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Politicians and protesters gather at Kentucky Ham Breakfast

Ryland Barton

Politicians, farmers and protesters gathered for the Kentucky Ham Breakfast at the state fair on Thursday.

The annual event hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau has become a seminal pageant for politicos in the state. Politicians and businesspeople weigh in on the news of the day, hint at runs for higher office and bid massive amounts of money on a prize-winning country ham, with proceeds going to charity.

This was the twelfth-straight year the Kentucky Fairness Campaign and other LGBTQ rights groups protested the event, calling out the Farm Bureau for discriminatory policies in its handbook.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said most people who buy into the company’s insurance program don’t realize they’re also supporting an advocacy arm that opposes same-sex marriage.

“This is the type of discrimination that has no place in our community, and Kentucky Farm Bureau is selling it unwittingly to its customers,” Hartman said.

According to a copy of the 2020 Kentucky Farm Bureau policy handbook obtained by the Fairness Campaign, the organization advocates for several anti-LGBTQ, anti-public worker union, and pro-death penalty policies.

A representative from the Farm Bureau did not return a request for comment. Protesters were arrested at the event in 2015 and 2019. No arrests were reported on Thursday.

The main event of the Kentucky Ham Breakfast is the charity auction of the state fair’s grand champion ham. This year’s hunk of meat went for a record-breaking $5 million. For the second year in a row, the winning bid was pooled by former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft, Alliance Coal CEO Joe Craft and Central Bank.

Kelly Craft, who served under former Republican President Donald Trump, has strongly hinted at a run for governor next year. During a brief interview, Craft said she was focused on winning the ham again and buying school supplies for eastern Kentucky flood victims.

“Do you think I’m going to share with you my game plan? Do you think (University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball) Coach Cal or (University of Louisville’s) Coach Payne is going to share their game plan with anyone? I’m focused today on really buying this country ham,” Craft said.

Several other rumored and declared gubernatorial candidates also milled around the Kentucky Exposition Center ahead of the auction.

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who launched his campaign in May, said he wasn’t fazed by the growing GOP field.

“As the majority party, this is something as Republicans we’re going to get more used to,” Quarles said. “It’s my hope that we set the tone in 2023 so that future elections look back and say this is how primaries should be run, they should be based on who has the best ideas, and not the biggest insults.”

Other GOP candidates in attendance included Attorney General Daniel Cameron, state Auditor Mike Harmon and state Rep. Savannah Maddox. Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who is also rumored to be considering a run, also made an appearance at the event after largely laying low since his reelection loss in 2019.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who is running for reelection next year, delivered a speech focused on Kentucky’s disaster recovery and economic development achievements in recent years.

In a veiled nod to protesters outside the event, he said people are called on to care about each other.

“It doesn’t matter what part of the state, what part of the country or what part of the world you live in. It doesn’t matter your race or your sexual orientation, it does not matter your political party. We are called on to love one another,” Beshear said.

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Ryland is the state capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. Always looking to put a face to big issues,Ryland'sreporting has taken him to drought-weary towns in West Texas and relocated communities in rural China. He's covered breaking news like the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood Army Base and the aftermath of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.
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