Two prominent Kentucky Democrats on Tuesday launched a nonprofit organization, the New Kentucky Project, to cultivate the next generation of political leaders.
Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones and former state auditor Adam Edelen said their group isn’t a third party that will run a formal slate of candidates in 2018. Instead, it will organize and support people who want to run for elected office, especially local office, if they share four core values: civil rights for every Kentuckian; universal access to affordable health care; a living wage for workers; and the primacy of education.
Kentuckians are badly served by “a stale political system” in which Republican leaders promote a “far-right” agenda while Democratic leaders offer little in response but criticism, Edelen said. Kentucky is on track to become the next Alabama, a poor, unhealthy state that clings to the past, he said.
“It is clear to me that our political model is not working, that government as a delivery system for tangible results is not working, and it has to be changed,” said Edelen, who served one term as auditor until he was defeated last fall by Republican Mike Harmon.
Jones — a self-described progressive who considered running for Congress this year — said he has traveled to every county in the state to meet fans of his radio show, who tend to be politically conservative. These people are disgusted by constant partisan sniping in Frankfort and Washington because it does nothing to help their communities, Jones said.
“Listen, we have a governor who I don’t think is very popular,” Jones said at a Lexington news conference. “We have presidential candidates who are historically unpopular. And we have a Democratic Party that is probably sitting at its worst spot electorally in this state in a long time.”
The men offered examples of new leaders they admire, including Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley, who supports renewable energy projects in coal country; Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilwoman Angela Evans, who is trying to address affordable housing and homelessness in her city; and state Rep. James Kay, D-Versailles, who sponsors legislation to make college tuition more affordable.
However, it’s difficult for anyone to break into politics unless they are personally wealthy or have close connections to rich supporters, Edelen said. The New Kentucky Project could help by grooming qualified people at the local level in every part of the state, he said. It would be particularly smart to focus on the small, rural counties that the Democratic Party increasingly views as “unwinnable,” Edelen said.
The New Kentucky Project has hired an executive director, Erik Jarboe, and it announced an executive committee on Tuesday with more than two dozen members, including several Democratic state lawmakers. It will charge $20 for a membership — $10 for college students — and it welcomes private donations, Edelen said.
The 2018 elections will be the group’s first chance to make an impact because there are no elections scheduled for next year. In the interim, it’s likely the group will get involved in Frankfort battles over access to affordable health care and improving internet connectivity, two areas where Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has clashed with Democrats.
In response to questions Tuesday, Edelen and Jones denied having any plans at present to seek elected office. For now, the men said, The New Kentucky Project is entirely focused on getting other people into government.
“It’s much bigger than Matt or I as individuals,” Edelen said. “This organization is not premised on being ‘The Adam and Matt Show.’”