Adkins focusing on 'energizing the base' to elect Democrats

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories on the Fancy Farm picnic weekend festivities.

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Rocky Adkins quickly dispelled a rumor that he'd announce his candidacy for governor during the Fancy Farm picnic weekend.

"I'm not sure when that's going to be," said the House Minority leader before he wound up the speaking at Thursday night's 13th annual Alben Barkley Dinner in Paducah. "But if and when, we're going to make sure it's the right time and all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed."

Adkins, a longtime lawmaker from Sandy Hook in eastern Kentucky, said he drove to deepest western Kentucky "to rally and energize the base for our House Democrats all across Kentucky, especially here in west Kentucky."

He was a headliner at the Barkley dinner, named for Vice President Alben Barkley of Paducah. Born in nearby Graves County, he was also a congressman and Senate majority and minority leader.

Adkins followed to the podium Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Dr. Paul Walker, the First District Democratic congressional hopeful; and a quintet of candidates for the state legislature.

"My speeches here, my talks here, are going to be centered around the energy that's on the ground and about the excellent candidates we have across Kentucky," he said.

The Republicans flipped the House in 2016, turning a 53-47 Democratic edge into a 64-36 GOP majority. A Democrat won a special election in February, trimming the Republican bulge to 63-37.

The Republicans already enjoyed a 27-11 Senate majority.

Adkins thinks winning back the House "is an achievable goal," citing a slew of Republican bills he said have harmed working families and public education. He also said the GOP tried "to take 100,000 people off health care and [approved] a tax bill that raises the taxes on 95 percent of the people in the commonwealth and gives a tax break to the top five percent."

He said the GOP legislation has triggered a statewide backlash. "There's more energy on the ground than I've seen in my political career."

He expects Democratic fortunes on Nov. 6 will be boosted by GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's "personal attacks" on teachers and others, his naming of ultraconservative Hal Heiner as chairman of the state board of education and GOP support for charter schools.

"We know what [Heiner's] agenda is. His agenda is basically charter schools."

Adkins also pointed to public ire over the controversial Republican pension bill that would have forced teachers hired after Jan. 1 into a hybrid cash-balance plan instead of a traditional pension and would have made them work longer before becoming eligible for retirement.

Beshear, who announced his candidacy for governor last month, warned that the bill was unconstitutional, sued in court and won. 

"It's about Nov. 6 --who's for me and who's against me," Adkins said. "I think people who have been sitting on the sidelines and been kind of watching now have been energized to get off the sidelines and into the game, and they're raising their hands and saying, 'Hey coach put me in! I'm ready to play.'"

Adkins expects unions to play a big role in electing pro-labor Democrats to the legislature. 

"I see organized labor playing the role they've played in the past, and that's boots on the ground, that's hitting doors, talking to their families and friends and making the distinction that it does matter who sits in these seats in Frankfort."

Added Adkins: "Look over the last year-and-a-half and look at the policies that have been passed that are a direct attack on working families all across the commonwealth: 'right to work,' the repeal of the prevailing wage and then just this week the abolishment of the OSHA board that looks over workplace safety standards.

"This administration...has an agenda, and it's not good for working families; it is not good for public education; it is not good for the economy of the commonwealth of Kentucky."

He said a strong middle class was vital to building a strong economy. "The economy is not built from the top down. It's built from the middle out."