Larry and Linda Sanderson arrived early to help get Paducah’s Walker Hall ready for Friday’s resurrected pre-Fancy Farm Danny Ross West Kentucky Building and Construction Trades Council Labor Luncheon.
In walked two young men, both strangers to the couple.
The duo said they “were sent here to help you do anything you need to prepare for this luncheon,” Larry, a veteran Paducah trade unionist and longtime luncheon organizer-emcee, explained to the crowd.
More than 325 people — most of them union members, active and retired, officials, and rank-and-filers — came to chow down on a free meal and cheer a speech from Gov. Andy Beshear, whose reelection they support. (The Kentucky State AFL-CIO endorsed the whole Democratic ticket, based on the candidates’ strong support for unions, not the party label.)
Sanderson, a septuagenarian who retired as a UA international representative in 2011, traditionally warms up for featured speakers at the mid-day feeds. They’re held the day before the storied Fancy Farm political picnic in nearby Graves County, where old-fashioned pit barbecue and stump oratory are as hot as the weather. (More than a few Democrats say Republican speakers have crossed the line from just zinging Team Blue to non-stop pandering and demagoguery.)
Larry recalled that Linda noticed that one of the would-be helpers sported a Republican Party shirt. A devout Democrat, he saw a golden opportunity to evangelize for his party's standard bearer: “I said, ‘Buddy, I think you are in the wrong place, but I’d like to get you to vote for Andy Beshear if you don’t mind.’”
The pair decamped, according to the emcee.
The throng laughed and applauded in approval.
The labor luncheon was back after a four-year-hiatus. Begun in 1991 it was ultimately named for Danny Ross, a longtime state labor leader who helped start the luncheons that have attracted a Who’s Who of state Democratic politicians.
The COVID pandemic forced suspension of the programs after 2019.
Beshear was on familiar turf at Walker Hall. He had shared the podium Thursday night with the rest of the Democratic ticket at the McCracken County Democratic Party’s Alben Barkley Dinner. Named for President Harry Truman’s “Veep,” it is traditionally the first of four pre-Fancy Farm festivities. At the Barkley dinner and the labor luncheon, Beshear provided the faithful with what was likely a preview of his Fancy Farm stump speech.
The Mike Miller Marshall County Democratic Party bean dinner — named in honor of the late county-judge executive who was in office for 40 years — follows the Labor Luncheon on Friday night at Kentucky Dam Village State Park in Gilbertsville. Beshear was again the featured speaker.
On Saturday morning, the Graves County Democrats were expected to again host a brunch in Mayfield, the county seat. Beshear was also to headline that event, which was held in the Purchase Players building, which was damaged by the tornado that devastated much of the town on Dec. 10, 2021.
Sanderson is a better stump speaker than many politicians. He fired up the crowd for Beshear.
He called the governor “a decent human being: he is a devout father figure, has a beautiful family, was raised by wonderful parents — [Gov.] Steve and [First Lady] Jane Beshear — and I think they instilled in him the compassion and the feeling for people that he has.”
A Democratic two-term governor, Steve Beshear was in office from 2007 to 2015. Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron wants Andy Beshear’s job. (Both Beshears were also attorneys general.)
In his speech, the governor collected several rounds of applause when he hit on familiar campaign topics: steering the state through the global COVID-19 pandemic, and guiding the state response to a pair of deadly and destructive natural disasters that whipsawed the state: powerful tornados in western Kentucky and massive flooding in the eastern part of the state. He also said that he has fought for pay hikes for public school teachers and staffers. On his watch, too, Beshear said the state has benefitted from a booming economy marked by historic low unemployment and millions of dollars in new business and industrial investment and construction.
The crowd roared with approval early in his remarks when Beshear said he was “proud to be the pro-union governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
“I am proud,” he added, “because our unions helped build this great nation, helped build the strongest middle class in the history of planet earth, ensured safety on a job-site, and right now are clearly building a future economy so bright and generating opportunities for all of our kids and grandkids. Thank you.”
He thanked labor again “for building he future of Kentucky. We are on schedule for every single one of these [building] projects because of union labor.”
He accused Cameron and the GOP of practicing the politics of “anger … even encouraging Kentuckians to violate the Golden Rule and … to hate one another. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to prove that’s a losing strategy in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
“It looks like Daniel Cameron and his allies are going all in on their big lie,” recently wrote the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Joseph Gerth in a column headlined, “If you can’t beat Beshear, lie about him. It’s the GOP strategy in the governor’s race.”
Added Gerth: “Taking a page from his hero, Donald Trump, Cameron has decided if you repeat the same lie over and over, people will eventually believe it. He obviously believes this is his only path to the governorship.”
Toward the end of his speech, Beshear invited the rest of the ticket to share the stage: Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman; state Rep. Pamela Stevenson, who is running for attorney general; secretary of state hopeful Buddy Wheatley; candidate for treasurer Michael Bowman; Kim Reeder, who wants to be auditor; and Sierra Enlow, whose hat is in the ring for agriculture commissioner.
Beshear wrapped up his address by urging everybody to join a auto caravan from the Mayfield brunch to Fancy Farm and to help swell the crowed at the picnic. “Are you ready to get out there and get loud?”
That prompted a standing ovation and the loudest applause of the day.