Category Archives: Politics

First Election Experiences – Harlan County Style.

Your first time to vote is an important step forward in your life, a milestone reached, an introduction into adulthood.  For those of us my age it was also a somewhat bigger decision as we had Viet Nam, The Draft [capital letters intended] and a time that was forged by war, by protest, by assassination, by Kent State, by newly formed OPEC.  And did I mention Viet Nam and the Draft?  So it was important and we voted.

But I had another role in the election process as a young voter.  As a disc jockey for WHLN in Harlan, I was also responsible for running the radio station while Little Jim did remotes from the Court House to provide up to the minute election results for the county.  More on that later…but, a bit more  about one particular campaign.

Billy G Williams was not a tall man.  If he was 5’4″ I would be surprised but he was one of those men from the mountains that carried himself with a swagger that left no doubt that you would lose whatever the contest, and that included fishing for catfish in the Cumberland River.  The snapshot of one fishing encounter indicated that he and it were close to the same size…he won.   Billy G had a gospel radio show every Sunday morning for years.  It consisted of him chatting on the radio while playing old time gospel songs that always started with Jesus is Coming Soon.  He wasn’t a preacher, never pretended to be.  He just knew his market and used The Billy G Gospel Radio Hour half hour to talk, spin records and promote his well-drilling business.  He had a good following of listeners and every Sunday morning there would be envelopes waiting for him with requests for music and “love offerings” to help make sure he continued to keep the songs of God coming through the electric radio.

Now, most of the time when folks would come to do their 30 minute gospel radio shows on Sunday we would require them to sit in the little remote room while we handled the music and the sound board.  Billy G was different.  He would stand up next to me and as time went on just run the board himself…It gave me a chance to eat lunch that Mae from Ackley’s Cafe had just run down to the station for me [now THAT’s small town].

Billy G would slide up to the front of the station just about noon, when his show began…he had usually been visiting a “friend” and might have taken longer than expected.  He would grab a six pack of beer from his truck and run up to the station.  I would already have Jesus is Coming Soon cued up and playing as he got in the door.   Did I mention that Harlan County was DRY…meaning no liquor or beer whatsoever.

At some point he decided that he should do more for the county so he announced that he was going to run for Sheriff.    Soon his chats on The Billy G Gospel Radio Hour half hour  turned more political and less about Mavis’ tomatoes or that Miss Bessie was still down sick and needed your prayers.  The subjects became the creeping crime problem in Harlan, drugs in our schools, corruption in local government and of course bootlegging – all while knocking back the aforementioned six pack of beer.  This would lead to a conversation while one of the records was playing:

me: so, where did you get the beer?
billy g:  Mags

More about Maggie Bailey:

On the night of the election I was manning the radio station while Little Jim did the remotes from the Court House.  Little Jim was about 250 pounds but was “little” because his dad Big Jim Morgan was the radio station owner.   It was a well oiled machine, the only 5000 watt station within 75 miles and provided the ONLY reception for several counties. I had, you might say a captive audience.  In retrospect I would like to sincerely apologize for that.  In my defense, I was young and working at a radio station offered “opportunities”.  But I digress.

We borrowed the rolling blackboard from the Kentucky Business College next door to tally the votes for our listeners.  And, unlike big city elections, where candidates go to ballrooms with their supporters to await results, we had a couple of them hanging around the station to get the results faster than we were broadcasting.  One was Billy G.  Well, Billy G and a CASE of beer.    As the election results became final it was clear that Billy G was the winner and he began discussing what was on his mind.   From earlier you recall it was a creeping crime problem in Harlan, drugs in our schools, corruption in local government and of course bootlegging.

After we signed off [yes, playing the Star Spangled Banner] we hung around the station until after midnight or so…we talked about that bootlegging thing and as things wound down  Billy G wanted to understand drug use in the high schools.  I told him “I don’t tell folks about your “friends” or beer every Sunday, I won’t talk about drugs in high school”.  With that he got up, threw his last beer can into the garbage and walked down the hall toward his truck…”F**king Eagle Scout.  See ya Sunday”  Election Day was over.

A couple of months later on the Sunday morning show Billy G was back on the subject of bootlegging.  “I am going to take them all down.  They have been sending me money every month since before the election and I have kept it and I am going to rent trucks and close them all down”.    Then he said “You’re gonna need a pistol”…”here is your badge”.  It was a long week.

