The 2020 election was long, trying and at sometimes dark. A tough, new candidate gave the incumbent a run for his money. The candidates ran lengthy campaigns that included belly rubs, high-fives and treats from the people.
While the 2020 U.S. Presidential election did share some of these campaign characteristics, this story is about the race for the canine mayoral seat in Rabbit Hash.
When it became time to vote, a whopping 22,985 voters came out, setting a Rabbit Hash record and proving just how crucial this race was.
It was then, that a winning candidate was declared. Wilbur, the French bulldog had upset the incumbent, Brynneth Pawltrow, pitbull.
This canine mayoral race has been going strong for roughly 25 years.
In 1997, it was Boone County’s 200th anniversary. All the local municipalities were asked to do something to honor this milestone. Around the same time, the Rabbit Hash Historical Society was renovating a church and needed money. They decided to combine the two, the anniversary and church renovation, and create a fundraiser for the area.
“We decided that the rules of the election would be that anyone can run and you’d have to pay $1 a vote,” said Bobbi Layne-Kayser, vice president of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society. “And whoever earned the most money got to be mayor of Rabbit Hash. So of course there were locals in the race and then somebody thought that their dog would make a better mayor than anybody on the list.”
After a while, a lot of people thought that their dogs would also make for the best mayoral candidate, and the election took off. Mayoral submissions were being sent in from places as far as Japan, and people were voting from all over the world.
“In our elections, anybody can vote,” said Layne-Kayser. “You don’t have to live down here. Any age can vote, whether you’re two, 10 or 30 or 50, you can vote as many times as you want.”
Among many other standout differences from a “normal” election, “Rabbit Hash encourages liquor at the polls,” stated Layne-Kayser. “People are nicer with their dollars when they’ve had a few.”
But it’s not all fun and games when you’re the mayor of Rabbit Hash, for these leaders have a real job to do.
The first-ever mayor of Rabbit Hash, Goofy, was a mutt that fathered about half the dogs within the county. The next mayor, Junior Cochran, a black lab, rented a tour bus that took a nationwide goodwill tour that spread the Rabbit Hash story. Junior also represented a local women’s home that accepted pets.
It wasn’t until their third mayor, that the glass ceiling was broken.
Lucy Lou was elected as their first-ever female mayor.
“Lucy was in the office a lot,” said Layne-Kayser. “I mean, on a daily basis, so she found herself giving tours to visitors. They’d drive up and people would get out of their car and she’d be sitting there, tail wagging and they’d go, ‘Oh look, a dog,’ and then I’d hear them say, ‘he wants us to follow,’ and she would take them around on a grand tour.”
Lucy Lou also had an active presence within the Women’s Shelter as well as being the grand marshal in many parades and an active face within the national media. It wasn’t until 2016 when Lucy Lou would come across her biggest trial yet.
A fire ravaged the Rabbit Hash General Store, a staple within the community, to almost nothing. The estimated cost to renovate it was about $400,000.
“The Historical Society is a tiny tiny little nonprofit that gets no subsidization from the government at all,” Layne-Kayser said. “We don’t have a lot of money, so anything we do has to be done through fundraisers. So since in the past, our mayor elections had been our largest fundraisers, Lucy Lou decided to step down and institute term limits.”
It was decided that Rabbit Hash mayoral term limits would mirror those of U.S. Presidential limits.
“Succeeding Lucy Lou was Brynneth Pawltrow, a pitbull who advocated for the pitbull situation in America,” said Layne-Kayser.
13,143 of those 22,985 votes in the 2020 election went to the current mayor, Wilbur. Wilbur is a man of the people, stopping for photos every chance he gets while donning his favorite new costume, but ultimately keeping promotions alive for Rabbit Hash.
“We think our elections are important because they’re worldwide,” Layne-Kayser said. “We literally get votes from Japan, Denmark, Germany and Australia, and then people from those countries actually come to our town to see who they voted for.”
Bringing people together to support a small county’s tradition is what the mayor’s of Rabbit Hash do best. Be sure to vote for the next mayor in 2024.