Politics

(Featured image: Crowd at Fancy Farm 2016)

The annual Fancy Farm picnic and political speaking event takes place next week in far-west Kentucky’s Graves County.

Though no major elections are scheduled to take place this year, state political leaders will still roll up their shirt sleeves and hurl insults at each other during the 137th iteration of the charity event.

Gov. Matt Bevin has declined an invitation to speak, citing a scheduling conflict. That means a public showdown between the Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear will have to wait for another year.

Beshear says he will be in attendance — he missed the event last year to attend a family event.

Other confirmed speakers include Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer, whose district includes the area.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have not confirmed their attendance and are expected to be absent because the regularly scheduled August recess for Congress has been pushed back to allow Republicans time to hash out an Obamacare repeal plan.

St. Jerome’s Catholic Church has hosted the Fancy Farm Picnic since its inception in the 1880s. Each year, volunteers barbecue several tons of pork and mutton to sell to more than 10,000 attendees.

The political portion of the event has evolved into a raucous affair where speakers insult and tease opponents while the crowd heckles and chants.

There are no statewide or legislative races scheduled this year, which could dampen the frenetic energy of recent Fancy Farm picnics.

Last year’s picnic was notable because of the presidential election, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s challenge of incumbent Sen. Rand Paul and races for the state House of Representatives —  which ultimately led to Republicans gaining control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century.

The year before, Bevin defied expectations by winning a crowded primary election and later winning the Kentucky governorship, becoming only the second Republican to do so in more than four decades.

Bevin criticized the bombastic tone of the Fancy Farm speeches over the last two years, though the rowdy atmosphere hasn’t abated.

This year’s event will be emceed by former Democratic House Speaker Bobby Richardson, who left the General Assembly in 1990.

Recent emcees have alternated between representatives of the two major political parties — Republican operative Scott Jennings last year, and Kentucky Sports Radio Host Matt Jones, a Democrat, the year before.

The picnic will be held on Saturday, August 5 at 10 a.m. CST with the political speaking beginning at 2 p.m. and aired live on KET.

Other confirmed speakers include:

  • State Sen. Stan Humphries, Republican
  • State Rep. Richard Heath, Republican
  • U.S. Rep. James Comer, Republican
  • House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Republican
  • House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, Democrat
  • Attorney General Andy Beshear, Democrat
  • Agriculture Commission Ryan Quarles, Republican
  • State Auditor Mike Harmon, Republican
  • Libertarian National Committee Chair Nicholas Sarwark

Organizers are still waiting for confirmation from the following:

  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Republican
  • Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat
  • Treasurer Allison Ball, Republican
  • Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton, Republican
  • State Senate President Robert Stivers, Republican

This story has been updated.

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