Welcome to Politics 101 – Harlan County Style.


Thoughts on the Election and Election Night Rules

November 6 provides yet again an opportunity for folks to exercise their right, and their obligation to vote, to participate in the democratic process that we have been following for over 200 years, with some minor changes – like allowing women and African Americans to participate in the circus.  Now is the time to see the reality that each vote does count, and it is not always easy to see that in a sea of 130,000,000 votes.  But it does.  So, first off, make sure you vote.  Even in a state that is a given…vote.

Lawyers, Funds and Money

Elections used to be somewhat simple…You went to a polling precinct, marked your ballots with an X and stuffed it in a box.  Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “stuffed”.  It was also simple to cheat the system…just stuff a few, or few hundred extra ballots into the boxes and an election might change.  So, states began looking to alternatives.  Big lever action machines, punch cards [remember Hanging Chad], computers and the old ballot boxes.  So now, some states can tell you the results within moments of the end of voting, others…just a touch longer.  And they all have flaws.  And that brings up lawyers…

This election, like 2008 and 2000 will have a cadre of lawyers standing by “just in case”…just in case their side is behind would be more accurate.  So we have a system that is already fraught  with politics, already fraught with potential for nuanced rulings and we add a court system that is another layer of politics.  Go Democracy!!! It’s enough to make one start quoting the Bard….or Poe.

$6,000,000,000.  SIX BILLION DOLLARS.  That is how much money is being spent on this election cycle at the local, state and federal level.  And some people are wont to say the economy is poor.  Certainly not if you are one of the media companies raking in advertising money – and generating controversy at every turn which generates more advertising dollars.  [This part reads better if you are singing Spinning Wheel in your head while reading it].   PACs, special interest, hate groups — all exercising their free speech to promote their candidate or, more likely to trash the opposition candidate.  And much of it started November 5, 2008.

So now, in the last month of the election cycle we have entire advertising campaigns, entire media programs focused on rumors, focused on “it will be historical if this is true but If those things are not true, then it’s a different story”.  The philosophy…let’s spread the rumors and know that some folks won’t understand the difference and we can say “glad it wasn’t true” later, when it doesn’t matter.  And yes, it happens on both sides of the aisle.

To Election Night

Now this is the fun part and the hard part. The internet has made it possible for everyone to have instant conversation, a barroom chat on any subject.  Election Night won’t be different.  With ONE EXCEPTION.  People have much invested in this election.  Both their personal political philosophy and their hopes for the future.  Those are important.  So to that, everyone should have a sense of perspective.  Those of us who have voted for long numbers of years can say we have lived through losing years to  Nixon, Reagan, Bush or to Carter, Clinton, Obama – depending on your politics.  This will be no different.

Now, to the important stuff…Facebook, Twitter and FARK posts and a snapshot in history.    The last one first.  Take a picture, or make a list of your friends on Facebook before Election night.  It will be interesting to see just how many folks you  lose by the next day depending on if you annoy or are annoyed by the end of the night.  It will happen.  You can “hold your tongue” but where is the fun in that?

Now, to Facebook and Twitter…my guess [my official election night call] is that Facebook and Twitter will face meltdown between the hours of 6:30 and 9:00PM EST.  That is when Virginia [7:00], North Carolina, Ohio [7:30], Florida, Pennsylvania [8:00], Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin [9:00]  close and media predicts a winner based on six exit voters and the color of a woolly worm in Kettering, Ohio.  After 11:00 it should be over one way or the other* [*see Lawyers above].   After 9:00 EST Facebook and Twitter will calm down.  The winning side will still be on commenting and asking where the folks on the other side are and posting up various photoshop posters of the win and the folks on the other side will say “I think I’ll take a timeout from Facebook for a while”.    A few outliers will try to explain why their candidate lost [Sandy, media, voters, Mayans, “it was the plan for 2016 all the time”].

So, here is the deal,  VOTE…that is the most important part.  Don’t freak out election night.  One side will win, one won’t.  Have some fun and enjoy the fact that we get to have this democracy [OK, technically a Democratic or Constitutional Republic]  and are able to have a free exchange of ideas in person or on the World Wide Waste of Time without fear of being taken away for saying something that offends some political leader.

See you on the other side.