Sold-out women’s conference hears from Beshear, others

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples

The Kentucky Democratic Women held their summer conference at Boone Tavern in Berea last Saturday, and the sold-out audience heard from a variety of Democratic leaders and activists from across the state, including Governor Andy Beshear.

The conference was led by JoAnne Wheeler Bland, president of the statewide organization of Democratic Woman’s Clubs. Bland noted that there is interest in many counties about starting or restarting local clubs, and said the turnout for the summer conference was indicative of the increased political involvement she was seeing from women across the state.

Notes from some of the speakers

The large turnout could be explained by the excellent program Bland had put together for the event. Here is the list of speakers:

  • Attica Scott, 41st district representative
  • Colmon Elridge, chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party
  • Governor Andy Beshear
  • Charles Booker, candidate for U.S. Senate
  • Cassie Chambers-Armstrong, member of Louisville Metro Council
  • Riley Gilliam, the 2021 Scholarship Winner
  • Blair Haydon, executive director of Emerge
  • Hand Linderman, candidate for U.S. Congress
  • Anna Stewart Whites, attorney and expert on KREF requirements
  • Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign
  • Nisia Thornton, chair of the KDP LGBTQ Council

I arrived too late to hear Scott speak, but was told later that she got a great reception and really fired up the crowd.

Here are some notes I took during the program.

Colmon Elridge, chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party

Elridge noted that “there is only one party willing to stand for the soul of our nation and the conscience of our commonwealth.”

He said that Secretary of State Adams has been systematically taking Dems off the voting rolls. Commenting on that, he said, “I’m still nice. Still Kentucky’s Al Roker.

“But what I really am, is I’m fed up. Unless you are a straight white male, you don’t deserve full citizenship.

“And most of all, I’m fed up that we now live in a Commonwealth that a 10-year-old girl can be raped, and told by this commonwealth that her life doesn’t matter.

“The Republicans are betting that we’re going to become so discouraged that we just give up. Let’s make liars out of those bastards and let’s get to work.

“We have a fight on our hands. But as a friend continuously tells me, Kentucky is worth the fight.”

Gov. Andy Beshear

Beshear made quite an entrance, as he had brought the family dog Winnie with him, and the dog immediately tried to visit with all the people in the front of the room. Eventually Beshear got Winnie to lay down beside him, as he addressed the conference.

Noting some accomplishments of his administration to date, he shared that over 70% of KYians over 18 got at least one shot of the Covid vaccine. He pointed to the work of dealing with the pandemic, saying “We had to build this whole COVID infrastructure from scratch. Think about how far we have come.”

He added, “On top of that, we had ice storms, flooding, and the deadliest tornado in history of KY.” He spoke of the “heaviness” of the present, but said “We’re going to make it.”

He then went on to contrast all of the past challenges with the current reality: “As exciting a future for Kentucky as I’ve ever seen.” He pointed out that the state is setting new economic development records seemingly each month, and that these were new jobs of the future, with better pay.

He said that bond rating agencies had increased their ratings of Kentucky’s economy, and that Kentucky is now the “undisputed EV battery producer in the U.S.”

“This future is so exciting,” he continued. “We have to be sure we don’t fumble it. We’ve got a chance to be the generation that takes Kentucky’s economy to top-ten status.”

In response to a question from the audience, he said to applause “I was real happy to hear that a certain person would not be a federal judge in Kentucky.”

He also pointed out that BOTH amendments on the ballot this fall — the abortion amendment and the legislature-call-themselves-into-session amendment — needed to fail. He urged everyone at the conference to not just focus on the abortion amendment, but to also help their friends and neighbors to understand the danger of giving the Republican-controlled legislature the power to meet and pass laws all year.

Charles Booker, candidate for U.S. Senate

Booker got a warm reception, as Wheeler introduced him as “the next Senator from Kentucky!” Here are some quotes from his talk:

“As proud as I am to be a Kentuckian, as proud as I am to stand by your side, I know the reality: Democracy — the pursuit of democracy — the idea that our voices can be heard and accounted for, that we can shape our society, our commonwealth, our country, and leave a better future for our children — all that is hanging on by a thread.”

