DYCHE | A Kentucky Boy's Political Memories - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | A Kentucky Boy's Political Memories

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

I grew up in London, Kentucky, from 1960 to 1978. Politics are a prominent motif in my memories of that place and time.

They begin with a Barry Goldwater mask that my mother brought me from a campaign rally she attended at the railroad station in 1964. There were eye holes cut out from the frames of Barry's big black glasses.

My sister, brother, and I did not know it at the time, but when liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson beat Goldwater for the presidency that year, our father started hoarding silver dollars. He feared LBJ's big spending would ruin the economy. Daddy put the coins in rolls, dated them, and then gave them to us decades later.

In 1967, I met Jefferson County Judge and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marlow Cook. He was campaigning (and maybe having lunch, as many judges and politicians did) in our family drugstore on Main Street during his hotly contested primary campaign against Louie B. Nunn.

Whether from that encounter, family influence, or the generally more liberal Republican disposition in the old Fifth Congressional District, I became a Cook man. But Nunn won the GOP nomination and went on to beat Democrat Henry Ward to become Kentucky's first Republican governor since 1947.

Cook came back the next year, 1968, to win election to the U. S. Senate. That was a turbulent year, of course. I absorbed its serial episodes of political violence and the Vietnam War via television with my family.

It was also my first awareness of Ronald Reagan as a politician. My mother was obviously fond of former actor and then-California governor as we watched the roll call at the Republican convention. Richard Nixon may have beaten Reagan handily for the Republican presidential nomination, but Boots Dyche still had a twinkle in her eye for the Gipper.

In those days, local candidates stapled small posters to the utility poles all over town. After the election was over I would collect and organize them by office and party. Democratic specimens were often rare and victorious ones virtually non-existent.

Much against my will, but because my mother made me, I briefly sang in the First Christian Church youth choir. In 1969 or 1970 we performed for Governor Nunn at the new Laurel County High School. Nunn seemed big and imposing, especially when he pulled a plastic lunchroom chair so close to the cafeteria stage that I could practically smell the pomade on his glistening, slicked-back, jet black hair.

We were big fans of Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emberton in 1971. He hailed from little Edmonton in Metcalfe County, where my dear Aunt Dot lived. She and her husband, Woodrow Thompson, were strong Democrats, but even they backed hometown boy Emberton.

Alas, it was not enough. Emberton lost to Democrat Wendell Ford.

In 1972, I played Richard Nixon in a mock presidential campaign for Ms. Moore's civics class. My first attempt at political writing of any sort was the speech I delivered to the class as a juvenile Nixon impersonator.

I watched as much of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings as I could in 1973, running outside to shoot basketball during the frequent breaks in the action. With Nixon's resignation, 1974 was a hard year for Republicans everywhere, including even Laurel County.

Cook lost his Senate seat to Ford despite my best efforts working from the little Republican storefront headquarters on West Fifth Street. The biggest issue in Eastern Kentucky was Ford's misguided support for a Red River dam that would have flooded much of the beautiful gorge region.

My father carried scraps from the drugstore's lunch counter home in a bucket. He then took them to the farm and fed them to his fox hounds. Ford was campaigning in town and encountered my pail-toting parent on the sidewalk.

"What's in the bucket?" Ford asked. No Ford fan, my father sarcastically replied, "Money," and went on his way.

By July of 1978 it was almost time for me to leave London for Centre College in Danville. But there was one more political memory yet to be made in my hometown.

Richard Nixon was coming to Hyden, Kentucky to make his first public appearance since resigning the presidency almost four years earlier. He flew into London's airport.

I staked out a good place on the rope line. Nixon was obviously enjoying his warm reception by the time he got to me. He gave me his autograph, and we exchanged a few words about Kentucky's NCAA championship basketball team and his daughter Tricia, on whom I once had an undeniable crush.

I was awestruck. Nixon was history personified. Family friend, local newspaper columnist, and, ironically, Democrat, Carl Keith Greene, was kind enough to take some pictures.

Meeting a former president, even a disgraced one just beginning what would become a successful comeback, was a great way to bid farewell to a boyhood full of political memories from a Kentucky small town.

Sorry for this column's personal nature. The unending McConnell-Grimes campaign, Obama's faltering presidency, and the day's many crises can send a person searching for some solace back home and in the past.

If you have gotten to this point, thanks for going there with me. If you have any similar stories, send them to me, please.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

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