Sunday, March 28, 1999

Every once in a while, politics can be fun

Campbell County honors stalwarts

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SOUTHGATE — There needs to be more nights in politics like Thursday evening at the Southgate Civic Center. Or maybe it goes on all the time; but unless there's a fight, a controversy, a scandal or lots of dough changing hands, the media stay away.

        The occasion was a sort of political wake, a tribute to three long-time Campbell County Democratic elected officials who no longer hold office:

        • Bill Donnermeyer, who served 31 years in office — six on Bellevue City Council and 25 years in the Kentucky General Assembly — before retiring in 1994.

        • Paul Twehues, a Silver Grove native and Cold Spring resident who stepped down last year after two decades as Campbell County attorney.

        • Ken Paul, the former Campbell County judge-executive who grew up in Southgate and lives in Fort Thomas. He lost a re-election bid last year after nearly 30 years of serving on the Campbell County Fiscal Court and Southgate City Council.

        Almost 200 people showed up for what turned out to be a fantastic event organized by County Clerk Jack Snodgrass and the Campbell County Democratic Men's Club.

        It was night of fried chicken and draft beer, funny stories and embellished tales, embarrassing anecdotes and friendly jabs, lots of laughs, fine tributes, off-color jokes, plenty of memories, standing ovations and more than a few tears.

        Each honoree was lampooned and then lauded by a speaker with whom he shared a certain bond.

        Mr. Donnermeyer was introduced by House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan of Wilder, who was mentored by Mr. Donnermeyer during his early years in the General Assembly.

        “I wouldn't be standing here today, I wouldn't be where I am today,” Mr. Callahan said, “without the help and hand of Bill Donnermeyer.”

        Campbell County Circuit Judge Len Kopowski introduced his friend, Mr. Paul.

        And Bill Wehr, also a Campbell circuit judge — who stole the show with a wit that belongs on the stage of a comedy club — handled Mr. Twehues. The two started out together, along with Mr. Twehues' successor Justin Verst, in the county attorney's office in 1977.

        The introductions and the speeches were a good mix of seriousness and silliness.

        There was an amusing story about Mr. Donnermeyer, a retired pipe fitter, fixing a toilet in the house he and Mr. Callahan shared during legislative sessions in Frankfort.

        Mr. Callahan also pointed out that in his quarter-century in Frankfort — which covered 13 regular sessions and 14 special sessions — Mr. Donnermeyer sponsored more than 300 bills that were signed into law.

        In one of the more touching moments of the night, Mr. Donnermeyer introduced his wife, Mary, and his four grown children. Fighting back tears, he thanked them for putting up with what all politicians' families have to endure.

        “These are the people who are very dear to my heart, who have always been there for me,” he said. “I think I've been there for them. A lot of times something came up, this meeting or that meeting, and I didn't always get there. But they were always understanding.”

        Judge Wehr brought down the house joking about Mr. Twehues' work ethic, his love of the outdoors and his frequent vacations.

        “We would go to these conferences, and there would always be a golf course nearby,” Judge Wehr joked.

        Mr. Twehues also has a legacy of helping to clean up Newport by using obscenity laws to go after vice, prosecuting and ultimately closing an X-rated cinema and a book store.

        Judge Wehr made the very plausible argument that Mr. Twehues' efforts to target the vice trade and run it from the city had as much to do with triggering Newport's economic rebirth as any project, plan or development.

        “I would defy anyone to find a better reason for all (the development) that's happened than the work that Paul started,” Judge Wehr said.

        “And he did it all around his vacation schedule.”

        Judge Kopowski poked some fun at Mr. Paul, recalling how the former judge-executive was once riding a Jet Ski a little too fast on Lake Cumberland.

        “He hit a wave and flipped the thing,” Judge Kopowski said. “And Ken can't even swim.”

        It also took Judge Kopowski more than a few minutes to read a list of Mr. Paul's accomplishments and all the organizations he belongs to.

        An uncharacteristically boisterous Mr. Paul seized the mike and talked, and joked, about how much he misses public service.

        “I was so used to talking on the phone when I was in the office,” he said. “Sometimes I have my son call me on the phone just so I have somebody to talk to.”

        Mr. Paul also thanked the three Democrats he served with on the Campbell County Fiscal Court — Commissioners Dave Otto, Bill Verst and Roland Vories.

        “We were a good team,” he said.

        And he talked a lot about Southgate, where he grew up, raised his family, served on council and as mayor and even worked as a police officer for awhile.

        “There is something about Southgate, something very good, that teaches you how to be a good volunteer,” Mr. Paul said.

        The best was saved for last, with master of ceremonies Jack Moreland, the former superintendent of Dayton Schools and the one-time interim president of Northern Kentucky University.

        Mr. Moreland, a Civil War buff, told the story of the flag bearers at the Battle of Gettysburg, and how when one was shot another would pick up the flag and carry on.

        “When you are asked to carry the flag, you don't know how long you'll be able to carry it,” Mr. Moreland said.

        “What really matters is while you carry the flag, you carry it as high and as far as you can while you have it. And I believe these gentlemen have carried the flag very far and very high during the time they were allowed to carry it.”

        Well said.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for the Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort.