The harsh words Michael G. Adams and Steve Knipper have exchanged started long before they became rival candidates in Tuesday’s Republican primary election for Kentucky secretary of state.
Adams, who has held the office of top state election official since 2019 and is seeking a second four-year term, and Knipper, who was chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton when Matt Bevin was governor, battled much of last year over election integrity.
Adams has introduced major changes to Kentucky’s voting laws and has significantly purged the registered voter rolls of more than 100,000 people who have died or moved out of state.
He has not been shy in criticizing Knipper for unsubstantiated election fraud conspiracy theories in Kentucky’s 2019 race for governor, the 2020 presidential race, and several other races across the state.
Adams, who has been chided by some Republicans for working closely with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to make voting easier during the COVID-19 pandemic, claims he has improved voting in Kentucky while Knipper and other election conspiracy theorists have sounded off with no evidence.
Adams, of Thornhill in Jefferson County and Knipper, of Independence in Kenton County, will appear on the May 16 GOP ballot, along with another Republican, former state Rep. Allen Maricle of Lebanon Junction in Bullitt County.
The winner will face former Democratic state Rep. Charles “Buddy” Wheatley in the Nov. 7 general election.
The secretary of state race is one of five constitutional offices, other than governor, for which the two major political parties – Republican and Democrat – will select party nominees next week in what are called “down ticket” races.
Other state constitutional races on this year’s ballot besides governor are auditor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and treasurer. All these constitutional offices pay $139,724 a year except governor, which pays $164,355 a year.
Here’s a closer look at each race:
Secretary of state
Adams defeated former Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry, a Democrat, to become secretary of state in 2019.
He holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville. He also clerked for a federal judge and worked on a U.S. Senate campaign before serving as deputy general counsel to Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. In the second Bush administration, he was called to Washington for appointment as counsel to the U.S. deputy attorney general.
In 2007, Adams began full-time private practice in election law, first as general counsel to the Republican Governors Association and later opening a national practice in the field. In 2016, he was appointed to the Kentucky State Board of Elections.
As secretary of state, his first major legislative accomplishment was passage of a photo ID requirement for voters. The legislature approved more of his election reforms in 2021.
Knipper, an unsuccessful GOP nominee for secretary of state in 2015 and a former member of the Erlanger City Council, filed to run in January against Adams. He has worked in data analysis and cybersecurity. He was immediately endorsed by Hampton and co-worker Adrienne Southworth, who is now a state senator from Lawrenceburg.
Last year, Knipper and Southworth conducted so-called “Integrity” tours across the state, claiming election fraud and aiding recount petitioners. Adams chastised them for lack of evidence and accused them of fraud.
The Boone County Republican Party, known for its liberty wing, accused Adams of “launching a public wave of gratuitous, ad hominem attacks” and making “false, defamatory and gratuitous allegations” against the recount petitioners.
Adams noted that multiple judges had dismissed the recount petitions, as “the Secretary of State and judges know more about election law than the authors of this resolution.”
When announcing that he would seek a second term, Adams said: “The wrong person winning this position could do real harm to our election process.”
Besides battling each other in the primary, Adams and Knipper face another challenger, Maricle. He served two terms in the state House and is calling for more transparency and integrity in the office.
The lone Democrat in the race is Wheatley, a retired Covington fire chief and two-term state representative who lost his reelection bid.
Wheatley is calling for more polling places, longer voting hours, an extension of early voting from three days to two weeks, allowing independents and other registered voters to participate in primary elections and the elimination of a straight-ticket voting option.
Besides running elections, the secretary of state oversees business filings in the state, and public notary commissions.
The Kentucky auditor conducts audits of state government’s agencies. In other words, the auditor serves as a watchdog for Kentucky taxpayers — ensuring public funds are accounted for and used appropriately in accordance with state laws and regulations.
The current state auditor, Republican Mike Harmon, has reached his two-term limit as auditor and is running for governor.
In the Republican primary next week are Allison Ball of Prestonsburg, ending two terms as state treasurer, and Derek Petteys of Lexington. The lone Democrat running for the office is Kimberly “Kim” Reeder of Frankfort.
Ball says she has delivered on her promise to serve as a watchdog of taxpayer dollars as treasurer and will maintain the same mentality as auditor.
As treasurer, she said she has returned $142 million in unclaimed property to Kentuckians, more property in a single term than any state treasurer in Kentucky history.
Petteys, of Lexington, immediately tells the voter on his campaign website that he is “not a career politician.”
He says he has been “a proven leader in project and financial management for nearly 30 years.
