FRANKFORT — Even before the House had voted to approve the redistricting plan that would reshape Danny Ford’s 80th District, the auctioneer from Mount Vernon grew wistful, foreshadowing the end of his 30-year legislative career before he announced his retirement.
As he was railing against the Democrats’ redistricting plan on the House floor, Ford took time to “thank the people of Lincoln County for allowing me to serve as their state representative for all these past many years.”
After the plan - which basically removed Lincoln from the 80th District and replaced it with Casey County and piece of Madison — was approved, Ford let it be known that this would be his last term, ending his run as the longest serving Republican in the statehouse since 1900.
“That new district covers 125, 150 miles instead of 50 or 60,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot more difficult to serve.”
Being accessible to his constituents and helping them solve their problems — rather than championing major legislation, bringing home pork or soaking up the spotlight — is what Ford is most proud of during a career that has spanned seven governors from John Y. Brownto Steve Beshear.
“That has been the greatest part of this job, helping my constituents find their way through the mazes of state government,” he said last week while spending the day with a reporter at the Capitol.
Despite his lengthy time in office, Ford never became a household name to folks outside Frankfort. That’s due in part to his own low-key style and the fact he toiled for the minority party in the House, which is akin to being invisible, even if you are part of the Republican leadership. Ford currently serves as Minority Whip, a position he also held in 1993-94, and was his party’s Floor Leader from 1995 to 1998. He is the senior member of the House Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“Itry not to be out front too much. That’s not my style,” Ford said. “When you draw attention to yourself, you become a distraction. Sometimes it’s gentle persuasion that can make a difference.”
Al Cross, the long-time political writer for the Courier-Journal who now heads the Institute for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky, has observed Ford in action during all his time in Frankfort.
“He has been like a lot of Republican representatives: he’s not that interested in government doing much, so he didn’t push a lot of legislation, and, being in the minority, he wasn’t interested in jumping through a lot of Democratic hoops,” Cross said. “If you’re not in the majority, there’s not a lot you can do.”
“If you ask people around Frankfort, they’d probably remember Danny most for his speeches. He’s a pretty good orator. When he gets up to make a forceful speech, he reminds you of a revival preacher. He’s pretty eloquent in getting his points across.”
Ford’s political acumen and communication skills were evident at the beginning of his political career in 1981. He was already established in his native Rockcastle County, where his grandfather had been county judge and his family operated a variety of businesses, including Ford Brothers Inc. an auction and real estate company that also has an office in Pulaski County, a part of which comprises the 80th District.
If he was going to win the seat in his first run for political office, Ford figured he needed to step outside of his comfort zone. He spent little time campaigning in Rockcastle and Pulaski, focusing his effort almost entirely on Lincoln County, where he was virtually unknown.
Daly Reed, a soil conservation agent who died in 1989, greased Ford’s path in Lincoln County. The two had only met briefly the year before at a Republican function but formed an alliance that Ford credits with launching his political career.
“We just hit it off. We went door-to-door, from 8 in the morning to 8 at night,” Ford recalled of that first campaign with Daly. “He knew everybody and their family tree. When he’d introduce me, he’d say, ‘This is Danny Ford, my adopted son.’”
Ford carried Lincoln County that year and has been nearly unchallenged ever since. Of 30 primary and general elections that have passed since he first took office, Ford has only faced opposition four times and only once failed to win Lincoln. That was in 2002, when Stanford attorney Paul Long won the battle on his home turf but couldn’t overcome Ford in Rockcastle and Pulaski.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said.
During the ensuing years in Frankfort, Ford said he took most of his cues on bills to sponsor from people and events in his district.
He recalled a devastating crash that claimed two lives in Rockcastle County when a man who had been arrested for DUI climbed over the backseat and commandeered a state trooper’s cruiser and drove it the wrong way on Interstate 75. That led to legislation requiring all law enforcement vehicles to be equipped with cages, he said.
In the current session, Ford is sponsoring a bill to outlaw the sale of so called “bath salts,” potent amphetamine powders that people inhale to get high and often end up in the hospital. Varieties of the product have been legally sold at D&M Market in Crab Orchard and other places around the state.