More than a picnic: Fancy Farm speakers discuss Kentucky education

St. Jerome’s picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky. is always hailed as the unofficial kick-off to the state political season. This year celebrated the 131st gathering of Republicans and Democrats alike in this small town baking in the heat of the western Kentucky sun.

Typically the picnic is not only known for the succulent mutton and sweet corn but also for biting and theatrical speeches given by the candidates running for office that year. During these speeches, the crowds of both parties like to heckle their opponents, but this year seemed much more complacent. Passers-by could be heard commenting on how tame this year’s crowd—and the speakers—were.

That’s not to say that this year was barb free. Both sides had their fair share of jabs at the other candidates, with Attorney General Jack Conway taking much of the heat after his loss to Rand Paul for the junior Senate seat last year.

Senator Mitch McConnell attacked governor Steve Beshear by saying that Beshear liked his state employees the same way he liked his martinis – “shaken down, not heard” – in reference to recent accusations of Beshear officials putting pressure on non-merit state employees to contribute to the governor’s re-election campaign.

But the political theater was not the main focus of the day. The main orators were the three gubernatorial candidates running for office this year:  the current Democratic governor Beshear, Republican Senate President David Williams, and independent perennial candidate Gatewood Galbraith.

Although Beshear maintains a strong lead over both candidates, Williams and Galbraith haven’t quit fighting.

This year’s gubernatorial race involves not only many statewide issues but also matters that directly impact Jefferson County Public Schools.

Williams and Galbraith both have strong ideas about how to change the educational landscape of Kentucky. Williams in particular has ideas that impact Jefferson County Public Schools. He proposes to eliminate the Jefferson County Public School board and hand over control of the school system, the 30th largest in the nation, to the Mayor and the Metro Council.

“I submit it might be time to dissolve the Jefferson County school board,” Williams said to an annual meeting of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Louisville earlier this year..

Such a change from what is a nationally accepted concept has only been seen in much larger cities than Louisville such as New York City and Los Angeles.

Former Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson, Beshear’s running mate opposes Williams’ idea. “If the people are unhappy with what the school board is doing there is a process by which they can throw them out of office.” Abramson said, meaning the school board elections.

Gatewood Galbraith proposed his own educational reform plan that would give every high school graduate in the state of Kentucky a $5,000 voucher for books, tuition and fees to any institution of higher learning in the state. “No food, no beer, no creature comforts,” Galbraith said. “Not one penny gets spent until that person actually presents themselves to the entity to begin their training.”

Galbraith was hoping that his plan would help people in the poorer regions of Kentucky. “They’re graduating into an 8 dollar an hour economy for the rest of their life. They don’t have one step of traction.”

Though he was not running for office, Senator Rand Paul gave a speech following Senator McConnell, he commended Jack Conway on being at Fancy Farm, despite the "Super sized helping of shame" that he received after losing the Senate race to Paul
Senator Mitch McConnell began the speeches for the Republicans, commending the party for their ticket for the November elections. Photo by Charley Nold
As Senate President David Williams mounted the stage to give his speech, his supporters cheered. Photo By Charley Nold
Jerry Abramson, Governor Steve Beshear, and first lady Jane Beshear cheer after Mr. Beshear's speech. Photo by Charley Nold