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The year when Democratic precinct conventions were Huge Deal

And that brings to mind the year Bobby W. Loy took the party machinery away from T.P. Phelps, et al; the year the Honorable Grover C. Gilpin tallied the vote by separating a factional East Columbia mob into sheep and goats in Delmer Larue Jessie's Fruit Market Parking lot, the year there were likely more Democrats at precinct conventions than in all the rest of Kentucky put together. It's been a long time ago. I remember it all, except the exact year. Would appreciate help on that. A 172 year old man can forget some of the details. -EW
PS: There's A Lot going on today. Precinct elections are at 10amCT, the huge Farm & Garden Expo starts at the same time, and we've got word from a reader in Louisville of some kind of ball game in New Orleans later in the day. We're checking into that, pedalling as fast as we can. -EW

By Ed Waggener

It's as grassroots as it gets in American politics. Adair County Democrats will be doing what Democrats across the Commonwealth will be doing today, meeting in small and big conclaves in precinct conventions to begin the larger process of electing what can be very powerful county Executive Committee power, which, in turn, elects one person to the most important post, the county chair. That post is now held by young Benjamin Loy, who appears likely to hold the post as long as he wants to.


Too often, in many parts of the state, attendance is low. In some cases, the local precinct meetings have been "held" later at the county seat, when the party powers, meeting in a county convention, will say to each other, "Now, who did we elect in (Name of Precinct), and pick names of people they think are Democrats and whom they think are residents of the precinct. More than one time, they've picked non residents, and in some cases, Republicans.

There have only been a couple of years when the elections got spirited. Once was in the Happy Chandler or post Chandler years when the Pete Walker/Grover Gilpin Machine was the most powerful element in Adair County politics. A County Convention filled the Adair County Courthouse.

Another year, I can't remember the exact year, but 30-40 years ago, when the late Bobby W. Loy, who was the dominant - but out of power with the State - decided to wrest control of the party from the T.P. Phelps/Michael D. Stephens/Dr. Jimmy Holladay faction. Loy loved politics like no other person. He grew up in Chicago and was a Mayor Dailey fan, and remembered hawking the newspaper with the banner headline, "Dewey defeats Truman" headline.

Mr. Loy was perhaps the best political organizer ever in Adair County. In preparation for the takeover, he set out to see that his people would dominate every precinct. It would be easy, he thought, because no one would show up at the meetings anyway.

For a few weeks before the precinct conventions, the plan worked magically - by stealth, under the opposition's radar.

But disturbing intelligence reached the Loy faction's headquarters at his Durham Wholesale Grocery business too early before The Showdown. The Other Side was organizing, too.

That was bad news, because, The Other Side had The Barn - The Kentucky State Highway garage - and all the political patronage of the party in power. They had the T.P. Phelps' bank, another tool. And in some state offices in the county, State owned copy machines would be turned into factional printing presses.

Worse yet, word got back to the Loy camp that The Other Side was getting their group riled up, They weren't going to let the Bobby Loy camp take control of the Adair County Democratic party.

Nowhere else in the State of Kentucky was there as much interest in Democratic party politics as in Adair County. It was bigger, in many people's minds' than the Kentucky Derby.

When time came for the showdown, it really was big. At West Columbia, Mr. Loy's home precinct, there were some 200 Democrats who gathered at the Haskin Coomer Building building supply West Columbia voting precinct.

But in East Columbia more people turned out in the precinct convention than vote in party primaries there today.

Some 300 were in attendance in what was then the Larue Jessie Fruit Market Parking lot on Russell Road..

And the way it worked, one person would appoint him or herself temporary chair and then elect a permanent chair and then elect precinct officials.

The Honorable Grover Cleveland Gilpin of the Loy camp appointed himself chair, and subsequently elected the permanent chair, who turned out to be the Honorable Grover Cleveland Gilpin.

Mr. Gilpin's next step was to make a vote count an easy task. He announced: "Let's do this," he said, "All y'all for us, get over there," pointing to the east side of the lot. And then, turning to his right, he said, "And all y'all against us move over there."

It wasn't choreographed with marching band precision, but the crowd divided. The Bobby W. Loy group had about 200. The Other Side had about 100.

Mr. Gilpin held the the elections and declared The Loy group candidate a winner each time. And on each occasion, Nolen Cole, the T.P. Phelps side would call for a show of hands and a vote count. Each time Gilpin would overrule him. It wasn't that Mr. Cole couldn't count; it was just his way of letting the Loy camp know that they may have won the day, the Phelps side would fight on. Nolen knew how to rile up The Bobby Loy-ites.

It was a lopsided victory that day. And if the truth were known, there were likely more Democrats out in Adair County that day than in all the rest of Kentucky. It wasn't a show to draw metro media - like the County Inauguration day held when Coy Downey took office as Mayor of Columbia, and James Brock became Adair County Judge Executive and there was a huge parade and thousands of people in Columbia to see it and there was an Inaugural Ball and a Big Inauguration Dinner up at Lindsey Wilson and the mighty Courier-Journal derided gubernatorial candidate Harvey Sloan for, to paraphrase, "spending too much time down in Adair County riding an ambulance in the Inauguration Parade," - but the Democratic precinct meetings were the talk at the Circle R and at county stores and in one-on-one strategizing sessions for years to come.

For the rest of Kentucky, we could imagine that party functionaries would get together in the county seat and find the three or four people who had met in the more active precincts, but for others, they simply back dated the election which never happened, and ask each other, "Now who did we elected in Port Royal?" and then certify the results of an imaginary election.

Today's meetings may not be as lively as those of some three-four decades ago. The Adair County Democratic Party is one faction now, all allied with one Governor. It's pretty hard to get one of them to demonize another properly. -EW

A note: I, the writer, am writing this somewhat ex parte. At the time, it seemed the Destiny of the County depended on the outcome; Bobby W. Loy was an extremely convincing person. The Other Side would remember it differently. Probably they will recall devilment from our side. (Erroneously, of course; we were as pure as the driven snow. It was fun. And it seemed like the thing to do. Then. - EW


This story was posted on 2012-03-31 02:03:02
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