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Election 2011: Democratic rally built with pride

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Statewide candidates flock to Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

By Todd Martin

The Shelby County Democratic Party welcomed nearly all the statewide candidates for next week’s primary election to town Wednesday for its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

The Science Hill Inn dining room was near capacity with not much more than standing room left as 110 folks filed in to hear the Democratic candidates speak.

“We were very, very pleased,” local party chair Fielding Ballard said. “It was actually even a little better than we expected.”

The overall theme of the night was one of brotherhood and bonds between likeminded voters, the only tense moments coming late in the evening, when Secretary of State candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes calling Elaine Walker into question for not being a life-long Democrat and not being born in Kentucky.

Walker took the actions in stride, saying she chose to be a Democrat, and that growing up on an Air Force base in Utah and her father’s time in the military was something she was very proud of.

Former Louisville mayor and lieutenant governor candidate Jerry Abramson set the tone for the night, with his speech about what being a Democrat means kicking off the program.

 “When people ask you what it means to be a Democrat, tell them about Medicare, tell them about Social Security, tell them Pell Grants that kids need to go to college,” he said.

Abramson touched on education, economic development and balanced budgets and how Gov. Steve Beshear, the incumbent who Abramson is running with, has tackled those problems during his tenure.

He noted that many issues have been compounded because of the downturn in the economy, but it hasn’t deterred the work.

“Governor Beshear has done all this during the most difficult financial times outside the Great Depression,” he said. “He could have been like the governor of New Jersey and laid off thirty-three hundred teachers. He could have been like the governor of Illinois, where they passed a 67 percent increase in state income tax and a 45 percent increase in corporate taxes. But this governor didn’t do that.

“Come November, remember what it’s like to be a Democrat, and why this governor needs your support.”

Abramson closed on an education note, which got a rousing applause from the crowd.

Reminding the group that Beshear had tried to pass a bill moving the dropout age from 16 to 18, with the support of the house and senate, but it still came up short.

“One man kept that from getting on the floor for a vote,” he told the crowd, referring  to Republican candidate David Williams, who is president of the state Senate.

Abramson’s speech, which ended in a standing ovation, was just the turn Shelby County Democratic Party chair Fielding Ballard said the party had been looking for.

“That [being proud to be a Democrat] is something that maybe needs to be said a little more often,” Ballard said. “We need to show people what we stand for.”

That proud-to-be-a-Democrat theme carried through the evening, with former U.S. House candidate Ed Marksberry commenting, “Democrats are tired of Democrats that are running for office acting like Republicans.”

Four of the five Democratic candidates for Commissioner of Agriculture attended the event, with David Williams being the only one that did not make it.

Each touted their experience, and how they would tackle the job.

Bob Farmer, who quickly noted that he’s not related to current commissioner Richie Farmer, talked about his experience in marketing and how it would relate to the job.

Stewart Gritton noted his 20-plus years in dairy farming and his work in the commissioner’s office through the past three ag commissioners.

John Lackey, who said all five candidates would serve the state well, said his “fish swimming against the current” approach would serve well with no ties to anyone in government.

B.D. Wilson, the County-Judge Executive of Montgomery County, touted his political experience along with his experience in business.

L.J. “Todd” Hollenbach, whose father, Todd Sr., emceed the event, talked about how he has cut costs in the state treasurer’s office and how he continues to operate on a shoestring budget.

Ballard said he hopes the eventful evening can help bring out a strong showing from the Democrats in Tuesday’s election, but he’s not very confident.

“Most projections are showing about a ten to twelve percent voter turnout. I think it will be low. And with only three contested on the Democratic ticket, there won’t be too many. It’s unfortunate the projections are so low.”

But despite the projected low turnout, Ballard said this primary and November’s election could be a big step for the Democrats.

“Statewide and nationally, I think we’re going to see a resurgence from the Democratic Party. People are seeing what the party stands for and who really protects the average working person.”