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High times at the state house.

THIS IS THE STORY of an endorsement interview that went to pot, and the lament of an editorial writer who wishes they could all be that much fun.

It wasn't that I had gotten intimately acquainted with the demon weed, although it probably wouldn't have hurt to kill off a few brain cells before our slate of endorsement interviews began. This is Kentucky, after all, where having a little less gray matter doesn't put you at a disadvantage with gubernatorial candidates; it simply evens things up.

No, the source of my fun was Gatewood Galbraith, a Democrat who was seeking his party's nomination for governor in the May 1991 primary. It was easily the most entertaining endorsement interview I ever took part in, and the most enjoyable hour I ever spent with a politician. Truth is, it was the only enjoyable hour I ever spent with a politician.

Of course, the great thing about Gatewood -- like Madonna, a surname seems gratuitous -- is that he isn't your average politician. How could he be, with bumper stickers like the one that read, "Hemp for the overall majority of Earth's paper, fiber, fuel, food, paint/varnish, medicine and to live longer, or, the greenhouse effect -- choose one." A mouthful, to be sure, but it certainly showed more depth of thought than "Jones for Governor."

Legalizing marijuana -- or hemp, as Gatewood is fond of calling it -- was his campaign passion, and he came to Owensboro on a beautiful April day to sell our editorial board on the merits of that idea. Gatewood didn't act much like his opponent, but he sure looked the part -- banker-blue suit, white button-down shirt, and a red tie that would have made Sam Donaldson proud. And, in a touch that was more High Times than GQ, Gatewood had coordinated his eyes to match his tie. Guess he didn't own a red hankie.

Gatewood is a lawyer and, like most lawyers, he's engaging, intelligent, and something of a con man. But unlike most of his colleagues, Gatewood was actually interesting. And unlike his opponents, he actually had some original thoughts.

He started us out with some fascinating tidbits about hemp's history in Kentucky. (Fascinating tidbit No. 1: Kentucky led the nation in hemp production before World War II.) Then he went on to say that his campaign wasn't about legalizing marijuana; it was about freedom of choice. Besides, he said, legalizing weed was only a means to an end. Making Kentucky the once-again king of hemp, and taxing it at $1,000 a pound, would generate billions of dollars, he said. The money would go for new roads, improved schools, universal health care, and a cleaner environment.

"What separates me from the other candidates," he told us, in a voice that combined Lou Rawls's baritone with Tennessee Ernie Ford's twang, "is that I've figured out ways to pay for it without putting the burden on the shoulders of the already overtaxed working men and women of Kentucky."

OK, so Gatewood has a touch of Bill Clinton in him. But there was a sincerity and candor about him that was truly refreshing. We did three other interviews that spring and two more in the fall, and no one ever got close to matching his humor or homespun charm.

Of course, I didn't take Gatewood too seriously, which was fine by him. He didn't either. And as it turned out, his campaign went up in smoke. He finished last in the race, getting just 25,000 votes out of the 490,000 cast. But that was enough to get him stoked for the 1995 primary, and he's already out hitting the stump.

When the time comes, I hope he accepts our invitation for another interview. I also hope he doesn't buy a red hankie between now and then.

NCEW member Paul Raupp is an editorial writer for the Messenger-Inquirer in Owensboro, Ky.
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Author:Raupp, Paul
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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