Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

Opinion

July 11, 2014

Tompkinsville, here we come

FRANKFORT — I spent some time this week with Republicans Hal Heiner and James Comer as well as Democrat Jack Conway.

Heiner and Conway have announced they’re running for governor next year. Comer plans to announce his 2015 “intentions” from the speaking stage at the Aug. 2 Fancy Farm Picnic.

It’s a pretty safe bet he “intends” to run and will say so at Fancy Farm. But I guarantee he’ll delay any formal announcement until he can go home to Tompkinsville to make it official – probably in the first 10 days of September.

I’m looking forward to that, not just because I’ll have one more candidate to cover but to learn what some of my big-city friends in the press corps make of Tompkinsville. Maybe I can persuade a couple of them to visit Dovie’s for a Dovie burger. I might get to introduce them to Alonzo Ford, Wes Stephens or Windell Carter.

You see, I’m a country boy through and through. In my youth, I sometimes tried to disguise that after going away to the big university in Lexington and making friends with sophisticates from Trinity and St. X. I recall Tim Heustis, Tommy Schoenbachler, Bob Mills and Kip Knight laughing at my pronunciations of school and pool (they kept asking me what happened to the “L”).

But over time, I learned it’s easier for country folk to learn the ways of the city than it is for city folk to learn the ways of Kentucky’s small towns and rural places. Oh sure, those country boys sound funny to city folk, but the urbanites never seem to catch on that when they go to places like Tompkinsville, they’re the ones who talk funny.

I remember trailing after Republican gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher in 2003 when he visited Tompkinsville and Monroe County. Neither I nor Fletcher realized it at the time, but the visit was a harbinger of things to come: the merit system scandal Fletcher would later endure and that provided me lots of stories to write just as I arrived in my present job in Frankfort.

Try to understand. Monroe County isn’t just Republican by registration – it’s congenitally Republican. Members of the Grand Old Party outnumber Democrats 7.5 to 1 in the county on the Tennessee border. As Franklin Graves, 73, a rare Democrat living in Monroe County, told me this spring at the Fountain Run Barbecue Festival, “It’s downright dangerous being a Democrat around here.”

Back in 2003, one older man outside the Monroe County Courthouse that day asked Fletcher if he’d hire more Republicans to work at the “county barn” – the universal rural term for the local branch of the state transportation department.

You see, while Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the county 7.5 to 1, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the county barn 13-1. The old man thought it high time a Republican governor adjusted those numbers in favor of Republicans.

I also remember others that day quizzing Fletcher about how he’d found the place. As one fellow put it, “You can’t get here from nowhere else. When are we going to get some gall-durned roads down here?”

I understood even better than Fletcher did. I’d grown up in neighboring Barren County; played (survived is a better description) high school football against Frank Pettit’s Tompkinsville Bears; and knew that Monroe County felt ignored by a string of Democratic administrations since Louie Nunn had been the last Republican governor every bit as much as they resented those patronizing, snotty Glasgow Scotties.

Lord, I’m dying to go back. Almost as much as I’m looking forward to watching those big city reporters visit Tompkinsville.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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