I suppose I’m required (and by way of Olivia’s comment in the last entry I’ve been requested) to post an entry post-Fancy Farm as to my take on the weekend. As I’ve written in several places several times, the real purpose of Fancy Farm and the other events surrounding it is the indulgence of food. I know, there is that bit about political speeches and lots of glad-handing, and all that happened too.
I arrived in the region a little later than usual on Friday, therefore missing the Labor event in Paducah and Mike Cherry’s Garden Party in Princeton, and driving straight into Kentucky Dam Village in Gilberstville. And, before going any further, let me make a comment related to those two events which I missed that many people tend to overlook. Princeton, the county seat of Caldwell County – and you can tell the locals from the rest of us by how they pronounce their county name, and Paducah, the county seat of McCracken County, are separated by approximately 45 miles of US 62. Kentucky Dam Village, in Marshall County, where Friday night’s headline event was the Marshall County Bean Dinner, is about exactly halfway between the two previously mentioned county seats. If there is one thing about Fancy Farm that people tend to forget, it is the driving.
First, for most of us, it is quite a haul. Louisville to Fancy Farm is about 240 miles, depending on which route you take. Like going from Louisville to Frankfort, there are options other than I-64. From the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606, most people take I-65 to the WK Parkway, then I-24 to the Purchase Parkway south to KY 80 west the eight miles over to Fancy Farm, a small rural Graves County village largely populated by Roman Catholics, at the intersection of KY 339 and KY 80, about one mile west of the Graves/Carlisle county line. Imagine coming from Ashland as my friend Marcus Woodward did and you’ll add another 150 miles. If a person started where KY 80 enters the Commonwealth on the east, just east of Elkhorn City in Pike County, and travelled the length of that highway which crosses the bottom of the state over to Fancy Farm, the trip would be 445 miles – one way. (There is an 11 mile stretch between US 641 in Murray and KY 121 south of Mayfield, where the new KY 80 is under construction and the two ends of the road do not yet meet). The point is one doesn’t just travel to and from Fancy Farm, unless the purpose of one’s trip is simply the picnic.
On Friday evening, the night started with the aforementioned Bean Supper, held at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park Convention Hall. The menu is known in advance – bean soup, watermelon, and cornbread. The soup was more than usually spicy and I made the mistake of adding some hot pepper sauce. Any remnant of last week’s head cold was overcome by the bean soup. It took quite a few slices of watermelon to overcome the heat. Following the Bean Supper, I also dropped in on several house parties in the Executive Cottages section. One of those was hosted by a group of friends, many of whom were friends of mine, including Aaron Horner and Will Carle, who greeted me upon arrival. The second more crowded and boisterous was hosted by Eddie Jacobs and the Kentucky Democratic Party, held in its traditional location of Cabin #316. Food and drink was widely available including some very delicious slaw, baked beans, and the requisite bar-be-cue of some sort. For a brief moment I found myself possessing a Mason-jar containing a clear liquid which might have described as being “of an intoxicating nature.” I’m not sure what the liquid was and there was a time when I wouldn’t have hesitated to take a sip – maybe it could be put away for some future “medicinal purpose.” In any event, KDP Chair Jennifer Moore, who was closely watching me and the Mason-jar and its contents, strongly suggested I “resist the temptation,” and on this particular occasion, I followed her advice. Before Friday night turned into Saturday morning, I departed to make my way to where I was sleeping, which was 24 miles away in the McCracken County community of Lone Oak, which, coincidentally is the hometown of KDP Chair Moore.
On Saturday morning, before heading the 21 miles over to Mayfield and the Graves County Democratic Party Breakfast, a pretty much straight shot due south on US 45, I took the time to do some leisure driving to different parts of the Purchase. I trekked southeast to the Aurora community and crossed the Eggner’s Ferry Bridge over Kentucky Lake and Tennessee River along US 68 into Trigg County and the Land Between the Lakes. Turning off into the Fenton camping area, I took off my shoes and socks and wandered about four feet out into the lake, the largest manmade lake in the eastern United States. This is an old idiosyncrasy of mine when crossing some bodies of water – doffing the shoes and sticking my toes into these old inland waterways – in this case an old inland waterway now writ large upon the maps by the damming in 1938 of the Tennessee River as a flood control measure after the devastating floods in 1937 which affected cities and towns throughout the Midwest, including our own here in Louisville.
Leaving the lake, I wandered west along the new KY 80, a very wide four-lane divided highway connecting Kentucky Lake with US 641, a mile or two north of Murray. Eventually it will connect with KY 121 in Mayfield, and excepting a two-mile portion of US 45 between the Purchase Parkway and Mayfield itself, provide a four-lane connection between Paducah and the Land Between the Lakes. I left the new road for the old KY 464, making my way back to Mayfield, venturing through the communities of Almo, Kirksey, and Backusburg in Calloway County, and nine miles through nowhere in Graves County before entering into the city limits of the Graves County seat. Along the way on this trip, and the others I took while in the area, I was wearing my Obama for President button and made repeated attempts to engage the folks I met, at gas stations, convenience stores, little farmstands, and anywhere else, as to their feelings on the presidential race.
