When the state legislature meets in January, Republicans will sit in all the House seats west of Henderson and occupy every Senate seat west of Interstate 65.
Even so, House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, brought his campaign for governor to ruby red westernmost Kentucky Monday with a morning stop in Paducah.
“I am a Democrat that can bring Democrat votes back to the Democrat Party in November,” he told an appreciative crowd of about 50 people at the Laborers Local 1214 union hall.
The audience frequently interrupted his stump speech with applause.
“I know how to make government work again for communities all across Kentucky. I can run well in all parts of Kentucky, especially in rural Kentucky.”
Democrats struggled in many non-urban areas on election day. In the Jackson Purchase, Kentucky’s most westerly region, the GOP flipped the last two Democratic House seats and held their three House seats plus a Senate seat.
Despite the Democratic wipeout, Adkins’ remarks were upbeat.
He was accompanied by his running mate, Stephanie Horne of Louisville. From Paducah, the duo and campaign aides traveled to Murray and on to Hopkinsville.
Adkins hails from Elliott County, about as far east as Kentucky goes. The candidate introduced Horne, a Falls City attorney, small business owner, and member of the Jefferson County Board of Education.
She said she’s running for lieutenant governor because “there are 657,000 children who attend public schools in this commonwealth. That’s enough reasons for me.”
It was no coincidence that Adkins chose to make his Paducah stop in a union hall. Unions consider Adkins one of their best friends in Frankfort. He has pledged to name a union person as his labor secretary.
Adkins said union members “understood that I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with them….I have fought for working families and organized labor my entire legislative career.”
He said unions “are under attack” from Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and GOP lawmakers. Unions “have a bullseye on their backs.”
Adkins drew a sharp distinction between himself and Bevin, who will seek a second term. “I don’t agree with his administration on a whole lot of different issues.”
Bevin is a charter school booster. Adkins said he opposes transferring Kentuckians’ “hard-earned tax dollars” from public schools to private, for-profit charter schools.
He disagrees with Bevin’s “attempt to privatize public pensions…and move those pensions to Wall Street to fill the pockets of his buddies.”
He said that the Bevin-Republican version of pension “reform” broke an “inviolable contract” between the state and public employees.
While cutting some benefits for current and retired teachers and other public employees, the GOP pension bill that passed last spring puts most new hires under a “hybrid cash balance” pension plan that’s similar to a 401(k) plan, instead of a traditional defined benefits plan.
Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear challenged the bill in court and won. The Bevin administration appealed and the fate of the bill rests with the state Supreme Court. In July, Beshear tossed his hat in the ring for governor. (He, too, promised to make a union person his labor secretary.)
Adkins said the pension bill amounts to a broken promise. “Where I come from, and you come from here in west Kentucky, a promise made is a promise that must be kept.”
He also denounced Bevin-GOP anti-union legislation passed in the last two legislative sessions, notably a “right to work for less” law and measures that repealed the prevailing wage, abolished the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits.
“I believe that we ought to stand up for working families of this commonwealth and we ought to make sure they’re paid a good wage and be able to drive the economy of this commonwealth because we all know that the economy is not driven from the top one percent or the top five percent,” Adkins said.
“The economy of America and the economy of Kentucky has always been driven from the bottom up and the middle out, and we know a strong middle class is what drives the economy of Kentucky and I believe working families across Kentucky are worth fighting for.”
He challenged, “Are you ready to fight that fight with us?” The crowd answered with loud applause.
Added Adkins: “I don’t agree with the agenda of this governor when he’s trying to take 100,000 people off of health insurance—expanded Medicaid.”
He said Kentuckians who Bevin wants to remove from the program “work two and three jobs” and “for the first time enjoy some kind of health care benefits.”
Adkins said he and Horne are cancer survivors. “We understand that pre-existing conditions are important to be left in any health insurance policy. We understand the importance of accessible and quality health care.”
He said it is vital to protect the health care industry in Kentucky, which employs thousands of people statewide. “If you want to attract the quality jobs to Kentucky without a first-class health care system it will not happen.”
Further, he criticized the Bevin-GOP tax bill, which he said raised taxes on 95 percent of Kentuckians and cut taxes for the wealthiest five percent.
Adkins pledged his support for fair taxation and promised that his administration would boost economic and workforce development, work to strengthen public education, and help eradicate the deadly opioid epidemic in the state.
He supports improving the state’s infrastructure and transportation systems, boosting agriculture and industry and expanding broadband high-speed internet regardless “if you live in the head of a hollow or you live in an urban area.”
He said Republicans know him as a lawmaker they can work with. “When I believe a policy is right, I have been that person that’s reached across the aisle and grabbed the hand and said, ‘Let’s compromise and let’s get this done.’”
He conceded that the election was disappointing. The Democratic Blue Wave that washed away the GOP’s U.S. House majority was barely a ripple in Kentucky.
Adkins’ party lost a Senate seat and notched a net gain of only two House seats. He said the Democrats picked up some seats in eastern Kentucky and in suburban areas, though they lost in the Purchase and western Pennyrile, for years the state’s Democratic bastion.
Adkins is undaunted.
“I can win in November because I will run well statewide,” he predicted. “Winning back this governor’s office is the first step toward rebuilding and revitalizing the Democratic party all across Kentucky but especially in western Kentucky.”
While President Trump remains popular in the state, Bevin’s poll numbers continue to sag. October Morning Consult tracking polls revealed that 56 percent of Kentuckians favor the president but only 30 percent registered their approval of the governor.
Bevin ranked 46th in popularity among the country’s 50 governors.
Bevin is a Trump fan. Like Trump, Bevin seems to go out of his way to insult, belittle, and bash his political foes.
Trump’s targets are non-Kentuckians. Bevin’s are; he aims much of his ire at teachers and the Kentucky Education Association.
“He’s called teachers thugs, ignorant,” Adkins said. “They are some of the most respected people in our community.”
Thus, Adkins thinks Bevin’s intemperate outbursts, plus the “bad policies that he continues to promote,” make him vulnerable.
“He’s not Kentucky,” Adkins said. “He doesn’t understand Kentucky. I am that Kentuckian that is Kentucky, that’s lived in Kentucky, that is part of Kentucky and will help make Kentucky a better place.”
Naturally, his running mate agrees. “‘Rocky,’” Horne grinned, “even his name is Kentucky—’ky.’”
The Adkins campaign was to make Tuesday stops in Owensboro, Bowling Green, and Elizabethtown.
“But we’ll be back many, many more times,” he promised the Paducah crowd.
Jan. 29 is the deadline for filing in the Democratic or Republican primary, which is set for May 21.
Though Bevin is running again, he hasn’t said if Lieutenant Gov. Jenean Hampton will remain his running mate. Beshear’s running mate is Jacqueline Coleman, an assistant principal at Nelson County High School in Bardstown.
Ex-auditor Adam Edelen is mentioned as a likely primary competition for Beshear and Adkins. State Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, has also been mulling a run for governor.
Adkins announced his candidacy last Wednesday in Morehead; he played basketball for Morehead State University. He said he waited until after the election so he could concentrate on helping Democrats in House races.
He said that before the election, many people urged him to run for governor. “As the Democrat leader in the House, it is my responsibility to pay attention to these candidates on the ballot,” he said.
Cross-posted from the KY AFL-CIO site.