House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins made what’s been rumored for more than a year official Wednesday: he’s running for governor in 2019.
“I want to make a promise to you with every one of you as my witness,” Adkins said to the crowd gathered for his campaign announcement in the Morehead Conference Center. “As governor, I will work hard day in and day out, not for myself, not for the special interests, but for you.”
Adkins, 59, joins Attorney General Andy Beshear in what is expected to be a competitive Democratic primary for the chance to unseat Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who has repeatedly riled teachers and public workers as he attempted to slash pension benefits.
“A governor who declares war on the very people he takes an oath to serve is not only out of order, he should be out of office,” Adkins said.
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Adkins, who lives in Sandy Hook, is the rural candidate in the field, one of the few remaining figures from the Democratic power structure that once dominated the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
He hopes to bring his Appalachian appeal to rural voters across the state, but to do that, he’ll have to build his name recognition.
Adkins has been in the House since 1987, but it wasn’t until the Democrats lost control of the House in 2016 that he was elected to the Democrats’ highest leadership position.
He’ll also have to win over donors. Adkins brings a blue-dog Democratic appeal at a time when the rural and urban divide in the country is stark.
Since announcing his candidacy in July, Beshear has raised $664,893 as Adkins protested that gubernatorial candidates shouldn’t raise money until after the 2018 statehouse races.
Results of the November general election made clear the challenge Democrats face in unseating Bevin. Democrats had hoped enthusiasm among teachers and public workers who opposed a controversial new pension law could propel them to eliminate the Republican super majority in the House of Representatives, but they only won back two seats.
Disgruntled teachers and public workers helped make several races close, but weren’t enough to push Democrats over the top.
Democrats hope 2019 will be different because of Bevin’s unpopularity. He earned special antipathy by making controversial comments about teachers and public employees, which his fellow Republicans sometimes condemned.
At one point, Bevin guaranteed that a child was sexually assaulted because teachers were protesting in Frankfort, causing schools to close that day.
Adkins, like Beshear, made a nod to the issue by selecting Stephanie Horne, a member of the Jefferson County Board of Education, as his running mate.
Horne does not have much state political experience, but attended the Fancy Farm Political Picnic this summer in her first appearance as Adkins’ potential running mate.
“No educator, school bus driver, cook, janitor or any other public employee should have to beg for the dignity of the pension they were promised,” Adkins said. “I believe a pension is a promise that must be kept and as your governor I will keep that promise.”
Bevin was brief when asked about Adkins’ candidacy at the Kentucky Association of Counties annual meeting in Lexington earlier Wednesday.
“I love it, I think it’s great,” Bevin said.
Blake Brickman, Bevin’s chief of staff, said Adkins was more of the “same, tired leadership” of the Democratic Party.
“While Rocky Adkins spent his career voting for record underfunding of the teachers’ pension system by nearly $3 billion, Gov. Bevin has been setting new records for Kentucky — record business development, record low unemployment, record pension funding, and record investment in education and workforce development,” Brickman said.
Adkins was a vocal opponent of the pension overhaul bill and gave several speeches to teachers about the issue. But his record on education is a potential weak point in a primary that will likely be about teachers. Adkins voted against the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, which transformed the state’s system for funding schools.
It is unlikely Adkins will be the last Democrat to announce a bid for governor.
Former Auditor Adam Edelen is expected to announce his campaign around Thanksgiving while Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and state Rep. Attica Scott have said they are considering running. Former Democratic Congressional candidate Amy McGrath’s name also has been tossed into the conversation by her campaign manager.