Politics

The annual Fancy Farm political speaking event takes place this weekend, signaling the unofficial kickoff of the fall election season in Kentucky.

The festival is a fundraiser for St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in the Graves County town of Fancy Farm in far-west Kentucky.

For more than a century the event has attracted Kentucky politicians trying to sway voters and in recent decades has evolved into a raucous affair where speakers insult and tease opponents while the crowd heckles and chants.

During the picnic, organizers also cook more than 20,000 pounds of barbecued pork and mutton for attendees.

Fancy Farm picnic political director Mark Wilson said late Friday afternoon that Gov. Matt Bevin would not attend this year’s event. Bevin has also not said whether he’ll seek re-election during next year’s gubernatorial contest.

Bevin attended in 2016 and as a candidate in 2015, both times criticizing the bombastic tone of the Fancy Farm speeches.

Meanwhile Bevin’s top political rival and the only person to officially launch a bid for governor, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, has said he will attend.

Last year Beshear publicly distributed his tax returns during his speech — an admonishment of Bevin, who has never published his earnings.

Teachers and other state workers are expected to show up in force to the picnic to protest changes to the state’s pension system that passed earlier this year.

Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes — who is rumored to be considering a run for governor or attorney general next year — is also listed as a speaker for the event.

Guns will be on the minds of speakers — on Friday, Republicans are hosting a “Night Before Fancy Farm” dinner featuring National Rifle Association president Oliver North.

Survivors of the high school shooting in nearby Marshall County are planning to attend a protest of the dinner.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell Tweeted that he would attend the festival.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul will not be at the event. On Monday he’ll be meeting with members of Russia’s parliament

The event will be emceed by Agriculture Commission Ryan Quarles, a Republican.

Featured image: Hecklers in the audience at Fancy Farm 2016

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.