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Quarles says being master of ceremonies at annual Fancy Farm picnic is a ‘dream come true’

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Kentucky’s annual premier political event happens this weekend in a small western Kentucky community and the man who has the job of master of ceremonies is busy preparing.

The Fancy Farm Picnic takes place on Saturday at St. Jerome’s Church, as it has since 1880, although it did not begin serving as the fall kickoff to Kentucky’s political season until 1931, when A. B. “Happy” Chandler made an appearance while running for lieutenant governor.

Now, Fancy Farm’s normal population of 458, according to the 2010 Census, swells by more than 10,000, for that one day.

In recent years, Fancy Farm organizers alternate between Democratic and Republican emcees for the political stump speaking and this year it’s the turn of Republican Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles.

Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles will be master of ceremonies for this weekend’s Fancy Farm Picnic. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

“Mark Wilson, one of the Fancy Farm organizers, called me and said the committee asked if I would be interested in serving as emcee,” Quarles said.  “For a farm kid from central Kentucky who watched Fancy Farm on TV growing up, it’s a dream come true to be a part of the Super Bowl of Kentucky politics.”

Quarles said he is still working on his opening remarks, his introductions of the candidates, and said he is looking forward to it.

“You can always count on it being a hot August day with 20,000 pounds of barbeque!”

He wouldn’t reveal what he was going to say, other than to tease a little of its contents which relate to his job. “Not to let the cat out of the bag, but there will be a special part of my remarks that honors the past and traditions of Kentucky agriculture.  Of course, western Kentucky is a hub of agriculture, so I hope people watching at home get a little taste of it while we’re up on stage.”

When asked how he’ll keep things under control, Quarles is in wait-and-see mode.

“It can get a little crazy, but fortunately Mark Wilson and the crew have a good system, so if people start getting a little out of control they can mitigate that,” he said. “Even that can be a surprise.  Sometimes it’s a band or music, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Quarles says he has been to Fancy Farm at least a dozen times.

“I can remember going for the first time during my freshman year at the University of Kentucky and I think I’ve missed only one or two picnics since then.”

He had these words of advice for this year’s participants: “You can never win at Fancy Farm, but you can always lose.  We’re hoping to have a nice civil discourse on Saturday.”

Among those who have committed to speak are Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has already announced his plans to run for governor in 2019; Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has not officially stated her intentions; Republican State Auditor Mike Harmon; both candidates for the 1st District Congressional seat, Republican incumbent James Comer and Democratic challenger Paul Walker and several other local candidates.

When asked last week if he would attend Fancy Farm, Gov. Matt Bevin, who has also not said if he will run for re-election, said only, “We’ll see.”  Neither of Kentucky’s U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, have committed as of yet.

The speeches will be televised live on KET, starting at 2:30 EST.

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