Just as the sun's heat and the wind's strength reached their peak Monday afternoon, 17 political candidates and one former Kentucky governor took the stage in downtown Paducah with the flood wall, river and American Queen as their backdrop.
In the traditional spirit of Labor Day, most speakers paid homage to the generations of men and women whose work had been proudly celebrated with the Labor Day parade just a few hours earlier. Their speeches also focused on their fights for local offices.
With strength in numbers and pro-union platforms that audibly appealed to the majority in Monday's audience, the Democrats drew the loudest applause from the crowd of roughly 100 people.
Though neither of Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates was present Monday, former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins spoke on behalf of Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Her calls for following Grimes' vision for investing in Kentucky's future through equal pay and a "minimum wage that's a living wage" got a positive response from the audience. The biggest response came with her closing remarks, however.
"There are 120 counties in the state of Kentucky, and they're all different," she said.
"It's like having 120 children. They each have a personality. They have assets. They have problems. They have challenges and they have different kinds of leadership.
"Allison has been in all 120 counties. She knows the counties. She is going to be a United State senator for every county in the state of Kentucky; no one gets left behind."
No one spoke on behalf of Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Charles Hatchett, Democratic challenger to Kentucky Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield, followed Collins with a call for "new blood" in Washington and a new approach to representing the first district. Whitfield did not attend.
"If I win the U.S. House of Representatives I'm going to put a council in the district, and west Kentucky will run Washington from here," Hatchett said. "I'll just be the errand boy. We're not going to have it where Washington is running us."
He said that rather than having one politician representing the district's 725,000 people, he'd like to see one council representative to every 100,000.
For the most part, the afternoon's speeches and crowd responses remained civil. Several shouts and heckles came from the crowd in response to state representative candidate Republican Randy Bridges' comments in support of right to work legislation, which would allow people to work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.
In his speech, Republican challenger for McCracken County Commission Bill Bartleman said that while he didn't doubt the sincerity of his fellow candidates who claim job creation as one of their top priorities, he pointed out that creating jobs takes more than priorities. It takes a plan.
"Job creation is complex and very complicated," Bartleman said.
"I firmly believe that job creation begins with strong, positive cooperative leadership. Residents have to feel good about the community before we can expect others to come in and make investments in our community to create jobs."
Bartleman said that after recent talks with leaders in Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and Owensboro about their economic development successes, one thing became clear.
"Without exception, each one of them said the number one key to their success was the cooperation of city and county officials who worked together with business and labor leaders," he said.
McCracken County Commissioner Ronnie Freeman started out reflecting on the significance of Labor Day and speaking in favor of prevailing wages and against right to work legislation. However, he quickly went on the attack against Bartleman, his challenger, in what was the most heated speech of the day.
Freeman contrasted his own years of experience working in the McCracken County Fiscal Court with Bartleman's years of experience working for Paxton Media Group and specifically his three-year stint at the recently closed Mid Continent University, something Freeman lambasted Bartleman for not bringing up when he spoke.
Fourth term Paducah City Commissioner Richard Abraham, who followed Freeman and was one of the last to speak, kept things broad and brief, shifting focus from politicians' responsibilities to voters' responsibilities.
"Personal responsibility rests on us," he said.
"You've got to ask the question: Are you doing your due diligence to find out everything you need to know to figure out what's best for where you live? That is an awesome responsibility, but guys, we're not the only ones that had to make it. If you look back over your shoulders, there are blood and bones broken that led us to where we are right now. And if we don't sit up and pay attention, the liberties that we love will be lost on our watch."
Contact Genevieve Postlethwait, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or at email@example.com.
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