Politics

Longtime eastern Kentucky Democratic state representative Rocky Adkins has announced he’s running for governor after hinting he would do so for months.

Hailing from rural Sandy Hook in Elliot County, Adkins is one of the last major Democratic figures in eastern Kentucky, a former stronghold for the party. He has chosen Steph Horne, a Louisville attorney with education ties, to be his running mate.

During a rally in Morehead on Wednesday, Adkins said he’s running for governor to “restore common sense for our good ol’ commonwealth.”

“I’m here today to step beyond a life and a job I love to make a commitment to a larger cause: restoring hopes for the forgotten working and middle class families and restoring the future for our children,” Adkins said.

Adkins has been a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives since 1987. He served as majority floor leader from 2003 until Democrats lost control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century after the 2016 elections.

Now as minority leader, Adkins has been one of the most vocal opponents to Republicans’ control of the statehouse, criticizing the recent passage of right-to-work legislation, the repeal of the prevailing wage and the bill changing pension benefits for most future and some current state workers.

Adkins said his campaign will focus on policies to help working class people and improve education.

“I will stand and fight back the way I have my entire legislative career against unfriendly policies that I know will drive down wages of hardworking people,” Adkins said. “This economy is not drive from the top one-percent down. This economy is built from the bottom up and the middle out and the middle class, hardworking people are worth fighting for.”

Adkins was also a point guard for Morehead State University’s basketball team, leading the Eagles to an Ohio Valley Conference Championship and the NCAA tournament in 1983.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has said he will run for reelection. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Bevin’s approval rating sits at 30 percent after he criticized teachers and other public workers earlier this year for opposing his pension policies.

But Bevin has been bolstered by Republican successes in legislative elections in 2016 and 2018. Even after massive protests from teachers and other state workers earlier this year, Republicans were able to maintain supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature during last week’s elections.

Adkins is the second Democrat to launch a campaign for the state’s highest office after Attorney General Andy Beshear, who announced his candidacy over the summer.

Adkins and other Democrats considering a run for governor accused Beshear of drawing attention and funds away from Democratic candidates running for state House of Representative seats this year.

Like Beshear, Adkins tapped a woman with education ties to be his running mate — Steph Horne, an attorney and member of the Jefferson County Board of Education who did not seek re-election this year.

Horne touted her record opposing Kentucky Education Commissioner’s recommendation that the state take over Louisville’s public school system.

“If our governor can come after Jefferson County Schools, he can come after any school anywhere and replace the wisdom of our teachers, our families and our communities with his own dangerous agenda,” Horne said.

She also went after Bevin for his record of insulting teachers in public remarks.

“When the governor disrespects teachers and attacks schools in one county, he disrespects teachers and attacks schools in every count,” Horne said.

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