Amid a chanting crowd at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington on Saturday, state Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, announced he’ll challenge U.S. Rep. Andy Barr for his seat in the House of Representatives.
“I see a Congress sold out to special interest, that a vote that angers the other side now passes for an accomplishment,” Thomas told about 150 people who came to see him declare his candidacy. “All the while, people in Kentucky are starting to lose faith that their children will have better lives. We need a representative in Washington who will put the people of Kentucky first.”
Thomas, a lawyer and professor at Kentucky State University, has served as a state senator from Lexington since 2014 after winning his seat in a special election.
While Thomas avoided any mention of President Donald Trump, he did swipe at Barr several times.
“People ask me, ‘Reggie, how are you going to beat Andy Barr?’” Thomas said, laughing. “I’ve thought about that, and I have to say someone like Andy will spend half of his entire life either working on a government job or seeking a government job. He’s going to be tough to beat. But I’ve seen Andy’s type of governing experience, and I think it’s time we elect someone with real-life experience.”
It is likely that Thomas will face a Democratic primary. Former state Rep. Leslie Combs and Lt. Col. Amy McGrath have both expressed interest in running.
Looming over the potential primary is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who would be the prohibitive favorite should he enter the race. Gray has stayed quiet as rumors about how strongly he’s considering the race continue to swirl.
Rick VanMeter, spokesman for Andy Barr’s campaign, said Barr is not focused on the potential Democratic primary.
“Instead, he is focused on fighting for the values and interests of the people of the Sixth District in Congress, keeping his promises and doing the job he was elected to do,” VanMeter said. “There will be a time in the future for politics, but now is the time to do the work of the American people.”
In his speech, Thomas homed in on health care, pointing out Kentucky’s high rates of cancer, obesity and diabetes, and he criticized Barr’s support of the House of Representatives bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Thomas also spoke about education, denouncing the movement toward charter schools, which was a significant legislative battle in Frankfort last session.
“It makes me sick to my stomach to see what is being done in education today,” Thomas said. “They are demonizing the teachers just to try and score a few points in the far-right media.”
Thomas said he will kick off his campaign with a “listening tour” of all 19 counties in the Sixth Congressional District.
“I’m going to listen, because the people in Washington do not do nearly enough listening,” Thomas said. “From that listening tour, I’m going to build a campaign of the people and for the people, and that’s how I’m going to beat Andy Barr.”