“Kentucky doesn’t have to be at the bottom. We deserve better. It just takes us coming together.”

“We have more in common than we do that divides us. And if we build our politics around those common bonds, we can do the work to end poverty, to pull up the roots of structural racism and inequity, and to get the healing we need as a country.”

Cassie Chambers Armstrong, member of Louisville Metro Council

Armstrong opened by talking about Berea College and her family’s experience, including her mother deciding to go to college there, and Armstrong growing up there while her parents went to school. Here are some quotes from her talk:

“I grew up seeing education all around me, and it is in my bones.”

“Don’t be the person that kills a child’s dream.”

“I ran for office because I truly believe that government can be a force for good.”

Blair Haydon, executive director of Emerge KY

Haydon was not part of the original program, but was asked to speak about her work with Emerge KY, the organization focused on training Democratic women to run for office. She gave an update on the successes they have had over the past few years, including both how many Emerge graduates are currently in office, and how many more are running this fall. Emerge is a bright spot for Dems in Kentucky, and it was good to hear how well it is doing.

Hank Linderman, candidate for U.S. House

Linderman talked some about his campaign, but spent most of his time on lessons he has learned from his experience campaigning, and how he thinks those lessons should inform how Democrats do their work in Kentucky, and especially in rural areas.

Early in his talk, he called out Chris Hartman in the room, the director of the Fairness Organization, and said, “The organization he leads, Fairness, provides proof that if we put in the work in rural Kentucky, we will see results.”

Here are some more quotes from his talk:

“I sometimes go speak at Republican events, and when I do, I look them right in the eye and say ‘I’m a damn Democrat.’ And some people say ‘I’m a damn Democrat too,’ but others say ‘well, I’m a damn Republican,’ and we shake hands.”

“I’ve noticed that Republicans don’t really want advice from Democrats. And we probably don’t want advice from Republicans. So fixing the Republican party is up to Republicans! Fixing our party is up to us, all of us in this room.”

“Don’t argue with fools. They drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience.”

“We have got to focus on rebuilding our county parties. And instead of having them report upward to Frankfort and Washington, they should co sideways, and reach out to the counties next door to them.”

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Organization

Hartman talked about going to Vicco and meeting with their gay mayor about passing a fairness ordinance, and then meeting with the city commission about it. He recounted how talking with this small-town commission about fairness was one of the easiest conversations he had had, with a final vote of 3-1.

When that fairness ordinance passed, Vicco became the smallest city in the entire country to protect LGBTQ rights. When this happened, “we shifted the narrative nationally, because people were convinced LGBTQ rights were a big-city issue, that there were no queer folks living in rural America, and that there was no support for queer folks in rural Amercia – and we knew that was wrong.”

Hartman also pointed out, “The 24 communities that have passed a fairness ordinance only cover about 30% of our state’s population. Which means that 70% of Kentuckians still live in a place where they fear they could be turned away from a restaurant for holding their partner’s hand, be kicked out of any public business or a park if someone suspects that they are LGBTQ, and I still hear about it today.”

“And it’s not just LGBTQ rights that are threatened – ALL of our rights are on the table right now.”

Nisia Thornton, chair of the KDP LGBTQ Council

Thornton told about her life’s journey, including moving from where she was to being a Democrat. She also discussed her insights into other viewpoints, such as Libertarianism.

She is currently a nurse, and she talked about the requirement to provide care to every person, regardless of all the conditions that might get in the way, including personal beliefs.

Anna Stewart Whites, attorney and expert on KREF requirements

I didn’t capture any especially note-worthy quotes from Whites’s talk, mainly because the entire talk was valuable, especially for any of the attendees who are involved with the finances of their local club. She discussed all the Registry of Election Finance laws and regulations that could apply to such clubs, and when those regs actually applied. She also emphasized the importance of getting the reports both correct and submitted on time. Her Q & A session was the most engaged of any that day.

Speaker photos from the day

A few photos from the conference.

Beshear and Winnie make an entrance
Beshear speaking. Note the leash.

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Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)


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