I’ve been told trying to get votes for Obama in this part of the Commonwealth is a lost cause – told that by some of the Democrats charged with trying to get those votes. I wanted to hear it for myself. Even the folks I stayed with in Paducah, each an active Democrat, are planning on casting ballots for McCain this fall, despite my (and others) protestations. So, at each stop I asked “How do feel about the election?” Responses ranged from pleasure at the opportunity for change to polite but clear antagonism. For most people in the Purchase, voting for a Democrat in a Federal election – any Democrat – is something they haven’t been doing very often for a number of years. It was voters such as these that the “Southern Strategy” was developed and executed by Republicans seeking the presidency and the Congress, starting back with Strom Thurmond’s 1948 run for president as a Democrat turned Dixiecrat, and popularized in Richard Nixon’s 1968 election over Hubert Humphrey. In a New York Times article dated May 17, 1970, Nixon political strategist Kevin Phillips stated
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
Some of the whites Kevin Phillips was talking about are alive and well and voting in the seven counties which comprise the Jackson Purchase portion of Kentucky, being Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall, and McCracken. My visits over the weekend took me to all but Fulton and Hickman. The registration in this area is 3-1 Democratic, but the voting patterns are noticeably warped, with Democrats holding local offices, while Democrats and Republican together hold the state offices (including one Democrat who used to be a Republican and one Independent who used to be a Republican and before that a Democrat), and Republicans only holding the federal offices. Former State Senator and Congressman Carroll Hubbard is attempting to win the 1st Senate District this fall, hoping to unseat Republican Ken Winters. Two years ago, Hubbard came very close to unseating the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent Bob Leeper in the 2nd Senate District. These two senate districts cover all of the Purchase area. In the House, the first six districts cover the purchase with four Democrats, one Republican, and the one Republican-turned Democrat in office. Only the Republican, Steve Rudy in the 1st, faces a challenge, from popular Democrat Mike Lawrence. It is possible that both of these contested races for the General Assembly will turn out the Republican in favor of the Democrat. That would be good news.
All of the Purchase falls within the First Congressional District of Kentucky, long held by Florida resident Ed Whitfield, who uses his mother’s home address in Hopkinsville as his own. Nonetheless he has held onto the seat steadfastly. He is challenged this year by Heather Ryan, a welcome newcomer to politics, who is a resident of Paducah, and frankly has a bone to pick with Mitch McConnell, whom she believes is responsible for her dismissal from a previous employer. Ryan has proved popular especially among younger voters who will, without question, be playing a greater role in this fall’s election outcome moreso than anytime in recent history, probably dating back to the 1960 presidential election of John Kennedy. Ryan is providing the fodder to keep Whitfield (and McConnell) on his toes throughout the mostly conservative 1st District. Ryan gave a rousing speech at Fancy Farm, clearly identifying herself as “one of the people” as opposed to “one of the Special Interest boys” as Whitfield clearly is. Her presence makes for an interesting debate. As an aside, she and her campaign are looking for a Red Dodge Pickup Truck with a Red topper on it and a Whitfield for Congress sticker on the back. The license number is 640ASC. There is a video of the driver and passenger of that truck dashing away after having torn down some Heather Ryan signs at Fancy Farm. If you see the Red Dodge Pickup Truck, license number 640ASC, contact the Ryan campaign right away. There might be some prosecutin' going on soon.
But, my stopping here to chat up the presidential race ultimately didn’t seem to yield too many Obama votes. I found responses of “I would have voted for Hillary this fall” to “I’ll vote the straight Democratic ticket this time except for Obama” (which in and of itself is a welcome change), to the one I was really expecting and got once or twice “I’ll close my eyes and hold my nose and vote the straight Democratic ticket.” From my perspective, this will be a win. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you get them, just so you do ultimately get them. I remember writing in the past that I belonged to a Democratic Party whose tent was big enough for both me and State Labor Commissioner and former State Representative J. R. Gray, who represented parts of the Purchase for a quarter century. This fall’s election we’ll see how far the seams can be strained and stretched to get everyone under the tent.
But, I digressed. Back to the food.
Saturday morning’s event is the Graves County Democratic Party Breakfast in Mayfield of country ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. Not for the light of stomach. I sat at table with Tim Delahanty and his daughter to my right and John Weikel to my left, all Louisvillians. Food and conversation went well. Even the speeches were good, frankly better than hearing them again later in the afternoon at the main event.
