Forgy's narrow loss in '95 stirred the 'winds of change'

November 06, 2003|JOHN NELSON

The crowds roamed in and out of the ballroom, gathering around strategically placed televisions to watch election returns. There was a party-like atmosphere, but serious talk. They were people with plans and dreams and agendas, all depending on what happened in the next few hours.

It was deja vu all over again ... almost.

Surely no one at the Marriott in Lexington Tuesday night felt quite like Larry Forgy. Eerily, no doubt, he reminisced throughout the evening, which came to a bittersweet end, topped by a soothing nightcap.

Eight years ago, he was in the same place, awaiting returns in his own gubernatorial bid, his own attempt to become the first Republican governor of Kentucky in many years. Like Ernie Fletcher, he held an early and sustained lead. Unlike Fletcher, it was not to be.

While it has been said on this page that Fletcher may have been the most qualified candidate to ever seek the office, the same could be said of Forgy. Had the two faced off in a primary, Forgy might well have had the edge in the qualifications category, not to mention public speaking.


A prominent and successful Lexington attorney, Forgy also had extensive experience and intimate knowledge of the state's two most important, and embattled, industries - tobacco and coal. Having been former Gov. Louie Nunn's budget director, he knew how money flows in state government, and as a vice president at the University of Kentucky, he could also boast a deep understanding of higher education.

Forgy had become the champion of Republicans across the state, even though he let them down in 1987 by withdrawing unexpectedly from the race before it even began. He was defeated in the 1991 primary by Larry Hopkins, but he returned in 1995, rallied the troops and came, oh, so close, losing to Paul Patton by less than 25,000 votes.

And boy, could Forgy rally the troops. He has something that only one other candidate for governor in this generation can match: He's an orator. Entertaining, almost musical. Captivating. Motivating. Interesting.

The other candidate? Gatewood Galbraith, of course. But the difference between the two is that Forgy had a platform the electorate could support. He was convincing. He garnered respect.

In 1995, the Republican Party was energized behind Forgy. For a change, they had a candidate who could actually win.

The truth is, Larry Forgy began the storm which now blows the "winds of change" acknowledged today by Democrats in Kentucky, change they would never have admitted was coming back in 1995.

He lost, of course. And it hurt.

Questionable campaign tactics in Louisville by the Patton camp led to charges and denials and pardons, but they didn't change the outcome.

The storm died down for a while, but Republicans had developed a lingering taste in their mouths. They were ready for the national winds that would begin to blow, and they learned how to ride the current.

Forgy sought one more office, a seat on the Kentucky Supreme Court, but failed again.

He has since faded from the political scene, but has not disappeared.

There he was, Tuesday night at the Marriott, momentarily in the spotlight as a television reporter asked him for his thoughts, and asked his sister, Alice Forgy Kerr, standing at his side, if she would seek the nomination of her party for the seat in Congress that Fletcher will leave vacant. She said yes.

As he looked around the room that night, Forgy could see many of the same faces he saw eight years ago, anxious faces, hopeful, energized, then abruptly disappointed. He probably wondered, again, what might have been.

But he saw many new faces, too. These would not be disappointed, and that had to please him.

We're not likely to see Larry Forgy seek public office again, but his influence and perspective behind the scenes will continue to be valuable to his party and to his state for a long time to come.

During his television interview Tuesday he expressed joy that Kentucky is now a two-party state after domination for so long by the Democrats. Now that the Republicans control the state Senate, the U.S. Senate and congressional seats, and the governor's office, he was asked, are we at risk of becoming a one-party state again?

Without hesitation, Forgy gave an answer at which no one should be surprised: "If it does, I'll vote with the other party." We need to always have the ability to "vote the rascals out," he said in typical Forgy fashion.

Indeed, we do.

And as long as we have that kind of commitment to the process, that kind of love for our state, we will.

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