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Ky. House Democratic leader Joni Jenkins won’t run for reelection

LRC Public Information

A longtime legislator and Democratic leader in the Kentucky House of Representatives won’t run for reelection after her district was redrawn by Republicans during the redistricting process this year.

Louisville Rep. Joni Jenkins was first elected to House district 44 in 1994 and became the House minority leader two years ago, a move that made her the first woman to lead a party’s legislative caucus in state history.

Jenkins’ Shively-area district was redrawn to include a majority of racial minority voters this year. Jenkins, who is white, said in a statement she wants to make room for someone else to run.

“I have long advocated for a General Assembly that looks like Kentucky, so when minorities became the majority population in the newly redrawn 44th House District, I did not want to be a barrier to a person of color joining the Kentucky House of Representatives. That’s why I withdrew my candidacy today,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ announcement comes a day after the deadline for candidates to file to run for office in Kentucky. Shively Democratic Mayor Beverly Chester-Burton, who is Black, filed to run for the seat.

Currently there are only seven Black lawmakers sitting in the Kentucky legislature’s 138 seats.

Much of Jenkins’ legislative and professional career has focused preventing violence against women. She managed education programs for the Center for Women and Families in Louisville and created a partnerviolence and sexual assault prevention program at the University of Louisville.

Jenkins said she’s been honored to represent her district and lead the Democratic caucus.

“I have loved representing my beautifully diverse district for many years, and will be forever grateful that the voters gave me the chance to serve them. I will finish my term the same way I started my first: fighting for those I represent and for a better commonwealth,” Jenkins said.

The development comes as Democrats are at a low-water mark in the Republican-dominated state House and Senate. Democrats currently occupy 24 out of 100 seats in the House.

Following the announcement Republican House Speaker David Osborne issued a statement thanking Jenkins for her time in the legislature.

“Her extraordinary work on behalf of women and children has brought attention to the challenges our state faces, while her willingness to work across the aisle has provided an opportunity to seek meaningful solutions. Leader Jenkins always puts people before politics and while we have not always agreed, I have never doubted her commitment. While Joni’s decision to retire at the end of this term saddens me, I wish her the very best,” Osborne said.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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