Adkins: The wind is at my back this time

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Rocky Adkins surveyed the union crowd and grinned.

"I feel like I’ve got a little wind at my back instead of a hurricane in my face,” he declared, sparking the first of many rounds of laughter, cheers and applause.

The House minority leader knew he was on friendly turf. He was emcee at a candidate meet-and-greet Tuesday afternoon at Machinists Local Lodge 154 in Calvert City.

The union hall is about five miles from where the annual state Labor-Management Conference was in session at Kentucky Dam Village State Park. The conferences, which began in 1977, are designed to provide "participants a relaxed atmosphere, apart from the work environment, that is conducive to positive, meaningful dialogue between labor and management." This year's conference continues through Thursday.

About 50 union members showed up to visit with Adkins, Minority Whip Wilson Stone and five western Kentucky House hopefuls: Desiree Owen, Joy Gray, Rob Wiederstein, David Ramey and Martha Emmons.

He praised the quintet for campaigning on “a Kentucky agenda,” not “an out-of-state agenda of the Koch brothers.”

Adkins’ prowess as a stump speaker precedes him wherever he travels from his home in hilly Sandy Hook, about as far east as the Bluegrass State goes. He didn’t disappoint his listeners in flatland westernmost Kentucky.

He cut loose on GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and the House Republican majority. “They shut you out, and now it’s time to shut them out,” he challenged.

Adkins, who's spent 31 years in the legislature’s lower chamber, reminded the union members that they’ve had a bullseye on their backs since 2017, when the GOP retook the House for the first time since 1921.

The Senate had been Republican for going on two decades. The GOP majorities teamed up quickly to pass a “right to work law” and repeal the prevailing wage. Bevin eagerly signed both measures.

In the last legislative session, the Republicans went after workers again. Bevin abolished the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. He cheered on GOP lawmakers who passed bills that curbed the state’s workers' compensation and unemployment insurance programs.

“What infuriates me as much as the bad policy that’s been passed in the last two years is how they abused the process,” Adkins said.

He recalled that the Republicans tried to silence protesting union members. “They locked you out of the committee rooms first, and you had to stand out in the hallways and try to express your views, which I thank you for doing very well.

“Then they locked you out of the gallery. Then they called you names along with the education community when they started their attacks on public education.”

Added Adkins, “Folks, how do you have a strong economy in Kentucky when you attack public education and try to tear it down and privatize it and take your public education dollars and move them over into a private for-profit corporation, taking money away from our children?”

He commended union members who joined teachers and other public employees rallying in Frankfort last winter and spring against Republican pension “reform” proposals. (A court declared the dubious pension bill unconstitutional.) 

He thanked the union men and women for coming to the Capitol time after time “on behalf of working families and public education and for those who work in it….I want to welcome you to come back, because as long as I am in Frankfort, Ky., and we have a House Democratic caucus--and if we do take back the House in November--you will have a seat back in that committee room and in that building.”

The GOP edge is 63-37. Undaunted by the odds, he kept pouring it on the opposition. Adkins said he was speaking where “Matt Bevin would never come—a union hall. We appreciate your help. You’ve been there for us, and our door is open to you.”

He reminded the audience that Bevin repeatedly insulted teachers, calling them “ignorant and overpaid and thugs and all these names of disrespect.” He remembered when the governor came out of the Capitol and charged that while teachers were in Frankfort, “some child back in [their]…community got molested or tried drugs for the first time.

“I want you to hear me loud and clear, folks. That Capitol building doesn’t belong to Matt Bevin. That Capitol building belongs to the people of Kentucky.”

The crowd again interrupted Adkins with cheers and applause.

He urged “all of you who have picked up that dinner bucket and that hard hat and those steel-toed shoes…to…remember in November."

Adkins has been barnstorming the state on behalf of Democratic House candidates. “I’m seeing an energy like I’ve never seen in my political career,” he said. "We’re going to continue to travel these next 55 days and we're going to bring this baby home.”

It's hardly a secret that Adkins is mulling a run for governor. But he vows he won’t decide until after Nov. 6. He focused his 15-minute speech on firing up union members to turn out on election day.  

He said it's been an honor for him “to stand on the floor and say that I will never cast a vote that I know will lower the wages of hard-working people across Kentucky.

“You heard me say that when they brought ‘right to work’ to the floor. You heard me say that when they brought repeal of prevailing wage.”

He called on voters “regardless of your political persuasion, Democrat, Republican or Independent” to help Democrats “stop this war on working families, this war on the middle class.

“Our goal is to give you a voice once again in Frankfort, Ky., and we do that by taking back the Kentucky House of Representatives.”

He mapped out a path to victory: “Boots on the ground, boots in the trenches, door-to-door, eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face, making sure people get to the polls.”