Two veteran state House Democrats — Jody Richards of Bowling Green, who was House speaker for a record 14 years, and Darryl Owens of Louisville — announced Monday that they won’t seek re-election this year.
So far, eight Democratic House incumbents have said publicly that they won’t run this year for another two-year House term. That means it will be harder for Democrats to cut into the substantial 64-36 margin that Republicans hold in the House, because Democrats will have to find candidates to try to replace the incumbents.
The filing deadline to run for the legislature this year is Jan. 30. All 100 House seats and 19 of the Senate’s 38 seats are up for grabs.
Brad Bowman, a spokesman for the Kentucky Democratic Party, said the departure of several House Democrats isn’t because Republicans gained control of the House two years ago for the first time since 1921.
“We have some veterans in the House who have decided to turn to other things in their lives, and we have some House members who want to pursue other political office,” Bowman said.
State Republican Party spokesman Tres Watson said the exit of House Democrats is “a window of confidence of House Democrats going into this year’s elections. They know it will be difficult to cut into the Republican supermajority in the House.”
Three House Republicans have said they won’t seek re-election this year. They are Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, Marie Rader of McKee and William Wells of West Liberty.
Besides Richards and Owens, House Democrats not filing for re-election are Steve Riggs of Louisville, Gerald Watkins of Paducah, Will Coursey of Symsonia, Arnold Simpson of Covington, Rick Nelson of Middlesboro and Jim Wayne of Louisville. Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, has been mentioned as a possible candidate this year for Woodford County judge-executive, but he hasn’t publicly announced his candidacy.
Richards, D-Bowling Green, was first elected to the House from the 20th District in 1975 and was speaker from 1995 to 2008. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2003 and 2007. He will turn 80 on Feb. 20.
“It has been an unbelievable honor to represent the wonderful Bowling Green-Warren County community in the Kentucky General Assembly for more than 42 years,” Richards said. “I believe the secret of our success is that our local and state officials and our educational and business leaders have worked so well together to make this the best community anywhere.”
Richards said he wants to extend “the warmest thanks” to the voters of his district “for allowing me to represent them in state government for so long. It has meant the world to me.”
Former Senate President David Williams, a Burkesville Republican who now is a circuit judge, often tangled with Richards on legislative issues.
Willams said Monday that Richards is “an honorable man who has been committed to getting a quality education for every child in Kentucky.”
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said he has seen firsthand, by serving in the House with Richards for more than 30 years, “just how much he has meant to his community and the entire Commonwealth.
“So many things — from education reforms to numerous economic-development projects and initiatives — would not be the success they are today without his leadership, advocacy and a work ethic that is second to none. The gentleman from Warren has made a true difference in the lives of every Kentuckian, and his guidance and goodwill will be sorely missed when the House convenes next year.”
Richards began serving in leadership positions shortly after arriving at the Capitol. He was the House Education Committee chairman from 1977 to 1985 and became House Majority Caucus chairman — one of the chamber’s five majority leaders — in 1986.
He held that position until 1995, when he was elected House speaker. He was re-elected six times, ending his tenure in that post in 2008. From 2015 to 2017, he was House Speaker Pro Tem.
Owens has represented the 43rd House district in Jefferson County since 2005. An attorney, Owens has been in public office for more than 40 years as a district judge, assistant attorney general, and Jefferson County C District commissioner.
“The highest honor of my life has been to serve as a state representative, and I am profoundly grateful to have been elected by my constituents for more than a decade,” Owens said. “I have enjoyed every minute of this job, but it’s time for a change and to make room for the next generation of leaders to take up the mantel.”
Throughout his tenure in the legislature, Owens has focused on issues pertaining to criminal justice, public education, social services and voter rights.
House Minority Leader Adkins said, “Darryl Owens is the wise counselor whose advice every member seeks on difficult issues. His commitment to his district, Louisville and the commonwealth guides his legislative agenda, and he is highly respected for that selfless dedication.”