Fancy Farm 2023: BBQ, down ballot matchups and zingers galore

Published 9:11 pm Saturday, August 5, 2023

Every Kentuckian knows the first Saturday in May is dedicated to the Derby. But they may not know that another first Saturday, this one in August, marks the start of an entirely different horse race.

The entire slate of candidates running in Kentucky’s November general election showed up to the 143rd St. Jerome Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday, armed with their best — and most cutting — political jokes.

Several hundred picnic goers watched as the candidates took turns jabbing each other. The two sides of the crowd — Democrats on the left, Republicans on the right — alternated between cheers, boos and chants, depending on the party of the candidate on stage.

A few overarching themes emerged from the candidate matchups.

Republicans worked to tie Democrat Gov. Andy Beshear to President Joe Biden. Beshear has mostly avoided connecting himself to Biden, instead marketing his administration as more moderate than the national Democratic Party.

Several Republicans referred to the “Biden-Beshear economy” and the “Biden-Beshear woke agenda” during their speeches, saying that while Beshear pretends not to know Biden, he actually is beholden to his interests.

Candidates from opposite parties also disagreed on the Kentucky economy.

While Beshear touted economic successes like record low unemployment and the largest rainy day fund in state history, Republicans talked about how there are less Kentuckians working than when Beshear took office, pre-pandemic, and how Beshear vetoed the bill slashing state income taxes.

Conspicuously absent from any of the speeches was mention of former President Donald Trump, who was arraigned for a fourth time this week on charges related to interference in the 2020 election.

However, several other national figures made their mark, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has served in the Senate since 1984.

McConnell’s arrival comes after concerns about his health after a press conference freeze-up last week in D.C. All seemed well as the senator made jabs at Beshear, calling him the “shut down governor.”

“I know a little something about beating Beshear,” McConnell said, referring to Beshear’s father and former governor Steve Beshear who once ran against McConnell. “Woke was what he did from his nightmare Senate race in 1997.”

U.S. Rep. James Comer, who serves as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also showed up to talk about his investigation into Hunter Biden’s dealings with foreign countries.

Each race on the ballot had a matchup.

Beshear v. Daniel Cameron—Governor

Beshear and Attorney General Daniel Cameron mostly stuck to their normal stump speeches.

Beshear focused on natural disaster recovery, economic successes and infrastructure projects.

He highlighted the rebuilding being done in Western and Eastern Kentucky at a Graves County Democratic Breakfast before the picnic.

“We moved from building homes to building neighborhoods. Mayfield is coming back,” he said.

“When we come to Western Kentucky we’re gonna get you results, not just bring politics.”

Beshear was making a contrast between himself and Cameron, who he said prioritized a political rally — Fancy Farm — over being present for Eastern Kentucky flood recovery last year.

He also marketed himself as a moderate who would work for all Kentuckians, no matter their political affiliation.

“There’s no Democrat or Republican bridges, a good job isn’t blue or red,” he said. “The most important thing for a governor is getting the job done.”

Cameron, for his part, attacked Beshear on social issues, saying his values do not align with Kentucky’s.

He called out Beshear for vetoing the state income tax cut and the bill that prohibits transgender athletes from competing in girl’s and women’s sports.

He also repeated the claim that Beshear supports sex-change surgeries for minors, since he vetoed SB150, the bill that would ban the procedure, in addition to hormone therapy, puberty blockers and several other provisions.

Beshear was unable to line-item veto the bill, meaning he had to veto the entire bill or none of it. He has said repeatedly that he does not support sex-change surgeries for minors, but was against several other provisions in the bill.

He also mentioned, along with several other Republican candidates, a photo Beshear took in 2020 with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a satirical gay and lesbian group that dresses in drag as Catholic nuns and priests, as evidence of Beshear being out of line with Kentucky values.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words,” Cameron said, pointing to a sign with the photo in the crowd. “Well, there it is.”

Cameron said his administration would ensure that Kentucky values like faith, family and community would be preserved.

“We can also make sure that our schools are about reading, writing and math, and they’re not incubators for liberal and progressive ideas,” he said.

Robby Mills v. Jacqueline Coleman—Lieutenant Governor

Jacqueline Coleman’s speech called on a bit of deja vu. She brought up one of the main issues of the 2019 election, former Gov. Matt Bevin’s so-called “sewer bill” that would have slashed pensions for teachers, law enforcement and social workers.

“We know it’s an election year because this side is during off Matt Bevin’s old playbook and he is attacking our schools again,” she said. “It didn’t work then, and it’s not going to work now.”