Usually a few hours transpire between the breakfast in Mayfield and lunch on the Fancy Farm Picnic grounds, about 12 miles to the northeast. This year I arrived early with two friends and, knowing the lines can be long and the temperatures are always in the 90s, we proceeded to the chow lines at the rear of the picnic where dinner is served in the air-conditioned Knights of Columbus Hall. Usually it takes about 45 minutes of standing in line before being admitted to the gastronomic extravaganza. This year, however, the line opened early and was thus shorter than usual. Having only finished breakfast an hour and a half earlier, I proceeded to fill up on beef and mutton, fried chicken, green beans, corn, limas, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a variety of pies, all served with sweet-tea (is there any other kind?). I was seated with Ken Herndon and Nick Wilkerson, both of Louisville, and next to Rose Jordan, also of Louisville, and her sister from Lawrenceburg. We were seated opposite a Ms. Nancy O’ Bryan (I think), with whom we had exchanged some unpleasantries whilst waiting in the chow line over her non-support of the presumed Democratic nominee for president. She had been and remains a strong and committed supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton and stated her clear unwillingness to support the likely Democratic candidate for president in no uncertain terms. While dining she tried repeatedly to goad us into a conversation about the matter to no avail. Finally, accepting defeat, at least at this setting, she commented that “despite the fact the slaw had too much mayonnaise, it was still good.” We all laughed a nervous laugh which broke the tension and allowed for some civil exchange of thought. She was right, there was too much mayonnaise in the slaw, which was nonetheless pretty good.
After dinner came the speechifying under the big pavilion. I suppose everyone has already read on other more technologically-advanced blogs how the speeches went – you could follow along word-by-word on some – live blogging as it is called. Suffice it to say very few of the speeches were truly inspiring, with the clear exceptions of Governor Beshear and Heather Ryan, and though her’s was good, the governor’s was exceptional. As was the case last year, McConnell seemed “off his game” and Bunning rambled on so long reading the Republican Party’s Daily Bulletin that he had to be called for time by State Representative Rocky Adkins of Elliott County, who served as Master of Ceremonies. At one point I wandered away from the speeches and played several games of Bingo but I didn’t win. I also bought a chance on the Capital Prize, filling in my mother’s name for the 2009 Jeep they were giving away. Since she hasn’t called me, it is safe to assume they haven’t called her with any winning news.
Eventually, I left the picnic and returned to Paducah with Ken Herndon, to his parents’ house. After showers and a change of clothes, we made our way to another meeting, with yet more food. The Kentucky Fairness Alliance chose to hold its 3rd Quarter meeting in the area, at the home of one of its officers, Jody Cofer, in Benton, about 28 miles southeast of Paducah. Benton is the county seat of Marshall County and Jody’s home is a little to the east of town along the old road running between Benton and Birmingham, a town now submerged under the waters of Kentucky Lake. Before its purchase by the TVA and submergence in the waters, Birmingham was Marshall County’s largest city. Jody provided a meal of fried catfish, cornbread, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, and pie, along with whatever one wished to drink, with my wish being a Sierra Mist. One more meeting; one more meal.
After an evening of food and conversation, bedtime arrived sometime very late which was in fact very early Sunday morning, back in Paducah. As is always the case when I go to bed well past my usual bedtime of 9:30-ish, I awoke with the rising of the sun around 6:00 local time and set out for another morning drive. This one took me to Metropolis, Illinois among other places, across the Ohio River and a few miles downriver from Paducah. Metropolis is home to a gambling boat of some sort as well as the Fort Massac State Park, from which Revolutionary General George Rogers Clark (the founder of Louisville, whose brother William founded Paducah) launched his Western Offensive after having boated down the Ohio River from Louisville, the goal of which it was to capture British forts here and there, which he did. I drove through the park and then returned from the formerly French soil of Illinois to the formerly Chickasaw and Cherokee soil of Kentucky. I headed out to Wickliffe and finally back to Paducah, where with the weekend coming to an end, I began the journey back to Jefferson County.
Two final thoughts. First, gasoline was priced, for the most part, in the $3.70s. The cheapest gas in the region was in Lone Oak on US 45 where it was $3.719. The cheapest along the trip was in Lebanon Junction on KY 61 at I-65’s Exit #105 where it was $3.699. I filled up in Lebanon Junction coming and going.
Finally, today being August 4th, should you happen to see United States Senator Barack Obama, wish him a Happy 47th Birthday. For the next fifty days, Barack and I are the same age. He was born 47 years ago today in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the 50 states. Should he be elected, at 47 years, 3 months, and 2 days, he would not be the country’s youngest president. Teddy Roosevelt holds that distinction, having assumed the office upon the assassination of President McKinley at the age of 42. John Kennedy was the youngest person ever elected, taking office at the age of 43. Both Ulysses Grant and Bill Clinton were 46 when taking office. Obama will be nine months younger than Grover Cleveland was at his first inaugural. On the other hand, on the outside chance that McCain wins, he would be the oldest person ever inaugurated to a first term. John McCain will be 72 later this month, having been born August 29, 1936 in a Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone, notably not one of the 50 states, and presently not even a part of the Republic, although it once was. Ronald Reagan currently was the oldest president ever to take office, something he actually did twice, the first time in 1981, and again four years later in 1985. McCain would beat Reagan’s first record by two years and four months – something to consider this fall in the voting booth.