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Kentucky Politicians To Be Tested By The Gauntlet Of Fancy Farm

J. Tyler Franklin

Saturday is the annual Fancy Farm political speaking picnic, where Kentucky’s elected officials and candidates hurl insults at each other in front of a jeering crowd hopped up on Sun Drop soda and barbecued mutton.

The festival is a fundraiser held by St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in the small town of Fancy Farm in Graves County and dates back to 1880.

And the event is unique in American politics. It’s one of the few times one can see politicians voluntarily take the stage to be booed and heckled in the heat.

Berry Craig, professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, said that the event is a good test for politicians, “to see if they can take it.”

“You’re up there. The crowd is a few feet away. And man they start going at you. And of course the worst thing you can do is to engage the hecklers, you ignore them,” Craig said.

This year’s featured guests include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gov. Matt Bevin, Attorney General Andy Beshear and candidates for statewide offices like secretary of state, state auditor and agriculture commissioner.

Each speaker gets between two and eight minutes to speak. For politicians who are running in an election with an opponent, a coin flip determines who speaks first.

Generally politicians prepare jokes to deliver during their stump speeches, though at times they ad-lib.

This will be the first time that Gov. Bevin attends the event after a two year absence. Bevin has criticized the festival in past years, saying that the crowd was “celebrating the very worst elements of the political process.”

During an interview on WKDZ in Cadiz earlier this week, Bevin said he looks forward to Fancy Farm, but still has reservations.

“It’s going to be fun, it really is. I enjoy elements of it. What is a shame is how un-family friendly it has become in recent years because people have just become too personal and nasty,” Bevin said.

Craig said that Fancy Farm hearkens back to an era when politics was more “rough and tumble.”

“You really had to have tough hide when you ran for office. That’s part of it, the jeering, heckling, the yelling and all that kind of stuff,” Craig said.

The Fancy Farm political speaking event will air live on KET at 2:30 ET/ 1:30 CT. The event will be emceed by Bill Goodman, former host of KET’s “Kentucky Tonight”

Here are this year’s speakers:

State Sen. Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz

State Rep. Richard Health, R-Mayfield

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R

U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville

Gov. Matt Bevin, R

Attorney General/ Governor Candidate Andy Beshear, D

Lt. Gov. Candidate Ralph Alvarado, R

Lt. Gov. Candidate Jacqueline Coleman, D

Agriculture Commissioner Candidate Robert Conway, D

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, R

Secretary of State Candidate Mike Adams, R

Secretary of State Candidate Heather French Henry, D

Attorney General Candidate Daniel Cameron, R

Attorney General Candidate Greg Stumbo, D

State Treasurer Allison Ball, R

State Treasurer Candidate Michael Bowman, D

State Auditor Candidate Sheri Donahue, D

State Auditor Mike Harmon, R

Kentucky Supreme Court Candidate Shea Nickell

Kentucky Supreme Court Candidate Whitney Westerfield

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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