Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles was the most outspoken. (Photo by Ryland Barton, WFPL)
Republicans at Saturday’s Fancy Farm Picnic took several familiar shots at absent Gov. Andy Beshear’s handling of the pandemic, but said nothing about vaccines, and Beshear called them out for it Tuesday.
“Anyone with a microphone, having an opportunity to speak to a statewide or regional audience, had an absolute duty to encourage vaccinations,” the Democratic governor told The Associated Press. “And the failure to do so continues to show putting politics above the very lives of our people.”
Republican speakers at the event, including an announced candidate for governor and a likely one, “lambasted Beshear for his now-lifted restrictions on businesses and gatherings to combat the virus,” AP’s Bruce Schreiner notes
The most outspoken was Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, who said Beshear “violated basic rights and individual liberties by becoming the shutdown governor. . . . Instead of building trust, he threatened us.”
Beshear’s only declared foe, state Auditor Mike Harmon, said the governor overreached with his emergency orders that close many businesses, and said, “In 2023, the voters of Kentucky will have a chance to help Andy Beshear in the same way his policies helped many of them — by sending him home.”
Those arguments “muddy the waters in ways that give people excuses not to get vaccinated,” Beshear told AP, which reports, “All the Republican speakers had to do was ‘take one minute away from their personal ambition’ and promote the shots, he said.”
Asked for a response, a spokesperson for Quarles said he has been vaccinated and has encouraged others to do so. “Harmon, who is fully vaccinated, said Monday he encourages people to get vaccinated, but said it’s ultimately a personal choice,” AP reports. “Beshear hurt the vaccination push, he said, with a recent requirement that state employees wear masks while working indoors, regardless of vaccination status.”
Some news reports said Beshear passed up the picnic because of concerns about the pandemic, but that was only implied, not explicit. Participating in the largely unmasked event might have made the governor look hypocritical, political reporter Lawrence Smith of Louisville’s WDRB told Casey Parker-Bell of KET, which broadcast the speeches and several interviews Monday night.
Beshear was the target of another likely Republican candidate for governor, former United Nations ambassador Kelly Craft, who did not attend the picnic but spoke at a party dinner beforehand.
“She took a swipe at Beshear, without mentioning him by name,” Schreiner reports
. “She said that ‘under the cover of this pandemic’ he was ‘shrinking our freedoms and assuming a greater and greater control over how we live.’ . . . About 175 people gathered indoors for the Republican dinner Friday night, and few, if any, of them were wearing masks, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader
On Saturday, “With only 30% of county residents fully vaccinated, the Graves County Health Department also came out to the picnic grounds to offer free Covid-19 vaccines,” Joe Sonka reports for the Louisville Courier Journal. “Only three people had taken them up on the offer by early that afternoon, which the department’s director said was better than they expected.”