Politics

The new chair of Kentucky’s Democratic Party is banking on voters pushing back against Republicans’ near-total control of state government and congressional offices.

The GOP has control of both chambers in the statehouse and governor’s office for the first time in state history. Five of Kentucky’s six congressmen and both U.S. senators are Republicans as well.

But Ben Self, co-founder of West Sixth Brewing in Lexington and newly elected chair of Kentucky Democrats, said voters are concerned about policies pushed under GOP control.

“They’re worried about their health care, their access to quality health care all around the state. They’re worried about their pensions, they’re worried about their income with this tax proposal that may dramatically affect people’s lives across the state,” Self said.

Last year, Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since 1921. With supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Gov. Matt Bevin signed a bevy of GOP initiatives into law — “right-to-work” legislation, a repeal of the prevailing wage and a charter schools law.

“It doesn’t benefit anyone except the top 1 percent,” Self said of the policies.

Despite Democrats’ dismal performance in recent elections, the party still has about 300,000 more registered voters than Republicans — as of this month, Democrats have 1,680,155 statewide compared with Republicans 1,373,570.

But Democrats’ numbers have been flagging. Since the beginning of the year, the party lost 6,885 members while Republicans gained 26,315.

Self said Democrats have to get better at communicating policy issues to rural voters, who by a wide margin voted in favor of Bevin and President Trump in the last two elections.

“I think we have a rural image problem, but the reality is that the things we believe as Democrats are even more important in those rural areas,” Self said. “We just have to be better at communicating it — things like access to health care.”

All 100 seats in the state House of Representatives and many seats in the state Senate will be up for reelection in 2018.

Meanwhile, Republicans will again be in the driver’s seat during the upcoming legislative session, as lawmakers and Bevin consider making changes to the state’s public pension system.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.