Kentucky Politics

Republicans have gained a seat in the state House of Representatives following a special election in a historically Democratic district in northeastern Kentucky.

Republican lumber mill owner Richard White defeated Democrat Bill Redwine, a former administrator at Morehead State University, by a little more than 1,000 votes on Tuesday.

The outcome does not change party control in the legislature, where Republicans how hold 62 out of 100 seats in the House and 29 out of 38 seats in the Senate, both super-majorities.

But Republicans are celebrating the results as a major victory on their quest to flip seats held by Democrats in rural parts of the state.

In a statement, Republican Party of Kentucky Chair Mac Brown congratulated White on his victory, saying the party is looking to expand its majorities.

“Kentucky Republicans can be justly proud of all Richard White and our grassroots team did to flip this seat to GOP control,” Brown wrote. “Tonight’s groundbreaking results should put Democrats on notice all across the state. Kentucky voters want leaders who support President Trump.”

The special election took place to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of former Democratic Rep. Rocky Adkins, who stepped down to take a position in Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration.

Adkins was elected to the seat representing Rowan, Elliott and Lewis counties in 1987 at age 26. He rose to the position of House majority floor leader when Democrats were on top in the chamber, becoming minority floor leader when Republicans took control of the House in 2017, the first time in nearly a century.

The district is a historically Democratic pocket in eastern Kentucky, though Adkins’ home of Elliott County went for Donald Trump in 2016, the first time the county had voted in favor of a Republican.

Democrats were able to hold on to a seat during a different special election in northern Kentucky on Tuesday.

House district 67, which includes part of Campbell County, has been vacant this year following the resignation of Democratic Rep. Dennis Keene, who also stepped down to work in Beshear’s administration.

In that race, Democrat Rachel Roberts, owner of a yoga studio, defeated Republican small business owner Mary Jo Wedding by a little more than 1,300 votes.

Brian Wilkerson, communications director for House Democrats, congratulated Roberts on her victory and said the eastern Kentucky campaign was “especially tough during these winter months.”

“With these elections now behind us, our caucus is once again focused on fighting for a vision that benefits all of us and not just some of us, both in the remaining days of the legislative session and in the months ahead,” Wilkerson wrote.

The victors of the special elections get to finish out the year as state representatives, but they will have to run again in November to win a full two-year term.

All four candidates have filed to run again.

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