The minority floor leader of the Kentucky House of Representatives has filed paperwork to raise money for a campaign for governor, setting up a potentially spirited Democratic primary in 2019 to challenge Republican incumbent Matt Bevin.
State Rep. Rocky Adkins and running mate Stephanie Horne are listed on the website of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance for the May 21, 2019, primary. Adkins is scheduled to make a "special announcement" Wednesday in Morehead, Kentucky. Adkins declined to comment Monday through a spokeswoman.
Kentucky is one of three states that will elect a governor in 2019, along with Louisiana and Mississippi. Bevin announced in August he will seek a second term. But he has yet to file for the office or begin raising money.
Bevin's approval ratings sank in the spring, after he criticized teachers and other public workers for opposing his proposed changes to the state's troubled pension systems. His low numbers have given Democrats hope they can defeat him. But in last week's elections, even after many Democratic legislative candidates ran ads critical of Bevin, Republicans maintained massive majorities in the state legislature.
Adkins grew up in Elliott County, a reliable source of Democratic votes since 1869. He played basketball at Morehead State University. When he was a senior in 1983, the Eagles won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, where the team lost to sixth-seeded Syracuse in the first round.
Three years later, at age 26, Adkins was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. He's been there ever since, serving as House majority floor leader from 2003 until 2016, when Republicans won a majority in the House for the first time in nearly 100 years.
As minority leader, Adkins has been among the most vocal opponents to Republican rule in Kentucky. He slammed the GOP for passing laws that make it harder for labor unions to operate and for making changes to the state's underfunded pension systems without first having an actuarial analysis of the final proposal as required by law.
Horne is a real estate attorney and member of the Jefferson County Board of Education. She did seek re-election this year.
Adkins will face Attorney General Andy Beshear in the Democratic primary. Beshear announced his candidacy in July. Since then, he and running mate Jacqueline Coleman have raised more than $660,000.
"The obvious disadvantage Adkins faces is that legislators usually do not have the statewide name recognition of people who served in statewide elected offices," University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss said.
Adkins has been traveling the state extensively for two years, speaking at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in 2017 and campaigning for Democratic legislative candidates this year. And he has garnered news coverage as he criticized Beshear for raising money for the 2019 governor's race ahead of the 2018 midterm elections when Democrats were trying to weaken the Republican majorities in the state legislature.
Most voters in eastern Kentucky are registered Democrats, which could help Adkins in a primary election. But Voss said the key to Adkins' success will be how many other Democrats jump into the race. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is also considering a run for governor or some other statewide elected office, as is former Auditor Adam Edelen and Attica Scott, a state representative from Louisville.
"If we have several Democrats splitting up the city vote, then having a strong base in either eastern or western Kentucky could make a real difference," he said.