Politics & Government

Will this weekend’s Fancy Farm picnic feature political intrigue? Maybe.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, left, and U.S. Rep. James Comer could make news at Saturday’s Farm picnic.
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, left, and U.S. Rep. James Comer could make news at Saturday’s Farm picnic.

Big-name speakers may be small in number at this weekend’s Fancy Farm political picnic but there still should be enough bits of political intrigue to devour with the tasty barbecue.

Will U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, give any hints of whether he will run for governor in two years, possibly setting up another GOP primary election between Matt Bevin and him?

Bevin defeated Comer by only 83 votes in the 2015 primary election, and friends of Comer say that he’s still upset about that heartbreak loss. Who wouldn’t be, they ask.

Will the highest-ranked Democrat at the picnic, Attorney General Andy Beshear, lay a heavy punch or a feather on his powerful political adversary, Bevin? The two have been going at it in the courtrooms, fighting over various legal issues.

How hard will Beshear go after Bevin at Fancy Farm?

He played it both ways when asked this week what’s he going to say at Fancy Farm.

Beshear first said he plans “to focus on what my office has accomplished under our mission of ensuring every Kentucky family lives in a safe neighborhood and has a real path to prosperity.”

Then, he said, “People at Fancy Farm should also see the stark contrast between their leaders at the state level. Just look at Tuesday. While the governor spent the day cyberbullying, name calling and talking politics, I hosted a drug forum in Henderson where the community came together to seek real solutions to our most dangerous challenge.”

Beshear was referring to Bevin’s displeasure with the media covering the assessment inspection of his Jefferson County home.

More political intrigue is in the offing for Fancy Farm 2017.

Will House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, and House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, engage in a war of words on Bevin’s desire to have a special legislative session sometime this year on taxes and pensions?

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, have not yet said if they will be at this year’s picnic.

If they show up, political junkies will want to observe if they will be best buds. The two have had their differences in recent weeks over health care.

And who will show up to broadcast that they might be running for governor or some other state constitutional office in 2019?

Former state Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who frequently are mentioned as possible Democratic candidates for governor, have indicated they will not be at this year’s picnic.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and Auditor Mike Harmon, who can seek re-election in 2019, are scheduled to be at the picnic.

The free-to-attend picnic, which started in 1880 to raise funds for the St. Jerome Catholic Church in Western Kentucky’s Graves County primarily through bingo and food sales and developed into a political forum in 1931 when then Gov. A.B. “Happy Chandler” visited, traditionally kicks off fall elections in Kentucky.

Since there are no elections in the Bluegrass State this year, some prominent politicians are not showing up for Saturday’s 2 p.m. CDT political speaking known for its tough rhetoric.

This year’s announced absentees include Gov. Bevin, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, Republican Treasurer Allison Ball and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes has not yet indicated if she will pursue another political office as her term as secretary of state ends in two years and she can’t seek re-election because of term limits.

All the picnic no-shows have trotted out that well-worn statement of prior commitments.

“Naturally, Lori and I are disappointed when people don’t show up. We personally think it’s a must-attend event,” said Mark Wilson, who, with his wife, Lori, are the picnic’s political organizers.

“There will be enough politicians and politics to make it interesting. And with the cool weather expected, we still expect a big crowd, probably more than 10,000 people at the world’s largest picnic.”

Wilson also said this year’s picnic will feature “an excellent emcee who is rural and folksy and will get his say in at the picnic.” He was referring to former Democratic House Speaker Bobby Richardson of Glasgow.

A possible political first for the picnic, Wilson said, is a Libertarian speaker. Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark of Arizona is on the agenda.

“There’s always something new going on at the Fancy Farm picnic. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Wilson. “Not one should be missed.”

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198, @BGPolitics

The Kentucky Educational Television network will provide live coverage of Fancy Farm 2017, beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. EDT on KET and online at KET.org/live. The show will be hosted by KET’s Casey Parker-Bell.

Live coverage continues through 5 p.m. and the afternoon’s political speeches will be broadcast in their entirety. Archived speeches will be available for online streaming on KET’s website.

At 8 p.m. Monday, KET will air a half-hour highlights program, co-hosted by Renee Shaw and Parker-Bell, featuring key moments from this year’s Fancy Farm picnic.