The Dem side of Fancy Farm pavilion is usually full. Not in 2021.
With Fancy Farm's St. Jerome's Picnic over for 2021, the organizers of The Political Speaking (TPS from now on) are probably just glad it's over. Until next year. The complete abandonment by state Democratic elected officials and poohbahs cut the crowd down by more than half. That meant fewer barbecue sandwiches and less money raised for the good use that St. Jerome's puts to the outlanders' money.
The unconfirmed word from Frankfort was Democratic leadership decided not to attend any events in a Covid red zone county, which Graves County certainly was the first week of August.
But so was McCracken County in the second week of August. One has to wonder why Governor Beshear would show up there the Monday after the Picnic. His victory lap for the last winter funding gift to Merryman House in Paducah may have been planned to signal that he hadn't forgotten the Purchase. It fell flat since McCracken Cou nty Democrats honored founder of Merryman House and Democratic activist Merryman Kemp posthumously at a dinner on the Thursday evening before TPS without the Governor or leadership of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
The Republicans on the program and KET had an awesome good time talking to supporters without having to deal with catcalling and a noisy opposition that has become the trademark of the event in recent years.
They spent most of their time throwing red meat out with criticism of their opponents. None of the elected officials wasted time talking about their accomplishments. There were a few friendly elbows flung against potential opponents in the primaries set for May 2022.
Other draws were missing. The Godfather of the Republican Party, Senator Mitch McConnell, stayed in Washington to oppose anything Senate Democrats might propose. Senator Rand Paul also skipped the Picnic which has never been a favorite of his anyway. At right, without big names most of the press corps skipped.
With only one side showing up and Graves County and much of the Purchase now fully and firmly in GOP hands, TPS organizers have to be asking themselves if the time-honored event hasn't run its course. Stump speaking feels like the old sepia photos of the lightning blasted tree that once served to get politicians above the crowd.
Supporters and cheer teams who piled on buses in the early morning hours in Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort didn't show up this year. Local bed and breakfasts noticed covid related cancellations.
While Republicans continued their events around the Picnic all but one Democratic event was cancelled. Covid that looked beaten in the winter and early spring with three new vaccines came roaring back with the Delta variant, the leaner, meaner more infectious version of 19.
The outdoors St. Jerome's Picnic with basketball throws, barbecue stands and bingo went on as it had before 2020 caused a pause. The Picnic brings in a lot of money and cancelling two years in a row would be a financial blow to the parish. At left, the basketball goal was a big draw. There was a line of boys and parents waiting.
But with 2021 being an election free year and confirmations coming in at a glacial pace, surely calling the political portion had to be considered. With only Republicans signing up, the event was sadly one sided. The lesson that Dem leadership could well have learned is skipping has no penalty. With Jefferson County Democrats eyeing a counter event for the urban center of the state, it looks like more will do so in the future. Why drive 270 miles for no votes when you can drive around the corner or over I-64 for a whole lot of votes?
From the vantage of late summer 2021, it looks like when August 2022 rolls around, the crowded field of Republicans vying for a chance to challenge Andy Beshear will be rolling into Graves County to prove they're The Man to take on the incumbent governor in 2023. Some of the same Republicans from 2021 who made nice with their fellow GOPers will be throwing knives rather than elbows for a chance to raise a whole lot of dough and bragging rights in a match against a governor many despise.
Even Senator Rand Paul who will have a challenger in November 2022 for his seat may show up. His challenger may - depending on if there really will be a Golden Triangle Democratic event that day. At this writing, two Democrats have announced they are running against Paul: Charles Booker and Ruth Gao.
Over the past decade the political portion of St. Jerome's Picnic has become more gladiatorial combat than spirited debate. There is blame enough to go around for the political stage becoming a toxic waste site. Like viewing the Derby from the infield, many political types come to Fancy Farm once and say never again.
If the political speaking is replaced by a music event, many Purchase resident ears will perk up. The region has some fine musical talent and the biggest summer venue is a blues festival in late August. Graves County has nothing to compare.
This is the 141st year of the St. Jerome's Picnic. Enthusiasm remains high in the community. The Picnic shows no sign of ending.
But it is clear the political part of the festivities, like the old gray mare, ain't what it used to be.
Maybe the time has come to put it out to pasture.