Coleman pointed out that her election counterpart, Republican lawmaker Robby Mills, was a proponent of the sewer bill, and wanted to launch a special session to try to pass it after it initially failed.

Mills barely mentioned Coleman, but didn’t spare any digs at Beshear. He joked that it was nice to see Beshear outside of a press conference, since he does not have a working relationship with the GOP legislature.

“The only time we hear from him is in a veto message and we all know how those end,” Mills said.

Russell Coleman v. Pam Stevenson—Attorney General

The Coleman-Stevenson matchup lasered in on one issue — the bar exam.

Col. Pam Stevenson, a Democratic state representative, has not yet taken the bar exam, which is required to practice law in Kentucky. She has passed the bar in Indiana, however, and her campaign has said she is on track to being admitted to the Kentucky Bar by the election.

Coleman said that it was an easy choice in November, given this fact.

Stevenson said that she was more qualified than the current attorney general, Cameron, and Coleman, with 27 years of service in the Air Force and decades of law practice.

“Now I know these boys have decided to make a big ado about my bar status, but I would do the same if I had to compete against my resume,” Stevenson said. “Lord knows, and I know the Lord, that some of these boys wouldn’t even make it out of boot camp.”

Michael Adams v. Charles “Buddy” Wheatley—Secretary of State

Wheatley, a former member of the Kentucky House of Representatives with experience as a labor and employment attorney, knocked Adams for his record as current secretary of state.

Adams reduced the number of polling places in 2022, Wheatley said, which made it harder for some segments of the population to vote, leading to lower turnout.

He said that if he were elected, he would establish a full two weeks of early voting ahead of elections, and that polls would be open until 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Adams went personal in his attacks against Wheatley, who has previously gotten a DUI. . He said that since Beshear took office, the Democrats have lost 150,000 registered voters.

“My opponent is not faring any better. In the polls he’s only getting 24%, in third place behind undecided,” Adams said. “But for the first time, he’s relieved to see a number above 0.08%.”

Adams touted his record, which includes passing photo ID to vote requirements, ushering in over 100,000 Kentucky businesses and conducting the nation’s first successful election during a pandemic.

Jonathan Shell v. Sierra Enlow—Agricultural Commissioner

Shell leaned into the Biden-Beshear comparison, saying that their collective “woke agenda” is a threat to Kentuckians’ way of life.

“Rural Kentuky needs a fighter in Frankfort with the experience to lead and the backbone to stand up for our values,” he said.

Enlow, an economic development consultant, said that the agriculture commissioner job should be about economic investment, and thus she has the most experience.

She also criticized current Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles for the rollout of hemp, which she said was a failure that left farmers hanging. She said that with her in charge, the medical marijuana rollout would run more smoothly.

Allison Ball v. Kim Reeder—Auditor

Kim Reeder took the stage to the Republican side of the crowd’s collective chant — “who are you?”

Reeder is an Eastern Kentucky native who built her own tax practice and has been named one of the top ten tax attorneys in North America. She emphasized that experience in her remarks.

“I’m not just a career politician trying to get another political job,” she said. “I’m a professional.”

Ball, Reeder’s opponent, has been questioned about her political ambitions. She just completed two terms as state treasurer, and her detractors have said that she is just biding her time until she can run for governor.

Ball said that actually, going from treasurer to auditor makes perfect sense. Both jobs are watchdog roles — one at the front end of the state’s money and the other at the back end.

She said she would fight against the ESG movement, an investment strategy that prioritizes investing in companies that meet environmental social governance goals. Ball says ESG targets coal, a key Kentucky industry.

She made an on-theme numbers-based joke, saying that the Democrats have a numbers problem, with its small minority in the legislature and economics policies.

“This Republican ticket, on the other hand, is the only one with the numbers to make Kentucky great again,” she said.

“We’ve lowered your taxes, we’ve created jobs, and as state treasurer, I’ve made sure that all 171 School districts have the resources to teach financial literacy for the next generation.”

Mark Metcalf v. Michael Bowman—Treasurer

The final matchup began with Mark Metcalf, who echoed Ball’s opposition to “woke” ESG investment strategies.

He said he would not “weaponize” Kentucky’s pensions and tax dollars to comply with ESG goals.

Bowman, who has previously worked as a bank officer for a large national bank,  said he would bring back transparency into the office.

“You will have heard my opponent say things like we spend too much and save too little, but what he doesn’t tell you is that it’s his party that controls the purse strings,” Bowman said.