Politics

A black Democratic Kentucky lawmaker who was told by a white Republican colleague to “sit down” during a heated moment in the during this year’s legislative session is calling on Democrats to “take a stand.”

Louisville representative Charles Booker was the featured speaker at the Alben Barkley Dinner Thursday night in Paducah, one of the many political gatherings ahead of the Fancy Farm Picnic. WKMS News estimates more than 300 people were in attendance.

Booker recalled the moment near the end of the general session that involved Paducah representative Randy Bridges.

“It startled me,” he said. “But, you know what, I thought about my grandad who fought to desegregate his job back in Louisville. I thought about Kentuckians like you all that never sit down, that never give up, that fight every day, and I said, ‘you know what, I cannot sit down.’ So my message to you all… is we can’t sit down.”

Booker added to applause, “Not when jobs are being lost, not when unemployment is high, not when folks are rationing insulin to survive like I had to do, not when people are battling opioid addiction and not when folks like those miners in Harlan County I stood with yesterday were standing on the tracks with their family — their children — and looking at the engine and the lights and saying ‘If you think you’re going to run us over, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Booker garnered further cheers when he encouraged Democrats to “take a stand” and “look Matt Bevin in the face and say Kentucky will not be bullied.” He said voters should tell Bevin to “return to sender” in 2019 and to tell McConnell, “What that con man in the White House used to say on his show before it got canceled: ‘You’re fired!’”

The Courier Journal reported last month Booker said he was evaluating a possible 2020 Senate bid. He told the paper Kentucky voters deserve an opportunity to decide whether they are ready to elect an African-American to the Senate.

Other Digs At Republicans

Other moments that roused the crowd at the Democratic event involved candidates taking a dig at the roots of prominent Kentucky Republicans, pointing out that many are not native to the commonwealth.

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Robert Conway describes himself as an eighth-generation farmer from Scott County. He said all the Democrats on the ballot were born, raised and educated in Kentucky, while several prominent members of Kentucky’s GOP were not.

“Damon Thayer’s from Michigan. Jenean Hampton’s from Michigan. Ralph Alvarado’s from California. Rand Paul’s from Texas. Mitch McConnell’s from Alabama. And Matt Bevin’s from New Hampshire. What is it about the Republicans that they can’t even bring their own people from the state of Kentucky?” said Conway to applause.

Matt Markgraf/WKMS

Andy Beshear similarly said he’s the only candidate for governor with Kentucky roots. Beshear launched into his standard attacks on Bevin, criticizing him for calling teachers names, for his efforts to roll back expanded Medicaid, push charter schools and for his handling of pension reform. He then transitioned to a version of his platform speech, points of which he articulated in a May interview with WKMS News.

Beshear criticized Bevin’s administration for “always creating an ‘us versus them.’” Beshear said Kentucky has too many challenges and said there’s “only an us.” He called on the audience to envision a state where there is “a unity of purpose” and where everyone believes that they are a part of what the administration is doing. This idea of unity is one Bevin has discussed, notably in his inaugural speech. A similar notion also came up at an economic development forum with cabinet officials in Murray on Wednesday.

As for the political jabs, it’s a glimpse of what to expect from both parties at Fancy Farm on Saturday.