Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

August 10, 2012

Fancy Farm may be an anachronism

Glasgow Daily Times

FRANKFORT — With another birthday come and gone, I’m unable to lie to myself: I’m old. But now I’m not only old, I’m an anachronism.

You see, I still love Fancy Farm, that peculiarly Kentucky political tradition of “pork, pie and politics” as it is billed on KET. It’s the largest political picnic in the world, full of bombast, but also full of history as well as histrionics.

Where else can you find 15,000 people descending on a small farm community of less than 500 people, where close to 20,000 pounds of pork and mutton are served to those thousands, and where politicians must submit themselves and their ability to make a stump speech to the hoots and hollers of hecklers?

The ghosts and memories of A.B. “Happy” Chandler, Alben Barkley, Emerson “Doc” Beauchamp and even George Wallace hover over the place. Some sort of news seems to happen every year, even in those years when no one expects any. Little Green Men haunt politicians like Jim Bunning and Jerry Lundergan brings a basket of blackberries for Gov. Ernie Fletcher. In 100-degree heat, Mitch McConnell’s young supporters sport the garb of Middle East oil sheiks, their perspiration-soaked fake beards sliding down their sweaty cheeks, while they taunt McConnell’s opponent Bruce Lunsford.

But nothing ever stays the same as we old people are apt to lament. Even at Fancy Farm – where at one time the politicians gave their speeches beneath an old oak tree rather than from the relative comfort of a roofed pavilion with ceiling fans over the speaking stage. In 1974, lightning struck and killed the tree, prompting former Republican Gov. Louie B. Nunn to observe, “Too much fertilizer will kill anything.”

Change was evident this year. Elected Democrats stayed away from what once was a thoroughly Democratic affair and Republicans mocked them for it. McConnell even took roll, calling out the names of Gov. Steve Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson and others who failed to show. The Democrats had their reasons: Beshear was in Europe and Abramson had a family commitment, his wedding anniversary.  (Cynics thought Barack Obama might have something to do with it.)

But now we know the real reason. Fancy Farm is an anachronism. Just ask Abramson.

“I am one who thinks Fancy Farm is an anachronism,” the lieutenant governor told the Louisville Rotary Club Thursday. “I think the days of yelling and screaming at folks who are up on the stage – just to yell and scream and make fun of them – are days of the past.” (You can see Abramson making those comments on the CN/2 website.)

That prompted former Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who has had his own uncomfortable moments on the Fancy Farm speaking stand, to observe on Twitter: “I guess he doesn’t want to be governor after all.”

I like Abramson. He’s a good retail politician. He seems genuinely to like hobnobbing with folks in the Capitol annex cafeteria. He performed well last year at Fancy Farm. But he can be thin-skinned at times. I learned that at Fancy Farm a couple of years ago when Abramson thought it important to be there shortly after Beshear named him as his 2011 running mate.

I followed Abramson that day, pestering him with questions about the reception the big city liberal mayor received in rural, conservative western Kentucky. He told me he was enjoying himself – except for me and my questions.

But then in today’s era of slick television ads and focus group-tested talking points, just like Fancy Farm, I may have become an anachronism.