Sunday, October 18, 2009

556. Barnyard Affair

My guess is General Wesley Clark has spoken in lots of different places in his various careers - military man, politician, venture capitalist. Last night he addressed the Kentucky Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner crowd from a barn, shown in the picture. Not just any barn, but a well-known fixture at Lexington's Red Mile Race Track, the Round Barn. It sits on the track's campus, an eight-sided three story wooden structure with a cupola on top. More on the barn later.

Last night's event was presided over by the very likable Chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, Charlie Moore of Union County. Although all the tables in the barn were filled, it did seem like there were a number of prominent Democrats missing from the crowd. House Speaker Greg Stumbo was absent, as was most of the Democratic delegation of the General Assembly. The only State Senator in the room was Kathy Stein, although if you could only have one, and you think and vote the way I do, she makes an ideal member of the Upper House. House members included Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, as well as Jesse Crenshaw, Charlie Hoffman, Susan Westrom, and Ruth Ann Palumbo. There were no legislators from Louisville although I did see former State Representative Eleanor Jordan, who was seated with Representative Palumbo.

Other than Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo, all the Democratic constitutional officers were present: Auditor Crit Luallen, Treasurer Todd Hollenbach IV, Attorney General Jack Conway, and, of course, Governor Steve Beshear, who spoke several times. Mongiardo was doing similar duties about 100 miles away at the Bullitt County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, also held last night. Although he didn't speak, Kentucky's true political rock star, former United Senator (and Governor) Wendell Ford was also present, showered with adoration throughout the evening. There were also maybe eight of us who serve on the State Central Executive Committee present. They included gubernatorial aide Chad Aull, Lisa Tanner (who sang the Star-Spangled Banner), By-Laws Chair George Mills, Jane Jensen, Barren County PVA Brad Bailey, and Tim Longmeyer. KDP EXecutive Director Kyle Cox was present as well as most of the KDP staff. The Kentucky Young Democrats were also well represented. The night began with an invocation by Colman Eldridge, recently elected as Vice President of the National Young Democrats. I also spoke with Austin Redman of Shelby County, Walker Mattox of Fayette County, and Lyles Taylor of Woodford County, all leaders of the Kentucky Young Demcrats.

General Clark was the keynote speaker for the Party's somewhat-annual fundraising dinner. After an introduction of himself and his military career, including his years at West Point, as well as time spent in Brandenburg, Kentucky and Fort Knox, Kentucky, the retired military leader launched into an explanation of why he is a Democrat, what being so means to him given his background, and why he thinks the Democratic Party is the cure for what ails the Republic.

He pointed out than in the last century, wars were won under the leadership of a Democrat citing Wilson in WW1 and Roosevelt in WW2. He blamed the loss of Vietnam on President Johnson's decision to withhold troops in 1968 which led, a few years later, to the fall of Saigon, in one of the less-noble of America's military ventures. There are a nubmer of parallels between then and now and I got clearly mixed signals from him on how President Barack Obama is handling our current several foreign wars. His strongest point, though, was how honorable it is as Americans to have as president a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the most prestigious accolade in the world.

After the military discussion, he moved into the current economic situation, acknowledged by one and all as not good. He explained, as well or better than any business or economics professor ever has, how the economy works or doesn't work under certain conditions. He talked at length about the value of the American dollar, the volume of those dollars making their way into foreign hands, especially the hands of the Chinese.

He went into an explanation of oil and gas and natural resources and how the world economy is built around their exploration, discovery, and use. He offered an interesting idea to bring those costs home to Americans. He suggested that whenever we purchase gasoline at the corner market, that our receipt should include where those dollars we just spent actually go. The receipt would not only say "10 gallons at $2.499 per" (the price I paid yesterday) for a total of $24.99, but also how many of those dollars go to oil interests other than the United States, in places like Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Maybe such a system would lead people to believe that if we are to sustain our present use of oil (an idea opposed by many in the left wing of the Party), then we must also find ways to produce more here in the United States.

He segued from oil and gas over to a discussion on global warming and included in that discussion was both a veiled threat to as well as support of the use of coal, one of Kentucky's "cash crops." The applause for the two different sides of the discussion was interesting. I suppose the Conway supporters applauded at different times than the Mongiardo supporters, as the camps seems to be divided on the subject, far moreso than the candidates they support. Although I am a Conway supporter, I side with those who believe there is a role for Kentucky's coal in the future, mined in a less destructive way, and burned in a cleaner, greener way. I admit the technology still seems to be out-of-reach, but only just out-of-reach and conceivably closer than we imagine.

I very much appreciated General Clark's unbiased assessment of our nation's economy as well as his directions for where we can go from here. At the end of the night I made my way up to him to thank him for coming. I had met him before when former KDP Chair Jerry Lundergan had brought him to Louisville's West End to do some campaiging with then-candidate John Yarmuth, an event Clark cited in his speech.

Other speakers included the aforementioned congressman representing the Left Bank of the Ohio River near Milepost 606, the Honorable John Yarmuth, as well as Governor Steve Beshear and Kentucky's Sixth District Congressman A. B. "Ben" Chandler III, a blue dog of sorts who took the time to explain that he and Congressman Yarmuth do not always agree when they are in Washington, but they do agree that the Democratic Party is best prepared to deliver a better life for all Americans. Ben also gave a rousing endorsement of President Obama's term in office thus far - all nine months of it - an unspoken reminder that he, like Yarmuth, was an early endorser of Obama. He also pointed out that in the 2004 presidential the man he endorsed was sitting in the room - General Wesley Clark.

But, back to this interesting venue, the Round Barn at Lexington's Red Mile Racetrack. The barn was built in 1882 and served as a Women's Club type facility, known as the Floral Hall. It has eight sides and three stories, each higher one smaller than the floor below, and was designed by John McMurtry, a well known central Kentucky archtect from the 19th century. The money to build the barn was appropriated by the United States Congress to the Lexington Fairgrounds for damages rendered to the fairgrounds by Union troops during the Civil War twenty or so years earlier.

As stated, it served as an exhibition hall for floral events and the like. The Red Mile Race Track had been built a few years earlier in 1875. The racetrack, whose first grandstand is shown below, was within the Lexington city limits, where gambling was illegal. The Floral Hall was outside the city limits and at some point the gamblers took over Floral Hall for bookmaking purposes. Some time in the 1890s, the race track acquired the hall and converted it to stables, with living quarters for groomsmen on the upper levels. That was the purpose it served for over fifty years. About sixty years ago, the facility underwent a major renovation and since that time has served as a guest facility of sorts to be rented for events like this one last night. There isn't much to it - a round building outfitted with a set of restrooms. Sitting at my table last night, looking up and around reminded me of what parts of Churchill Downs' grandstand look like, although every time I go to that famous site, it is of a less-and-less historic nature and looks more-and-more like a modern day commercialized casino, which it no doubt some day wants to be.

But, I digress.

As I said, it was a packed house in a small facility. The aura was interesting, the venue historic, and the food was much better than the usual fare for one of these events. I hope it was a fiscal success.

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The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.