By L. Clark Williams
A July 18, 2010 Herald-Leader article entitled, “The white world of politics in Kentucky,” suggested that black Kentuckians were essentially a non-factor in the political landscape of the commonwealth. Reporter John Cheves cited then-Senate candidate Rand Paul’s criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the fact that his comments did not have an adverse impact on his position in the polls.
Two months before the article, Paul’s suggestion that private entities should be able to discriminate based upon race, motivated me to ask his opponent, Jack Conway, how I could assist his efforts. My initial and follow-up inquiries were ignored.
So, both Senate candidates — one a Republican and the other a Democrat — showed me that people of color in Kentucky were in dire need of platforms and venues to raise both our own political awareness and the level of recognition candidates have for us and the issues that matter in our communities.
Days after the article, some concerned local pastors, community leaders and citizens began meeting to determine how we could create that space. As a result, Operation Turnout was born.
In October of 2010, a candidate forum was held at Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington. In subsequent years, the profile of the forum has grown. This year’s U. S. Senate forum may be the only debate scheduled between Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Sen. Rand Paul. According to Adrian Wallace, chairman of the Operation Turnout Forum Committee, Gray and Paul were asked to decline their invitations by Sept. 9 if they did not plan to attend; neither candidate declined. Gray’s campaign has confirmed his participation.
Also, 6th District congressional candidates Rep. Andy Barr and the Reverend Nancy Jo Kemper were invited to participate. Kemper has confirmed, but Barr declined.
This forum is likely the only time these candidates will have an opportunity to stand before an audience largely made up of people of color and those who are primarily concerned about the issues that plague middle-class, working-class and economically struggling people. And due to the bitterness, dissension and social unrest going on in our country, the need to hear our elected officials’ responses to socially relevant questions has only been amplified.
Paul and Barr are still welcome to attend. And their participation would break a very disturbing trend. In years past, voters asked candidates questions during election season and our concerns largely centered around whether or not we could trust them to deliver on their promises. Nevertheless, forums and debates have essentially served as the true interview process that we, the people, have had at our disposal.
Unfortunately, today far too many incumbents across the country, from both parties, seek to garner votes without going through these interviews. Perhaps there is a correlation between this disconnect with the people and Washington’s inability to get things done.
So, hopefully all of the candidates will participate in Frankfort on Saturday. But if some don’t, it is even more important for the people to show up and hear from the candidates that do. It sends a powerful message to all candidates that finding other things to do during their “job interviews” should never be an option.