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Bevin Ducks Fancy Farm as Teachers, Democrats Pile On

Ryland Barton

Teachers got a lot of love from speakers during the Fancy Farm political speaking event.

U.S. Congressman James Comer made a point to thank teachers who showed up to Fancy Farm, saying that they “deserve the respect of our highest elected officials.”

The comment is a dig at Gov. Bevin, who has made several inflammatory statements about teachers, including a claim that teachers left their students vulnerable to sexual assault and drug abuse by protesting in Frankfort earlier this year.

Comer also made a push for requiring people who get welfare benefits from the government to prove that they’re working at least 20 hours a month.

“The Democrats want the poor to stay poor and dependent on the government because the Democrats know that if able-bodied men get a job and start paying taxes then they will become Republicans,” Comer said.

Paul Walker, Comer’s opponent in this year’s 1st district congressional race, said that Congress needs more “able-bodied men.”

“Republicans in Congress have proven to be fiscally irresponsible,” Walker said. “They use voodoo math that raises the deficit that raises the deficit and robs the poor to give to the rich.”

Republican State Auditor Mike Harmon made fun of the handful of Democrats at the event considering bids for governor.

“If your name is synonymous for the outlook of your party — you know, “Rocky”—you might be a Democrat looking to run for governor,” said Harmon, referencing House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins.

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, the only politician who has launched a bid for governor, took aim at Bevin for not showing up to the event.

“I tell you what, if you’re not willing to come down here where my family roots are to western Kentucky to see all of our families, I think it’s time you move back to New Hampshire,” Beshear said.

Alison Lundergan Grimes gave big hints that she would run for governor next year, going after both Bevin and Beshear, saying that there should be a “cease fire” over a flurry of legal challenges between the men.

“I dream about being back on this stage next year,” Grimes said. “That’s a dream that will come true. And for any man be them on the right or the left of this stage who questions that reality, well Kentucky I hope you will join me in reminding them that women do more than just have children.”

Grimes saved her biggest digs for Bevin and Mitch McConnell, who she lost to in a race for U.S. Senate in 2014.

“Mitch had to leave because he is very busy rushing a Supreme Court vote. It is so sad. Like many men, he suffers from premature confirmation. And like a man he claims it never happens to him,” Grimes said.

“Matt Bevin is heartless, he’s the type of guy who thinks the Handmaid’s Tale is a romantic comedy.”

And Grimes referenced a sexual harassment scandal involving some Republican lawmakers in the state House of Representatives.

“I dream of a Kentucky where every woman can safely open a text message from [former House Speaker] Jeff Hoover and our Republican legislators,” Grimes said.

Update 4:18 p.m.: Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, this year’s Fancy Farm emcee, opened up the political speaking event to an extra-rowdy crowd touting Republican initiatives and dishing out insults to Democrats on stage.

Quarles welcomed the “fake news gallery” as half of the audience loudly cheered and the other half booed, saying he would be “impartial, just like Franklin Circuit Court”— which has ruled against Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration several times in recent years.

Quarles urged the crowd and speakers to be civil or else be “taken down faster than a U of L banner,” referring to the school’s stripped 2013 championship.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted his record leading the Senate as it confirms President Trump’s judicial nominees, making a joke at the fundraiser for St. Jerome’s Catholic Church.

“Father I’ve been preparing for my visit to the parish by performing as many confirmations as I can, only mine are a record number of federal judges,” McConnell said before plowing through his speech while the Democratic side of the audience chanted “vote him out.”

“Don’t’ be intimidated by all this. Don’t be afraid of this,” McConnell told his supporters.“Stand up for America and help us Make America Great Again.”

Original post: Kentucky Republicans gathered at Graves County Middle School on Saturday morning ahead of the rowdy political speaking event in Fancy Farm Saturday afternoon.

Speakers touted GOP legislative initiatives that passed into law earlier this year like overhauls of the state’s tax code and public pension systems, which have drawn protests from state workers and Democrats.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who will be emceeing Saturday afternoon’s Fancy Farm event, wished President Barack Obama a happy birthday, facetiously thanking him for “making Kentucky a more Republican state.”

Republican voter registrations surged during and after Obama’s presidency, though there are still more registered Democrats in Kentucky.

Credit Ryland Barton
Sen. Mitch McConnell at the Republican breakfast, talking to this year’s Fancy Farm emcee, Ky. Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

Gov. Matt Bevin was notably absent, announcing Friday that he wouldn’t attend as rumors swirl over whether he will seek re-election next year.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell once again encouraged Bevin to run, though the governor has said he may wait until the January filing deadline.

U.S. Rep. James Comer has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate for 2019. He narrowly lost to Bevin in the GOP primary for governor in 2015 and said he wasn’t currently considering a challenge.

“The ball’s in the governor’s court and he’s got until the end of January to decide,” Comer said. “I think he’ll probably wait until that time to decide and if he doesn’t, we’ll see what happens.”

Comer is at the end of his first term in Congress and seeking re-election this fall. He said that Bevin’s inflammatory comments about teachers earlier this year “alienated a lot of people.”

“My mom was a school teacher. In 28 of the 35 counties in my congressional district, the school system’s the biggest employer. It pains me that there’s been so much division,” Comer said.

“When you’re a leader you need to unite people, but other than a few misstatements I think that from a policy standpoint on most issues he’s right.”

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Hopkinsville running for attorney general, said he thinks Bevin will run again and he won’t have a problem running on the same ticket.

“If he runs I think his coattails will be just fine,” Westerfield said. “I think his record in the commonwealth along with the Republican-controlled state House and state Senate I think have made Kentucky an incredible place and a vibrant place to do business.”

McConnell officially announced he’s seeking reelection to his Senate seat in 2020, a possible seventh term in office.

He named Rep. Jonathan Shell, a Republican from Lancaster, to be his campaign manager. Shell is a rising star in the Republican Party, helping to recruit state House candidates in 2016 when the party won control of the chamber for the first time in a century.

However Shell lost a primary race this spring—thought to be a casualty of widespread opposition from teachers to the current direction of the legislature.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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