Former Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen officially launched his 2019 gubernatorial campaign Monday, creating a competitive three-way Democratic primary for the chance to presumably challenge Governor Matt Bevin for the highest office in the state.
From a podium inside Courthouse Square in Lexington, Edelen emphasized his rural Kentucky roots and pledged a brighter future for Kentucky through education, health care and modernizing the economy.
“For all those who refuse to believe where they start will dictate where they’ll end up,” Edelen said. “For all those who have stumbled, who have fallen, who have been knocked down and counted out. For all those who believe that with work tomorrow ought to be better than today. For all Kentucky, I announce my candidacy for governor.”
Edelen’s announcement likely sets the competitive field for the Democratic primary as he joins Attorney General Andy Beshear and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins. With just three weeks until the candidate filing deadline, time is running out for other potential candidates, such as Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, to launch a campaign.
On Monday, Edelen took thinly-veiled swipes at both Beshear and Adkins. Filing legislation and lawsuits is fine, Edelen said, but he is working toward developing projects that will create jobs.
“Our broken politics want to convince you that the only alternative to the current dysfunction and division in Kentucky is dynasty. Folks, we are better than that.” Edelen said, a reference to the fact that Andy Beshear’s father, Steve, was governor for eight years. Edelen served as Steve Beshear’s chief of staff.
Andy Beshear responded by comparing Edelen to Bevin.
“After three years of Matt Bevin, Kentucky families are tired of personal attacks and name-calling,” Beshear said. “Jacqueline and I are running on our record of tackling big problems and getting results.”
In his speech Monday, Edelen was highly critical of politicians in Frankfort.
On health care, he criticized Bevin’s plan to curtail Medicaid and said he would reverse Bevin’s proposed Medicaid changes on his first day in office. On education, he said Democrats are playing defense against cuts to education rather than leading the way.
“We must reclaim the mantle of reform back from those who don’t believe in public education,” Edelen said. “You see a lot of the political class in Frankfort playing defense. Well folks, games aren’t won for playing defense.”
He added that politicians should be doing more than protecting teachers’ pensions. Edelen said he hopes modernizing the economy and rewriting the tax code will help provide the necessary revenue to pay for Kentucky’s financially-ailing public pension systems.
“Folks, protecting pensions isn’t the best we can do, it’s the least we can do,” Edelen said. “Merely protecting pensions doesn’t change the fact that every teacher I know buys materials for their kids out of their pockets.”
Edelen pledged that his cabinet would be made up of 50 percent women and promised to restore funding to the Kentucky Commission on Women.
Unless Grimes jumps into the race, Democrats will be left with three high-profile candidates who are all white men at a time when Democrats across the country have been lauding the diversity of the party. Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath and state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, were considered potential gubernatorial candidates but have said they don’t plan on running.
Edelen is trying to position himself as the businessman in the contest. In April 2017, Edelen and other business partners announced they were studying the possibility of installing tens of thousands of solar panels on a reclaimed surface mine in Pike County. He said Monday that the project is expected to move forward in Eastern Kentucky in the coming weeks, and said a commitment to renewable energy could help bring jobs to the state.
“Let me say something that no candidate for Kentucky governor ever has, though every farmer and hunter knows it to be true,” Edelen said. “Climate change is real and so are the thousands of jobs that can be created fighting it.”
That project was one of many appeals Edelen made to the progressive base of the Democratic Party in the aftermath of his upset loss to state Auditor Mike Harmon in 2015. He also toured the state with Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones, proclaiming a message that the Kentucky Democratic Party must find a way to appeal to rural voters who have fled to the Republican Party.
When asked if he was attempting to position himself as more progressive than Beshear or Adkins, Edelen said he dismissed labels and criticized the narrative as “lazy.”
“I have a whole host of ideas for Kentucky into the future and this isn’t about borrowing some template from the national party and you’ll never hear me say that I am to one end or the other,” Edelen said. “I am where the people of Kentucky need us to be to solve problems.”
But if the 2018 elections in Kentucky were any evidence, the rural and urban political divide remains stark. With a running mate from Louisville — businessman Gill Holland — Edelen will have to figure out a way to appeal to rural Democrats who make up a significant chunk of the primary electorate.
On Monday, Edelen addressed that issue with a pledge to bring broadband internet access to all corners of the state and to help modernize Kentucky’s economy.
“The sad fact is that today’s leaders are chasing yesterday’s economy,” Edelen said. “Underfunding education, depressing wages, eliminating workplace and environmental safeguards may have been attractive to aging industrialists a generation ago, but they are repulsive to the new economy entrepreneurs that hold the keys to the economic future.”