Longtime Democratic Kentucky lawmaker Rocky Adkins is touring the commonwealth after launching last week his campaign for governor in 2019. Matt Markgraf sat down with Adkins to talk about what he sees as the biggest issues in Kentucky and what separates him from the other candidates.
Adkins launched his campaign last Wednesday in Morehead, located in the northeastern district he has long represented. He played basketball for Morehead State University in the early 1980s prior to his service in the legislature, which began in 1987. Adkins is from Sandy Hook in Elliott County and said he grew up on a small tobacco farm.
Among his legislation he’s most proud of, Adkins listed the “Energy Independence and National Leadership Act” and the “Tourism and Development Act.”
Adkins describes himself as a "very moderate, middle-of-the-road, common-sense Democrat.” He said he believes common sense gets the best results. "And I think we're away from that right now. I think we've got very radical views from this administration, from this administration,” he said and listed what he said are current issues involving public education and charter schools, the privatization of public pensions, an agenda that “drives down the wages of working people” and Kentuckians losing their health care.
"At the end of the day if we're not looked at as a state that has strong public education and quality health care it's going to be hard for us to compete in the global economy when we're trying to get jobs to come to west Kentucky, or rural Kentucky or any part of Kentucky," Adkins said. He added that thousands of people work in the health care industry in Kentucky, from nurses and physicians assistants and doctors, construction crews, etc.
The best ideas don’t often come from Frankfort, Adkins said, but from local people in local communities. "And a Rocky Adkins administration, if I become governor, will be that kind of governor. We'll bring Frankfort to Murray, Kentucky and west Kentucky and the river counties."
Republican Governor Matt Bevin had said he will seek re-election. But before a possible matchup against Bevin, Adkins faces a spirited primary against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear and potentially others. Adkins said what sets him apart is his experience and “proven leadership” as well as an ability to work across party lines.
"I believe I'm the Democrat who can win in November. I believe I'm the Democrat that can win back Democrats we've been losing in rural Kentucky, eastern and western Kentucky, Democrats that have been voting Republican," he said.
On Democrats losing seats in far west Kentucky and only gaining slightly in the state House this past election, Adkins said there were some gains in eastern districts as well as in urban and suburban areas. "Even though we didn't achieve in some areas, we did in others in this election cycle. Did we do all we needed to do? No, we didn't. But here's how we get back on the right track: We keep that energy that you saw during this last election cycle. We keep that energy of the education community, public employees and working families. We keep that energy of engagement of people who had never been involved in a campaign before who came out the first time and was involved because they saw it did matter who's sitting in those seats in Frankfort, Kentucky,” he said.
Winning back the governor’s office is “critical” for Democrats, Adkins said. "If we're able to win back this governor's office then we can start on a path forward to do the things that we need to do to restructure, rebuild, continue to build the party, recruit quality candidates as we had this last election cycle and pick up that momentum that's needed going into 2020."
In the 2016 election primary season, there was much enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders in west Kentucky and other rural counties in the commonwealth compared to Hillary Clinton (with Sanders winning most of the west Ky. region and other rural areas). In reaching out to the energized, progressive Democrat in Kentucky, Adkins said his strategy involves connecting with individuals. "I don't think people ever connected with Hillary Clinton to be very honest with you. I don't think they were ever able to feel like that she was like them or would be a part of what they were for or what they were against." He said part of being able to energize and mobilize is building trust, a connection and having a backbone.
With regard to the Democratic Party platform, Adkins said he doesn't read platforms. "I couldn't tell you what's on that platform." He said the party values he grew up with are: public education, working families, fighting for good wages, building infrastructure and social security.
In describing the biggest issues in Kentucky, Adkins said public education is key. He said the jobs people want in the future require training and education. Also key are investments in infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, rail system. Another area is having a trained, skilled workforce, particularly to meet the future demands of the aerospace industry.
On other issues, Adkins said he's a “pro-life Democrat” and said after babies are born they ought to be taken care of, with enough food to eat and a comfortable home.
He said he has never been a big supporter of the Clean Power Plan - an Obama-era rule that sets targets for states to reduce carbon emissions. Adkins said it hasn't been good for the economy. He said energy needs to be produced in a clean manner with research and development. The plan, he said, was “policy in front of technology” and hurt the coal industry. "We were making great advancements in technology to burn coal cleaner. And I believe that we've made a big mistake by tearing down these power plants, the infrastructure we're going to need in the future." Low-cost energy, he said, is needed to build an industrial manufacturing sector.
On finding common ground in the upcoming legislative session, Adkins said every community across Kentucky faces issues involving opioid addiction and abuse. He said individuals need to be moved into treatment and rehabilitation and progress needs to continue on this front.