Monday, February 24, 2014

773. To See or Not To See - Bill Clinton

William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States of America, will pay a visit to Kentucky tomorrow and it is not his first time here.  Like many, my first introduction to the president was in 1988 when he addressed the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, a marathon speech which lasted thirty-three minutes.  I can't honestly say if I was impressed or not.

That was July, 1988.  Skip ahead three years and nine months and the same guy was making a visit to Louisville, now the Democratic nominee for president in the election to be held about five weeks later on November 3rd.  There had been a presidential debate scheduled that evening in Louisville, a debate which had been cancelled by Mr. Clinton's Republican opponent, then-president George Bush, now referred to as George H. W. Bush.  Clinton came to Louisville anyway and spoke on a chilly evening on the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts.  Here is a link to his speech that afternoon.  If you follow the link, you will find the speech and if you look over the soon-to-be-president's right shoulder, you will see a political mentor of mine seated two rows behind the speaker, the late Cyril Allgeier who served as a local municipal legislator for twenty-two years.  Rest In Peace, Cyril.  But, I digress.

At the time I was a member of the Louisville-Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee as the At-Large Member from the 35th Legislative District.  As such I was allowed to be in an up-close rope line before and after several events that night and it was in the course of one of those that I had a brief chance to meet Mr. Clinton.  Pretty cool although he was, at that point, the fourth man I had met who was or would be president.  The interesting thing was I had not supported him in the 1992 Primary, where instead I was a supporter of the former (and current) governor of California, Jerry Brown.  In the Kentucky Primary held May 26, 1992, Brown ran third.  Governor Clinton carried the state's Democrats with 56%, followed by a 28% showing for "Uncommitted," followed by Brown with just over 8%.  Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, and Bob Kerrey filled out Kentucky's ballot. 

That was my first meeting of Bill Clinton, arguably one of the most popular presidents in history and the last Democrat to carry Kentucky, something he managed to do not once but twice.  During his presidency, the president made two more visits to Louisville, in 1996 when he spoke at Louisville Male High School and in 2000 when his speech took him to duPont Manual.  For the 1996 visit, I was seated with Kevin Hollenbach Holtz, the current State Treasurer's aunt, and we made our way around the campus eventually meeting not only the preisdent but also his Attorney General Janet Reno.  The campus was familiar to me as, in a former life, it had been the Sallie Phillips Durrett High School, from which I graduated in 1978.

The 2000 visit of the president came on October 30 at Manual High School in support of then-State Representative Eleanor Jordan's campaign for Congress.  I was intimately involved in that visit and had a hand in choosing the venue.  The president was introduced by my friend Rushi Sheth, who was at the time president of the duPont Manual Young Democrats and a junior in high school.  Rushi has also served as an At-Large member of the Louisville-Jefferson Democratic Executive Committee from the 48th Legislative District.  He was 18 at the time.

Since Mr. Clinton left office I've been fortunate to meet him two more times.  One of those was purely by accident by simply being in the right place - Lexington - at the right time.  It was brief and since I was somewhere I was not supposed to be, which created some little problem for his host, I will say nothing more.  The other was an October 2006 visit to Louisville in support of the Kentucky Democratic Party, at the time being led by Chairman Jerry Lundergan, a good friend of many years.  Thanks to the good work of Jonathan Hurst, who has long been an associate of Chairman Lundergan's, I was invited to a backroom meeting where once again I got in about forty-two seconds of conversation with the 42nd president.  I made a pitch for my then (and current) political employer John Yarmuth.  At the time John was the Democratic candidate for Congress, a position he was elected to a month after this meeting and has since been reelected three times.  He is currently seeking his fifth term in the Congress.  As a plus at the this meeting, I had my picture taken with the president.  Neither of us look too good as we were both recovering from severe illnesses at the time.  The unframed picture is among a stack on the top of the far right bookcase in my living room.

Tomorrow's visit comes in support of Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Secretary of State of Kentucky, a candidate for the United States Senate, and the daughter of my friends Charlotte and Jerry Lundergan.  Charlotte and I serve together as members of the Kentucky Democratic Party Executive Committee.  The Lundergan's are two of the nicest people I have ever known, active in a great many charities in Kentucky, and owners of many ongoing business interests throughout Kentucky and also in Florida.  I have been to their home many times and expect to go again.  Heck, I may even see Bill Clinton there - you just never know.

I'll be sitting out tomorrow's visit by the president.  I am hopeful whoever takes that small seat which I could have had will enjoy the day, the speech, and the opportunity.  As Cyril Allgeier used to say, "I'll see it in the movies." 

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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.