By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - Kentucky's new effort to polish its less-than-sophisticated national image was intended, in part, to avoid being the butt of the kind of jokes told on late-night television.
When CBS' Craig Kilborn heard the Bluegrass State had hired a marketing firm to help it develop a new image-building catchphrase, he had some suggestions: "Kentucky, we now have the Internet," and "Kentucky is for lovers who can't afford Virginia."
Gov. Ernie Fletcher isn't laughing, and he's considering an invitation to appear on Kilborn's show next week to defend the state.
Friday, Fletcher stopped short of saying he would appear, but added, "Clearly, any opportunity we get to put Kentucky in a good light and to set some folks straight, we'll take."
Fletcher conceded that Kentucky's image suffers from "some misconceptions by people out there that need to be corrected."
To illustrate his point, he noted one company's initial misgivings about expanding to Kentucky. Fletcher didn't identify the company, but said one manager told him there were concerns whether Kentucky's work force was "sophisticated enough." Another impediment was the "stigma" some people attached to the state.
Despite the concerns, the company opened a service center in northeastern Kentucky. That center is now outperforming the company's other locations in the country, Fletcher said.
One eastern Kentuckian who protested plans by networks to create reality TV shows based on an Appalachian family's adjustment to life in ritzy Beverly Hills said the Kilborn comments were frustrating.
"How do you fight with your television set," said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, a Kentucky organization that fights against rural stereotypes. "The television's blaring in everyone's home all day long, and when it's inaccurate and it's hurtful, what can you do? There's this feeling of powerlessness and frustration."
Kilborn has said his comments were in jest, and to prove it, he has offered some serious suggestions of slogans. They include: "Kentucky, racing into the future," "Kentucky, home again," "Kentucky, a state of grace," and "Kentucky, purebred beauty."
"It's never our intent to offend," said Todd Yasui, executive producer of the Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn. "Hell, we love Kentucky. We'd love to visit Kentucky sometime."
Fletcher, a first-term Republican governor, shouldn't have any misgivings about going to Los Angeles to appear on the show, Yasui said.
"We'll have him come out here and state his case, and we'll help him come up with an image makeover for his state," Yasui said.
As for the state's effort to create a catchphrase to reshape its image, one historian cautioned that Fletcher should tread carefully.
"If he does (succeed), he's doing something that hasn't happened in the last 200 years," said Thomas D. Clark, the state's most prominent historian.
The 101-year-old Clark said it's difficult to sum up a state with such rich diversity - from the coal-rich Appalachian region in the east, to bluegrass country in the central region to the farm-rich west that stretches to the Mississippi River.
One of Fletcher's distant predecessors, Flem D. Sampson, coined the phrase "Kentucky for Progress," and slapped it on license plates, Clark said. The slogan was derided by newspaper pundits.
"The governor should be cautious about trying to focus on a single image," Clark said.
He said the state's image in the eyes of the rest of the country often boils down to basketball, horses, bourbon whiskey, hillbillies and bluegrass aristocracy. Backwoods images persist in part "because we cultivate them ourselves," he said, noting that men dressed in pioneer garb and carrying rifles often are seen at rural festivals.
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