A pair of sentences in reporter Joseph Gerth’s Courier-Journal story about the Fancy Farm picnic jumped out at me:
-- “The two top Democratic candidates in next year's U.S. Senate race abandoned any pretense of civility…”
-- “The top two Republicans trained most of their fire on Democrats.”
I believe in truth-in-labeling. I’m a union card-carrying Democrat.
So Ronald Reagan was not one of my favorite presidents, not by a long shot.
But I’ve got to hand it to the Gipper for coming up with what was called the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
I’d like to see our party modify it to read, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Democrat.”
Of course, Republicans break the commandment. The Mitch McConnell-Jim Bunning blood feud is a recent example.
But historically, Kentucky Democrats have been more inclined toward internecine strife than Bluegrass State Republicans. That was the case at Fancy Farm. Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Dr. Ron Paul – the main 2010 GOP primary contenders to succeed Sen. Bunning -- mostly practiced what Reagan preached. Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney Gen. Jack Conway – the Democratic senatorial primary’s heavy hitters -- opted to put their own spin on the Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
Mongiardo struck first because he spoke before Conway. But when it was his turn, Conway blasted back. No doubt Mongiardo and Conway partisans loved it when their guy was slamming the other guy. But I’d bet the Republicans loved it more.
Gerth added: “The biting remarks by Conway and Mongiardo were something of a surprise in light of a statement by state Democratic Chairman Charlie Moore, who said [the] Friday night [before the picnic] that both candidates had agreed to avoid personal attacks. ‘We can't come out of this primary bloodied and bruised,’ he said in a speech to Democrats at a Marshall County bean supper.”
State Rep. Will Coursey, a Marshall County Democrat and a former history student of mine, said the same thing at a union meeting in Paducah a few weeks ago. In the old days, the Democrats were so strong in Kentucky that they won most elections even when they were divided. But the era of almost total Democratic dominance is gone, at least for now.
Kentucky is one of the reddest of the Republican red states. Oh, the Democrats have the governorship and the state House. The Republicans have just about everything else – the state Senate, both U.S. senators and four of our six members of Congress.
Elsewhere, Obama won big last year. McCain claimed more than 57 percent of the Kentucky vote and carried all but 8 of the state’s 120 counties.
Hence, it would seem that party unity could hardly be more critical for the Democrats going into 2010. Yet Mongiardo and Conway are pounding each other like it’s the 1930s when the winner of the Democratic primary almost always triumphed at the general election.
I suspect the Republicans videotaped Mongiardo’s and Conway’s barbs and plan to use them to poke whichever Democrat takes the primary.
“Mongiardo led off the speaking, attacking Conway for his decision to attend Duke University, the implication being that Conway had a privileged upbringing,” Gerth wrote, adding that, “Campaign staffers for Mongiardo, a University of Kentucky graduate and a Hazard physician, passed out plastic silver spoons in a bid to drive home the idea that Mongiardo represents the working-class voter.”
If Conway wins the Democratic primary, the fake cutlery might reappear at next year’s picnic. But the Republicans will be giving it away.
Several of my union brothers and sisters were at Fancy Farm. Some are backing Mongiaro. Others are in Conway’s corner. Some of us like both Democrats. (The Kentucky State AFL-CIO endorsed Mongiardo and Conway in 2007.)
Coursey – who was also union-endorsed – said our party is lucky to have two solid candidates in Mongiardo and Conway. I agree.
I also agree – and a lot of Democrats do, too, if only privately -- that the exit of bizarro Bunning has given the GOP a much better shot at holding his seat. Meanwhile, here’s hoping Mongiardo and Conway will wise up and stop supplying the enemy bullets one of them will be dodging at Fancy Farm and beyond next year
Berry Craig, a Graves County resident, is a union activist, media guy, professor at West Kentucky Technical and Community College and most recently, the author of "True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bourbon, Bombast & Burgoo”.