“Identifying waste, fraud, and mismanagement is key to running a successful business and it should be the same in government,” he said. “It’s all about finding and fixing problems and holding people accountable. That’s exactly what we need in a state auditor.”
Reeder of Frankfort has no opposition in the Democratic primary for auditor. She is a tax attorney, and a graduate of Yale University, Duke and the University of North Carolina College of Law.
She said she hopes to utilize her years of experience as a tax attorney to “eliminate waste and abuse where it exists.”
Reeder, a native of Rowan County, has also spent time in the classroom, teaching at Rowan County High School, Holmes High School in northern Kentucky, Morehead State University, and in cooperation with the Governor’s Scholars Program.
The state attorney general is Kentucky’s chief law enforcement official.
The current attorney general, Daniel Cameron, could have run for another term but decided to run for governor instead.
There are no contested races for attorney general in this spring’s primary election.
However, Republican Russell Coleman and Democrat Pamela Stevenson will compete against each other in November.
Coleman, a former U.S. attorney, got an early jump in the race when he announced his candidacy the morning after Cameron declared he would run for governor.
He touts proven experience with results.
Over the last 20 years, Coleman said he “has taken on violent crime at the highest levels of law enforcement” and describes himself as “a pro-life, pro-family conservative Republican who has the hard-won experience to keep Kentucky families safe.”
In 2017, President Donald Trump picked Coleman to be the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, and the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him.
Before being confirmed as U.S. attorney, Coleman served as a volunteer assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Oldham County and as senior advisor and legal counsel to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Stevenson is a state legislator from Louisville, a Baptist minister, and spent 27 years in the Air Force. She grew up with her life and community centered around the church founded by her grandfather: Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, in the heart of Louisville.
She says the values she learned there — “faith, family, and service” — called her into a career of service as a Judge Advocate General attorney in the U.S. Air Force and as the founder of a nonprofit providing free legal services to veterans.
She said she will be the “People’s Lawyer,” protecting Kentucky families from big business, corrupt politicians and scammers.
The state agriculture commissioner promotes Kentucky farms.
Two Republicans and two Democrats are vying for the seat held for the last eight years by Republican Ryan Quarles, who is running for governor.
The Republican race features two men with legislative experience while the Democratic race highlights two political newcomers.
State Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield is taking on former state Rep. Jonathan Shell of Lancaster in the GOP contest.
Both Heath and Shell have been running TV ads of them on the farm.
Heath is chair of the House Agriculture Committee and owns Heath Building Material Inc. in Graves County.
Shell is a fifth-generation farmer at Shell Farms and Greenhouses in Garrard County. He is a former state House majority leader and worked with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s latest campaign.
The Democratic race features Sierra J. Enlow, who grew up on a family farm in LaRue County and today is an economic development consultant to communities and companies as they evaluate opportunities to grow and expand.
Enlow worked with economic development teams at both Louisville Forward and Greater Louisville Inc. to develop strategies focused on supporting tech-enable businesses.
Her Democratic rival, Mikael Malone, of Winchester, is a microbiologist.
The Kentucky treasurer is the state’s chief fiscal officer and takes care of revenue deposits and unclaimed property.
The current treasurer, Allison Ball, is running for state auditor.
Three Republicans and one Democrat have filed to replace her.
In the Republican contest, Andrew Cooperrider of Lexington emphasizes that his political efforts started “with coffee” and that he took “a stand against tyranny.”
He is referring to his decision not to comply with Gov. Andy Beshear’s mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic to close his coffee shop.
“Our story was covered both locally and nationally, and then a movement was born,” said Cooperrider on his campaign website.
It’s not clear how far that movement has gone.
Cooperrider lost a bid for the Kentucky Senate and now has his aim set on the treasurer’s office.
He said he is running for state treasurer because “I am sick and tired of corruption running rampant in our government. We need a constitutional watchdog to hold politicians like Beshear accountable.”
Cooperrider, like the other two Republicans in this contest, touts conservative values, though the office has little to do with issues like abortion and gun ownership.
Mark Metcalf has been elected Garrard County attorney six times and was counsel for 22 years to the Garrard County Fiscal Court. He pledges to be a watchdog as treasurer.
O.C. “OJ” Oleka, of Frankfort, is president of Oleka Management Consultant. He was a former deputy treasurer under Allison Ball and says he is the most qualified to start work as treasurer.
The Republican winner on Tuesday will face Democrat Michael Bowman of Louisville in November. He has served in various leadership positions in Louisville, including Parks Alliance and the Southwest Festival Committee.