Politics & Government

Arrested protesters say they had Farm Bureau tickets. Police: They tried to force their way in.

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Kentucky Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman was dragged away Thursday while trying to enter the 56th annual Kentucky Farm Bureau country ham breakfast at the state fair.

Two others with the campaign — Carla Wallis and Sonja DeVries — also were handcuffed and removed by state police.

For several years, the Fairness Campaign has protested at the breakfast, criticizing the farm bureau’s policies that the campaign says discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Prior to Thursday’s breakfast, the campaign took issue with the farm organization’s positions on gay marriage, domestic partner benefits and gender-neutral bathrooms in schools.

Louisville attorney Mike Goodwin is representing the three arrested Thursday.

He said Hartman was charged with second-degree disorderly conduct, menacing and resisting arrest. Wallace and DeVries were each charged with disorderly conduct in the second degree and menacing.

Goodwin said he expects an arraignment will be held in a few days and his clients will plead not guilty.

“They were exercising their constitutional rights,” he said.

Goodwin noted that the three were arrested for a silent protest three years ago against the Farm Bureau, and charges against them were dismissed.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who is running for re-election, spoke at the breakfast. He told the crowd of about 1,500 to “vote your values and not your party” in this fall’s election. No one should apologize for the values of the Kentucky Farm Bureau, he said.

It was not immediately clear if he had knowledge of the arrests when he spoke. His press office did not respond to questions.

State police Sgt. Josh Lawson said event organizers had provided protesters a designated area on the fairgrounds to demonstrate, outside the private event.

“This area allowed for safety and security for both protesters and fair-goers alike. However, three individuals attempted to force their way into the private event while carrying a puppet approximately 9-10 feet tall and causing a disturbance. Troopers with KSP charged the three individuals with menacing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. They were arrested and escorted from the grounds.”

Lawson noted that the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last month upheld state police procedure for protecting the safety of the breakfast and its attendees.

“The court ruled that anyone engaging in activity to disrupt a private event or engaging in activity not related to the purpose of the forum may be removed,” he said.

Amber Duke, a spokeswoman for ACLU of Kentucky and one of the protesters, said Hartman and another protester had tickets — $38 each — to enter the breakfast Thursday morning. A group of them had been protesting outside. .

“They were denied entry; Chris raised his hand, holding the ticket and a trooper told him to put his arm down,” Duke said. “He was told he was not going in but he said he had a ticket. An officer turned him around and handcuffed him. It’s extremely frustrating. He had a valid ticket. He should have been allowed into the event. Things escalated very quickly.”

Duke said Hartman was trying to enter with a large puppet.

Nine troopers were seen at the scene. At least two of them dragged Hartman out of the building as he went limp. Four of them lifted him into the back of the cruiser. Hartman tried to prevent the back door from being shut but another trooper went to the vehicle’s other side and pulled him into the cruiser.

Hartman released a Facebook live video of his arrest. He said his wrist was nearly broken.

While being removed from the scene, Hartman and the protesters shouted, “Shame” and “No hate in our state.”

The two women arrested were handcuffed and walked out with troopers.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney said in a release that his organization “did not play a part in any arrests today.”

Haney said the Kentucky Farm Bureau plays no role in law enforcement decisions at the state fairgrounds.

Furthermore, Haney said, “Kentucky Farm Bureau is a democratic organization. We are member-based and member-driven and therefore our policies reflect our membership and Kentucky’s rural communities.”

He said all of the bureau’s policies are set by the grassroots membership — nearly 475,000 farm families and their allies — at the county level and at a state convention. The organization tries to serve as the voice of agriculture by identifying problems and solutions with the goals of improving net farm income and economic opportunities.

“Our process mirrors the very precepts on which our nation was founded — a fair, free democratic process is essential to best representing the views of the Farm Bureau’s members,” he said.

“To be clear, the Kentucky Farm Bureau does not discriminate. We follow the law.”

He asked other organizations and individuals to “respect our right to follow our process, even if you think differently.”

Earlier this week, the Fairness Campaign was one of four Kentucky advocacy groups that launched a video calling on the Farm Bureau to “stop the hate.”

The 30-second video featured Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, Democratic state Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville and advocates from sponsoring organizations, including the ACLU of Kentucky, JCTA (Jefferson County Teachers Association), LSURJ (Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice).

The groups said in a release that Kentucky Farm Bureau insurance customers are automatically charged a fee each year that enrolls them as compulsory members of the company’s 501(c)4 lobbying arm. That lobbying arm spent nearly $100,000 last year lobbying the Kentucky General Assembly on policies outlined in the bureau’s printed policy book, which elected officials receive but policyholders do not.

The policy book, said the protesting group, includes positions that are anti-LGBTQ, anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-choice, pro-death penalty, and more,

The bureau recently added a policy targeting transgender students in Kentucky schools, the groups said.

The groups said anyone can download a full copy of the 2019 Kentucky Farm Bureau policies book at Fairness.org/KFB.

The book, said the Fairness Campaign, includes such policies as “the institution of marriage should only be recognized as the legal union of a man and a woman.” Also included is opposition “to any state-supported agency providing benefits to domestic partners;” to teaching alternative lifestyles in public schools; and to any government mandate that forces public school districts to provide gender-neutral bathrooms.

Jack Brammer is Frankfort bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has covered politics and government in Kentucky since 1978. He has a Master’s in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a native of Maysville, Ky.
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