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.

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