The biggest political contingent in Paducah's Labor Day parade was for Bernie Sanders

Berry Craig

  The biggest political contingent in Paducah's Labor Day parade was for Bernie Sanders    | Kentucky, Labor Day 2015, labor, Bernie Sanders, presidential primary, presidential politics,

Senator Bernie Sanders' supporters march in Paducah 2015 Labor Day Parade.

Eight-year-old Megan Tapp of Paducah cut to the chase when asked why she's for Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.

"He's a good man."

Sanders is a Vermont independent and a democratic socialist who is running on the Democratic ticket for 2016.

It might be hard to fathom that the most left-wing lawmaker in Washington has fans in deep western Kentucky, the most conservative corner of the Red State Bluegrass State.

But 27 area residents and a Tennessean stumped for Sanders at the 40th annual Labor Day parade in Paducah, an historic old river town where the Tennessee joins the Ohio.

Tapp and her two brothers were among about a dozen kids in the Sanders contingent.

Sanders' politics didn't entirely play in Paducah.

"Some of the people along the way yelled 'socialist!' at us," said Sanders supporter Jennifer Smith of Paducah. "They need to learn the difference between a communist and a democratic socialist.

"They need to look at countries where there is democratic socialism. A lot of them rank above us -- in economy, prosperity, happiness indicators and they have universal health care. I lived in Canada for 12 years and it was the best health care I've had in my life."

Most spectators, though, seemed friendly.

After the parade, some union members sought Sanders buttons, bumper stickers and yard signs from Janice Thomasson of Murray, who brought the Bernie bunch together for the parade.

She was fresh out.

Smith, a breast cancer survivor, grew up in the Green Mountain State. "Vermont raises great progressives," she said, grinning. "It's in the water. So obviously I'm going to be a Bernie Sanders fan."

Smith isn't a millennial. But she rode in the back seat of a vintage gold Mercury Cougar convertible with hand-made "MILLENNIALS 4 BERNIE" signs draped over the rear fenders and blue "Bernie 2016" magnets stuck on the doors.

Allan Russell of Paducah chauffeured the old Merc. He's for Sanders because "the rest of them are really nuts and Bernie makes sense."

At right, Jalissa Perez, 9; Dakota Cornwell, 9, Sincere Rush, 12 campaigning at an early age for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

A bright blue "Stand With Bernie 2016" banner preceded the Sanders caravan. Thomasson held up one end and Mike Vick of Paducah supported the other.

"I'm for Bernie because he wants to raise the minimum wage to a living wage," Thomasson said. "He is against GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and he is against TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal] and wants to bring our jobs back."

Added Vick: "Bernie Sanders has been standing for working people and fighting for the working class for his entire political life."

Vick and the rest of the Sanders group made the biggest political splash in the parade.

None of the other 2016 presidential hopefuls had organized boosters in the procession.

Neither of Kentucky's gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jack Conway or Republican Matt Bevin, showed up for the parade. Conway was at a Labor Day picnic in Louisville, Kentucky's largest city.

The Kentucky State AFL-CIO endorsed Conway. The national AFL-CIO has yet to endorse a presidential candidate.

"We hope the unions will wait," Vick said. "Bernie has a lot of grassroots union support."

That support extends to Paducah union halls. Some members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 816 attended the western Kentucky organizational meeting for Sanders at Murray State University earlier in the summer.

Sanders also has admirers at the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, a union umbrella organization that covers the state's 13 westernmost counties.

The Local 816 Sanders supporters marched with their union brothers and sisters in the parade and were among trade unionists seeking campaign material afterwards.

In any event, Tapp was one of the youngest Sanders supporters to "to feel the Bern" as some of her fellow paraders put it. (Parade participants in vehicles, aboard floats or on foot felt another burn. They braved a sweltering, sun baked 90-degree morning to trek 14 blocks.)

At 79, Ruth Kazzmarek was the oldest Sanders fan. The Springfield, Tenn., resident is for Sanders "for just a whole slew of reasons. He's not under the corporate thumb and he's for things like no GMOs."

Sylvia Stewart of Kuttawa and Brandon Simpson of Kirbyton appreciate Sanders' consistency.

"Bernie is fighting for the same things he has fought for since he was in college," she said. "He's for the troops and that's especially good. My father is a soldier."

Simpson agreed. "He's been fighting for working men and women for the past 30 years. He's a good break from the establishment."

In 1981, Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont's largest city. After serving four two-year terms, he was elected to congress in 1990 and served 16 years before voters sent him to the senate in 2006. He was reelected in 2012 with more than 70 percent of the vote.

He's got Travis Russell's vote in next May's Kentucky primary. A Paducah resident who goes to Murray State, he likes Sanders' proposal for free education at public universities, financed by a modest transaction tax on Wall Street trades.

"I believe in Bernie because I ache for everyone that owes student debt," he said.

Megan Tapp is a long way from college age. So is her big brother, Jayson, 9.

Like his little sister, he's a Sanders fan and a person of few words. "He's doing the right thing for the citizens," Jayson said of his candidate.

More information about the Sanders for president campaign is available from Thomasson. Her email address is