Fancy Farm Picnic Is Bucket List Item for Political Junkies

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Fancy Farm is a close-knit hamlet tucked into the western portion of the state known as the Jackson Purchase. The picnic that began there in the late 1800s as a homecoming celebration and fundraiser for Saint Jerome Church assumed another identity when Democrat A.B. “Happy” Chandler became the first politician to attend when he ran for lieutenant governor in 1931. (He won that race, and went on to win two terms as governor and one term as a U.S. senator.)

Soon the nostalgia of old-fashioned political speaking with pluck and spunk became as big a draw as the barbeque, fresh vegetables, and bingo. It was a mostly one-party event until the 1980s when the Republican revolution upended the Democratic Rock of Gibraltar that was western Kentucky.

An updated stage reminiscent of a front porch will brim with current statewide office-holders and contenders hoping to make the best of their limited speaking time to wow a crowd of rambunctious spectators ready to pounce on a flubbed line or attempt to throw the speakers of their game with crass heckles and jeers.

Lobbyist Bob Babbage is no stranger to Fancy Farm, having taken the stage there during his bids for statewide office more than 20 years ago. The former Kentucky Auditor and Secretary of State says the annual affair should be on the bucket list of all political wonks. It’s an experience unique to Kentucky and America, where faith, family, food, and carnival-style politicking collide. Here’s Babbage and another former Secretary of State, Trey Grayson, outlining the stakes.

You can forgo the long drive, elbow-to-elbow crowds, and outdoor elements by watching KET’s wall-to-wall coverage of the political speeches, starting Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Bill Goodman and I will be joined by political analysts to provide exclusive, in-depth coverage. If you can’t watch us on TV, check out our video stream at

And you can follow me on Twitter (@ReneeKET) for updates throughout the weekend.

Boone Day Demonstrates the Power of History to Shape the Future

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

State Historian and Georgetown College professor James Klotter believes history is not about the past, but the future. In his opinion, we, as a state, do not arrive at some random place of strain, strife, or success by coincidence, but by a sequence of events — natural or contrived — that derive from history. Acknowledging that, says Klotter, is how we forge a path to a brighter, collective future.

Famed poet, novelist, and Henry County farmer Wendell Berry would not disagree. In fact, Berry has suggested that Kentucky doesn’t take responsibility for its history and is endangering the humanities by overemphasizing moneymaking STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and math.

BooneDaylogo-final-2cBoth Berry and Klotter contend that Kentuckians should treat the past like it belongs to them personally and learn from it. That’s one of the messages they will share Saturday at the Kentucky History Center’s Boone Day celebration marking the state’s 222nd birthday. I have the honor of moderating a conversation between the two gentlemen.

Berry, an ardent defender of sustainable agriculture and food systems, will likely lament industrialization and land-use policies that he believes have replaced people with technology and defaced our landscapes. I expect him to posit that ignorance of history is no excuse to defile nature for the sake of profit. Yet, if a greater allegiance to history existed, he might contend that our connectedness to the land – and the culture of belonging to it – would make us better stewards.

I will ask Berry and Klotter about harnessing the power of history to address enduring issues. We’ll also discuss the ramifications of not knowing our history. Klotter has written about Kentucky’s “lost opportunities” when powerbrokers and policymakers failed to act, or when their actions failed because they didn’t learn history’s lessons.

History is powerful, but it’s in need of a better marketing campaign. The word itself conjures up school nights toiling to memorize dates and timelines. In my day, we learned history by rote, not by connection. Our session Saturday is about inspiring a personal relevance to history and stoking the curiosity to mine it.

The conversation with Mr. Berry and Dr. Klotter should encourage us to deputize ourselves as historians – to dig into our family and community lineage and tell the story of our whole selves.

As the saying goes, if we don’t know our history we will be doomed to repeat it.

[Read a summary of the discussion between Berry and Klotter at the Kentucky History Center.]

Former Juvenile Justice Official Shares Story of Redemption, Hope

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

Hasan Davis was arrested for the first time on theft and assault charges when he was 11 years old. Raised by a single mother in Atlanta housing projects, Davis and his siblings moved 12 times before he turned 14. He has two brothers serving life sentences, and gang-related violence killed five cousins. Davis, himself, narrowly escaped the hopelessness he saw in the projects as well as a permanent prison address and the graveyard.

Those experiences gave Davis, the former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, a unique frame of reference on youth and crime. As he travels the nation sharing his testimony and professional expertise, Davis routinely describes his evolution from juvenile delinquent to juris doctor, and running a juvenile justice system that he once ran from.

What we learn from Davis on Wednesday night in a KET follow-up to the PBS Frontline documentary Prison State is that a mother’s love can help save a wayward youth careening down a self-destructive path.

Davis’ passion for juvenile justice is reflected in his enthusiasm for a new Kentucky law that he hopes will keep troubled youth from making the same mistakes he did. Davis believes – and statistics support – the high probability that a kid’s first encounter with the juvenile justice system won’t be his or her last.

Lawmakers Update State Juvenile Justice Policies
The recognition that detention is ineffective in redirecting misguided youth was embodied in Senate Bill 200, which passed in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly. A key provision of the measure reduces the current practice of locking-up kids who skip school or habitually run away from home, and replaces it with community support programs and family interventions.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley (D-Hopkinsville) was a major champion of the legislative effort. He says the new law seeks to end the co-mingling of non-criminal status offenders with youth detained for serious crimes.

Wednesday at 10 p.m. on KET, I’ll share more about changes in the juvenile justice system and explore the effectiveness of reforms in the adult prison system, now almost three years old. Tune in to Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation as I talk with policymakers and activists about the restructuring of the state’s corrections systems. I’ll live tweet throughout the broadcast, so join me in the conversation @ReneeKET.

Until then, you can watch the Prison State documentary to see how Kentucky’s criminal justice system impacts the lives of four Louisvillians as well as taxpayers across the commonwealth.

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