a much better state auditor than incumbent Adam Edelen.

“Well, go ahead and boo, I’m a big guy, I can handle it. I won’t cry like Jack Conway,” Harmon said, referring to the tears Conway shed when explaining his decision not to appeal one of the same-sex marriage rulings that the Supreme Court upheld.

Harmon claimed Edelen switched parties in high school in hopes of being governor, and criticized Edelen for not filling out a questionnaire from Kentucky Right to Life, which endorsed Harmon.

Like his fellow Republicans, Harmon connected Kentucky Democrats to Obama, and encouraged the crowd to give Republicans power in the state capital.

Edelen spoke briefly about his office’s efforts to make a count on unprocessed rape kits to aid sexual assault victims, then about his parents, who taught him the value of hard work, education and meeting their obligations.

“Those are true family values,” he said, accusing Republicans of not being genuine in their advocacy of Christian values.

“Kicking half a million Kentuckians off the insurance rolls with a stroke of a pen is callous, it’s not Christian,” Edelen said, referring to Bevin’s plan to shut down the state health-insurance exchange and original plan to repeal Medicaid expansion.  “Maybe this side of the aisle should put down the books of Ayn Rand and pick up the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”

Edelen said the election is a battle between “the mainstream and the extreme,” and “values that say ‘we understand we owe a little something, against the law of the jungle.”

State Treasurer

Republican candidate Allison Ball of Prestonsburg spent much of her speech differentiating herself and the other candidate with a similar name.

“I’m the good Allison,” she said in reference to Grimes. 

Ball described herself as a friend of coal and said she voted against Obama.

Finally turning to her opponent, state Rep. Rick Nelson of Middlesboro, Ball said she was the only qualified candidate due to her experience as a bankruptcy attorney, while her opponent is a retired teacher and a liberal Democrat.

Nelson said that he had never been called a liberal, and said his National Rifle Association rating “is 20 points higher than Allison’s.” He said he makes it a policy not to engage in mudslinging.

Nelson, a retired teacher, said a teacher’s life is hard has the opportunity to change lives.  He said his coal-mining family had few material possessions, but lived well with what they had.

“I believe that I have the life experience and the job experience to be your next Kentucky treasurer,” he said.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Conway attacks, Bevin gets philosophical; independent Curtis says he was bored by Fancy Farm speeches

By Cheyene Miller
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.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bevin says Conway not qualified; Conway and Beshear say Bevin is not living up to his stated Christian values

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

MAYFIELD, Ky. – The 2015 Kentucky governor’s race heated up just ahead of the annual Fancy Farm Picnic as both candidates leveled attacks against one another.

At a Republican dinner Friday night, Matt Bevin said of Democrat Jack Conway, “He’s not qualified to be the governor of this state” because of his lack of business experience.

“He never served this nation in the military. He’s never made payroll.  He’s never worked in the private sector except a few months at a time working for his dad between political gigs,” Bevin told reporters after the Marshall County dinner.  “He has no qualifications to be governor other than the fact that he is the result of a system that has groomed him for this from the time he was born.”

Conway fired back Saturday morning by touting his experience as a private-sector attorney and his fiscal responsibility as attorney general,  nd questioning Bevin’s own qualifications. “I am one heck of a lot more qualified to be governor than Matt Bevin is,” Conway told reporters.  He said Bevin “couldn’t even tell a group of retirees a few weeks ago” a key facet of concern about state pension funding. 

“Matt Bevin has a platform on education that’s a bunch of platitudes that would decimate public education in this state, Conway said. Matt Bevin just a couple of months ago went on statewide TV and said early education serves no purpose.  That doesn’t sound like someone’s who’s qualified to be governor to me.”

Bevin accused Kentucky Democrats of sweeping issues like the legislative sexual-harassment scandal under the rug during their longstanding dominance in Frankfort.

