Off The Record: Richie needs to stay on the bench

October 27, 2003|HERB BROCK

Remember those radio sports call-in shows when the champions of the once chubbie sharpshoorter from the mountains would ask then-University of Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino if he was "gonna start Reechie tonat"?

"Reechie" would be Richie Farmer, a member of the "Unforgettables," that assemblage of largely Kentucky boys who stuck around in the wake of another NCAA probation and gave their all to turn a mess into a magical journey to the 1992 East regional final only to lose on a last-second shot by that foot-stomping, dream-killing, anything-but-Christian Laettner.

But that was then and this is now. That was basketball and this is another, even more important game called politics. Farmer now wants to be in the starting lineup of the statewide officeholders to be elected on Nov. 4. Eleven years ago, he wanted to start as a UK guard. In January, he wants to start as the Commonwealth's commissioner of agriculture.


The way the Big Blue faithful remain loyal to their stars, particularly those who populated one of the most popular galaxies of Wildcat players ever, may well give Farmer the election. Heck, he could probably win governor.

But Farmer's reputation on the court shouldn't give him a leg-up in a race for an important government office. It would be unforgivable to elect Farmer just because he was an "Unforgettable."

At the risk of angering my fellow Reechie-lovin' Cat fans with what I'm sure they would consider to be the rankest of blasphemies, if I were to call a political call-in show, this is what I'd have to say to my fellow voters:

Keep "Reechie" on the bench.

It's not that Farmer, who is running as a Republican, is totally lacking in qualifications. He does have an ag degree from UK, and that demonstrates that he at least has an interest in farming and that he cracked a few books and passed a few tests in getting his degree.

But Farmer happens to be running against a real farmer. Compared to Democrat Alice Woods Baesler, the Republican is a farmer in name only.

Baesler has managed a Fayette County tobacco and cattle farm for more than 30 years.

She works with the Environment in the Classroom Program sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and has conducted workshops across the state where she has taught teachers how to use environment and agriculture in their courses.

She has participated for years in the Farm Family Education Expo/Skills for a Changing Future Program sponsored by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the Kentucky Workforce Development Council, advising farmers how to diversify their operations and increase their farm incomes.

She also has been active in education. In addition to working as a classroom teacher in the Fayette school system, she has served on the board of trustees of Lindsey Wilson College, on the Lexington-Fayette County Library Board and as a member of the UK Alumi Board. Oh, yes, Baesler also happens to be a UK grad as well as her opponent.

By all accounts - and from a couple of conversations I've had with him - Farmer is a pretty smart guy and as nice a bloke as you'd ever want to meet. But being pretty smart, nice and even a living piece of UK basketball folklore don't necessarily mean he'd make the best candidate for one of the most important jobs in state government.

Also, Farmer gets low marks for his campaign, especially the one he ran in the primary. He's played the four corners to perfection, dribbling the ball as far away from the basket, his competition and the general voting public as he can. In the primary, he skipped virtually all debates, forums and rallies where other candidates were in attendance. Baesler was at most of them.

Farmer probably would make an OK ag commissioner. But Kentucky has a chance to elect a more than OK candidate, one with a lot of practical experience in agriculture and a lot of vision for its future.

And for those UK roundball fans who would feel guilty about not voting for a former star, please note that Baesler happens to have a former Cat player in her court - her husband, former Lexington mayor, former 6th District congressman and former UK starter Scotty Baesler.

Come this January at oath-taking time in Frankfort, "Reechie" needs to stay in his warmups and let a woman who is real farmer start as ag commissioner.

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