Candidate analysis: Rocky Adkins

Bruce Maples
Bruce Maples
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This is one of three analyses of the top Democratic candidates for Kentucky governor. For more about the four criteria we used in each analysis, please read the introductory article.

Vision for the State

Rocky Adkins’s vision for Kentucky can be summed up in one sentence, using the vision section of his KFTC survey: “We need to do the common-sense things that will improve the lives of everyday Kentuckians, and I will fight for you to get these things done.”

He then goes on to detail what “common sense” means for him:

  • More support for education
  • Investing in infrastructure, both traditional and high-tech
  • Jobs with fair wages in all parts of the state
  • Better access to health care
  • Easier voting
  • Stop the war on working people

Much of this is standard Democratic rhetoric, and so not a surprise. It is what one would expect a Democratic candidate to say. However, when one digs deeper on his campaign site, there are some not-so-standard pieces of the vision:

  • Free community college and technical training. Other states are already doing this, and Adkins says Kentucky should step up as well.
  • Reverse the Bevin efforts to take away health-care coverage. (Of note: both Adkins and his running mate, Stephanie Horne, are cancer survivors.)
  • Legalize medical marijuana, and expand hemp.
  • Push aerospace industry jobs.

And, he has a detailed plan for giving people more voice at the polls, which is sorely needed in this state.

Policies and Legislation

Adkins policy positions are a pretty good fit for progressives – with the one significant exception of his position on abortion.

On economic issues, he is a strong supporter of unions and working people. He opposed right-to-work in 2017, and voted against the removal of project labor agreements this session. He supported the bill that said you couldn’t lose your occupational license over outstanding student debt. He voted against the forced arbitration bill.

He also voted for tobacco-free schools, and against the anti-solar bill. He opposed the bill stripping the Secretary of State of some oversight of elections. And, he voted consistently against the education power grabs by the Bevin administration.

His energy policy pays homage to coal, but then goes on to talk about investing in a “diversified energy economy in the coalfields in the future.” He talks about sponsoring legislation to increase the use of renewables, and wants to re-train coal miners and others to work in the energy efficiency sector.

On women’s issues, he voted in favor of workplace accommodations for pregnancy, and also for the bill that added sexual harassment to the ethics laws for the legislature.

The sticking point for many progressives, though, will be his support for the anti-choice bills that passed the legislature this year. Adkins is a member of the Pro-Life caucus, and votes that way. Some progressives have said that this one issue is enough to make them pass on Adkins.

In this state, however, Adkins stance on abortion might actually help him with many voters. And unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, the bills passed in the legislature will probably get thrown out in the courts. Adkins has stated that when it comes to abortion, he will “enforce the laws of the land.”

So, some progressives might tell themselves that they will vote for Adkins because of all the other things he stands for, assuming that his abortion position will not actually come into play. Others, as noted, may decide they can’t get past his stance on abortion.

Viability as a Candidate

As a candidate, Rocky Adkins started out with very low name recognition. Even though he has been the leader of the Dems in the House for some time, he is not well-known to most Kentuckians. As we’ve drawn closer to the primary, that is starting to change, especially as Adkins has finally gone up on television. But it will be a hard barrier to overcome.

He is also way behind Beshear in fund-raising. Part of this is because Beshear started fund-raising last summer (and caught grief over doing so and stepping on people running in 2018), while Rocky waited until after the election. But another reason for the lower fund-raising is that Adkins is exactly what he has proclaimed himself to be: a working-class fighter for working-class people. “His people” are not going to drop $2,000 at a fund-raising dinner, or put money into a PAC.

So what is Adkins doing to counter-act these negatives? He is working the state, and he is speaking. He is traveling to every part of the state, going to restaurants and union halls and club meetings. He is speaking at a church in Beaver Dam and at the Cornbread Cafe in Frenchburg. He is holding forth on the steps of the courthouse in Greenville and in a park in Saylersville.

His speaking style for many of these is old-fashioned stem-winder speeches, that play well with the people at these venues. He can light up a room and get people on their feet. The interesting thing is that in person, one-on-one, he is relatively quiet, serious, and quite personable. He is an excellent retail politician, and comes across as real and approachable.

The problem, of course, is that there are only so many days and so many voters in restaurants. The people that know Rocky Adkins, by and large, will probably vote for him. His problem is getting enough people to know him.

Effectiveness as Governor

Out of the three candidates, Rocky Adkins might be the most effective as governor, simply because of his long time in Frankfort and his long-term relationships with everyone there, both Democrats and Republicans. He knows how the system works, he knows how to work with others to get things done, and he probably knows most lobbyists and activists by name.

He doesn’t mind a fight, and will stand up for what he believes in. Unless the House flips back in 2020, though, his hands would be tied on many of his initiatives, and he would have to build coalitions across the aisle to get things done. He has done that on some issues in the past, and could again. Of all three candidates, he might be the best suited to be a Democratic governor with a Republican legislature.

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Bruce Maples has been involved in politics and activism since 2004, when he became active in the Kerry Kentucky movement. (Read the rest of his bio on the Bruce Maples Bio page in the bottom nav bar.)

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