“I can’t imagine a locker room anywhere that you would find this kind of behavior let alone from elected officials in the state’s capital,” said Bevin in reference to the legislature’s recent settlement of a lawsuit by staff members claiming harassment by Democratic House members. “How shameful that we’re in a situation that we had to settle such a thing.”

Bevin and other Republicans at the dinner spoke about conservative values. “We need to stop apologizing for the Christian principles, the great American values that make this country great,” he said to applause.

Conway, at the Graves County Democratic breakfast, accused Bevin of not applying his Christian morals to his policies, saying that ending the Medicaid expansion that serves more than 400,000 would not be a Christian thing to do, and that voters should elect someone who “understands that the truly Christian thing to do is to say that we are our brother’s keeper and healthcare for our people makes us a healthier and better society.”

Bevin said for months that he would end the Medicaid expansion, but during and after a forum with Conway this week, he said he would transition the expansion clients to a less expensive program, perhaps like Indiana’s, in which clients can pay premiums to get better benefits and get refunds if they don’t use the benefits.

Conway based his message at the Democratic breakfast in Mayfield on whom voters could trust come November.  He painted Bevin as an untrustworthy New Englander, a similar strategy used by Republicans last year when Bevin challenged U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear accused Republicans of trying to “put one over” on Kentucky citizens.

“Just last year they said, they told everybody in Kentucky that Matt Bevin was an east coast con man and a psychological [sic] liar.  A year later, all at once, they’re telling us he’s somehow worthy of being governor,” Beshear said. “I believe in recycling as much as anybody, but this is ridiculous.”
He added, “The values that I was brought up with here by my dad and mom, those values of faith, family and hard work, are the same values that we instill in our two sons Jeff and Andrew.  And now those same values are being instilled in our grandchildren. And I’ll tell you something, when you instill those values and you care about people, you end up being a Democrat.”

Comer and McConnell stump for former foe Bevin

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

MAYFIELD, Ky., Aug. 1 -- Top Republicans who have clashed recently displayed unity this morning before the Fancy Farm Picnic. GOP gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin received endorsements from the man he barely defeated this spring, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer; and the man who whipped him last spring, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The Graves County Republican breakfast was Bevin's first appearance on a program with McConnell, who got 60 percent of the vote in defeating him in the 2014 Senate primary, and the first political appearance for Comer since he lost to Bevin by 83 votes in this year's primary for governor.

Comer delivered the stronger endorsement, saying of Bevin, "He's a good man. He's a good leader, and he has good ideas, and he has a good team. If we work hard for Matt Bevin, then he can change this state and he can move Kentucky forward, and he can make Kentucky proud again. And he can make the kind of governor that we've dreamed of having my entire life."

Bevin loved Comer's vote-margin shirt.
Comer gave Bevin a University of Cincinnati shirt with the number 83 on the back, signifying the primary margin and Bevin's strong performance in Northern Kentucky, where Comer's running mate, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is from.

McConnell, speaking earlier about the nature of primaries, said Comer "would have made a great candidate for governor, but he came in second, and he's a good sport, and he's here, and he's supporting Matt Bevin."

As for their own primary, McConnell said of Bevin, "As I think by any objective standard he took a pretty big butt-kicking in the primary last year."

As the growd guffawed, Bevin interjected, "this was supposed to happen at Fancy Farm."

McConnell said Bevin could have said, "I've had enough of this business. But he didn't give up. and he wanted to try to make a difference, and try to change this state. And, boy, this state needs changing, big time."

After citing things that he said make the state uncompetitive, McConnell said, "We've got to change this state, and it all begins with the governor's election and the [state] House next year and we're gonna let 'em down, right?"

With that, McConnell returned to his main topic area, national issues and his new role as Senate majority leader. Earlier he won applause by saying that he has scheduled for Monday a vote on legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, currently the main target of anti-abortion forces.

The legislation has raised the prospect of another budget impasse that could shut down the federal government, but McConnell told reporters afterward that there would be no government shutdown.