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Bluegrass Beacon: Minor-league fare abounds at ‘Super Bowl of Kentucky politics’

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

It’s hard to reconcile public radio’s assertion that this year’s Fancy Farm event in western Kentucky was “the Super Bowl of Kentucky politics” with the fact that some of its biggest stars were absent.

Gov. Matt Bevin, who once denounced the political barbecue at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Graves County for “celebrating our divisions … in a childish way that frankly does not resolve any of the issues that we face,” was a no-show.

So was Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who was preparing for diplomacy in Russia.

Whatever Paul was doing was certainly more constructive than Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ comments at her political party’s annual pre-Fancy Farm bean supper, where she joked about a recent assault on Kentucky’s junior senator by a disgruntled neighbor that left Paul with five broken ribs, fluid and blood around the lungs and chronic pneumonia.

To say that the attack, which occurred while the senator was mowing and wearing headphones – thus making him unaware of the approaching attacker – was life-threatening isn’t a stretch.

Grimes – one of Kentucky’s most partisan politicians with a record of accomplishment nearly as thin as the 30-day sentence given to Rene Boucher, Paul’s attacker – tried to make light of the violent incident for political gain.

“Many folks say that Rand Paul can’t be beat, they’re worried he might be too well-liked,” Grimes screeched to a howling crowd of guffawing partisans slopping their beans. “I don’t buy that; just ask his neighbor. He can be beaten.”

Funny, ha-ha – like minor leaguers making fools of themselves by trying to compete in the Super Bowl.

This chortling political neophyte’s willingness to make fun of a felony assault on a sitting United States senator deserves a penalty flag.

Grimes, frustrated by her lack of political momentum, demonstrated, at best, questionable judgment, thus creating reasonable doubt for voters deciding on future governors and senators, offices to which the term-limited Secretary presumably aspires.

Her cheap shot brings to mind the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s reaction to ad hominem attacks, which Grimes’s political opponents should seize upon.

“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left,” Thatcher astutely observed.

This was brought home at Fancy Farm, where Grimes squawked about the absence of Paul and Bevin but offered no serious plan to confront and fix Kentucky’s pension crisis, inadequate workforce or education achievement gap between the haves and have-nots.

At least Charlotte Goddard, a public-school teacher running to replace three-term Mayfield Republican Rep. Richard Heath and represent the Second District in the western part of the commonwealth, shared a compelling personal story, recalling how she walked to school “in the rain with holes in the soles of my shoes, entering the classroom with wet feet, with an immense amount of determination.”

That grit, Goddard recalled, resulted in her working her way through college to become a teacher.

It’s the same kind of story Bevin wants able-bodied adults on Medicaid to experience – pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and such.

However, Goddard's political naïveté surfaced when she attacked her opponent and other GOP lawmakers for not showing up at a “town hall meeting” on pensions hosted by the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), the state teachers’ union.

Criticizing Heath for skipping a KEA “town hall meeting” on pension reform would be like Republicans knocking Goddard for missing a Koch Brothers’ forum on campaign-finance reform.

No wonder Bevin and Paul didn’t find this event compelling enough to show up, although they did miss some good pork … barbecue, that is.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps.

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