Edelen says he's the Democrat that Bevin doesn't want to face in the fall

EDITOR'S NOTE: We interviewed Rocky Adkins and Andy Beshear last year after they announced their bids for governor. Adam Edelen didn't launch his campaign until last month and he recently spoke with us. We appreciate all three candidates taking the time to talk with us.

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Former state auditor Adam Edelen says union members should back him for governor “because I’m the only Democrat who gives working people a fighting chance in a changing economy.”

House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear of Louisville doubtless disagree. They're Edelen’s two main opponents in the May 21 Democratic primary. Lexington resident and perennial candidate Geoff Young rounds out the field.

The Kentucky State AFL-CIO has endorsed Adkins, Beshear and Edelen in general elections. 

Kentucky will be “ground zero” for economic change, according to Edelen, a Lexington businessperson and former chief-of-staff for ex-Gov. Steve Beshear, Andy's dad.

“We have the highest percentage of jobs in America that have the potential to be eliminated through automation. So we’ve got to have a governor who understands that the economy is changing, and we need a governor who can get us through these swirling winds but also position us to benefit.”

Democrats hope--and Republicans worry--that GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is vulnerable. Some polls show he might be in trouble with voters.

A December Mason-Dixon survey showed Beshear leading Bevin by eight points, 48 to 40, and the governor trailing Adkins 42-41. Twelve percent of respondents said they were undecided. (Edelen wasn't in the poll because he had yet to toss his hat in the ring.)

The same poll showed that only 38 percent of voters approved of the job Bevin is doing while 53 percent disapproved, and 9 percent were undecided. In December, 2017, Bevin was at 45 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval.

He also faces a Republican insurgency, though it's hard to tell how widespread or how strong it is. But it's significant that the governor has collected a trio of primary challengersState Rep. Robert Goforth of East Bernstadt, Ike Lawrence of Lexington and William Woods from Corinth. 

The deadline for the May primaries has passed. But independent candidates can still file. Independent Drew Curtis ran for governor in 2015. Bevin bested him and Democrat Jack Conway.  

Edelen, Adkins and Beshear are courting labor support. Edelen and Beshear were in Paducah union halls today.

Edelen hosted a  community forum at Laborers Local 1214 hall. Beshear huddled with western Kentucky labor leaders at the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council building.

On Nov. 19, Adkins and his running mate, Louisville attorney Stephanie Horne, made a campaign stop at the Laborers’ hall. (Edelen is slated with Gill Holland, a Louisville business owner. Beshear chose educator Jacqueline Coleman of Harrodsburg to run with him. Young is partnered with Joshua French of Elizabethtown.)

“There’s no way that we can build a modern Kentucky--which is what my campaign is all about--unless we build it with the hands of organized labor,” Edelen said. Adkins and Beshear similarly praise union labor.

Unions say Bevin is one of the most anti-union governors in state history. He ran on a platform with planks calling for a “right to work” law and for repealing the prevailing wage.

In 2016, the Republicans flipped the Democratic state House, removing the last barrier to a RTW law and PW repeal. In early 2017, the GOP House and Senate passed both measures; Bevin eagerly signed them.

Adkins, Beshear and Edelen oppose RTW and support the prevailing wage. Edelen said union security agreements, which RTW laws prohibit, and prevailing wage laws “are both ladders to a quality middle class life and the Republicans have pulled the ladders up behind them.”

Recently, Bevin called for merging the labor cabinet with the public protection cabinet, a move unions say will weaken government protection for workers' rights. Adkins, Beshear and Edelen favor keeping a free-standing labor cabinet; all three pledge to name a union member as labor secretary.

Edelen said workers especially need “a robust labor cabinet to keep working people safe where they work.”

He added that the issue is personal to him. He cited Gene Hobbs, a Meade County road worker who was accidentally crushed to death by a dump truck driven by a coworker in 2016.

 A federal investigation and an analysis by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health, "the state agency tasked with protecting workers[,] failed to properly investigate nearly every single worksite death in two years."

KY OSH is part of the labor cabinet. 

Edelen grew up in Meade County and he said Hobbs was more than his lifelong friend. “Gene Hobbs is like blood to me. I am personally animated;  this isn’t a talking point that somebody else wrote for me.

"I lost somebody that my family was very close to in this awful workplace fatality that really wasn’t investigated as it should have been.”

According to the KyCIR report, a KY OSH supervisor said in an email that Hobbs died because he just “zigged when he should have zagged.” Edelen called the remark, “among the most outrageous things I have seen in years.”

He vowed that as governor, he'll “clean that damn place up, and I’m going to make that sure we will have robust inspectors because nobody ought to have to worry whether they are going to get to come home from their job when they leave with their lunch pail in the morning.”

Edelen knows that at governor, he, Adkins and Beshear would face daunting Republican supermajorities in both houses of the legislature. The next House and Senate elections aren't until 2020.

“There’s no doubt you’ve got to have a governor who’s tough enough to deal with [the Republicans]...and who is also savvy enough to make thing happen and I’ve got a record of having done that,” said Edelen, who was auditor from January, 2012, to January, 2016.

He was defeated for reelection in November, 2015, when Beshear was elected attorney general. Adkins won again last November.  

“It was a partnership between me and then commissioner of agriculture Jamie Comer that resulted in Richie Farmer doing 27 months in the federal pen,” Edelen said.

Farmer, who preceded Comer in office, was convicted of violating state campaign finance laws and misappropriating state resources. He and Comer, now the First District’s congressman, are Republicans.

Edelen said that while he was auditor he also worked with Republicans to investigate and reveal that statewide more than 3,000 rape kits had not been tested. The delay was said to have created a backlog of up to a year for many victims and prosecutors. 

“The work that I did in investigating corrupt school superintendents was very bipartisan,” he said. “So I’ve got a record of bringing people together to get big, important things done.

“But I also have a record of being tough enough to fight and there's going to be a lot of fights. To beat Matt Bevin you’ve got to have somebody who can go toe-to-toe with him on job creation and you’ve got to have a record of fighting corruption.

"So when Matt Bevin says, ‘Don’t allow the Democrats back in because they will bring 100 years of Democratic corruption back with them,' I can look him in the eye and say, ‘Governor, I’m the candidate who filled the jails when I was state auditor and people are familiar with how rough I was on corruption while I was state auditor.'”

Edelen pointed to his recent record on “new economy economic development. I brought a coal company together with a renewal energy engineering firm to build what we will shortly announce as the largest solar project in this part of the country and the first in Appalachia. 

“I can out communicate, out work and out hustle Matt Bevin. I will fight his lies with the truth and I think it’s pretty clear that I’m the Democrat he doesn’t want to run against.”