FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Democrat Rocky Adkins isn't telegraphing his intentions regarding a potential bid for governor next year, but, in the northeastern corner of Kentucky, people who know him best think he’s a likely contender.
For now, all the longtime lawmaker will say is that he is considering it.
“As we would say on the left-hand fork of Middle Fork, ‘There’s still a lot of hay to put in the barn,’” Adkins told Kentucky Today. “But I’m getting a lot of encouragement and giving it serious consideration.”
Adkins said his singular focus at this point is to flip the House back to Democratic control in this year’s legislative races. Republicans won control in the 2016 legislative elections. Democrats recognize that their best chance to win back those lost seats is to do it before the GOP incumbents become entrenched.
As the top-ranking Democrat in the House, Adkins is busy recruiting candidates for legislatives races, but, all the while, the people who know him best are nudging him toward the governor’s race.
Ashland Mayor Steve Gilmore said he’s asked Adkins numerous times about his intentions regarding a run for governor, always getting the same response: “Hang in there. I’ll let you know.”
“I thought he was probably ready for that several years ago,” Gilmore said. “I think his work in the legislature stands for itself. He has strong values, Christian values. Rocky is so representative of our whole area.”
Boyd County Judge-Executive Steve Towler said folks in northeastern Kentucky, a region that produced its share of governors, realize that Adkins is a possibility.
“I think Rocky is topnotch,” Towler said. “It’d be hard to find a better one.”
Adkins, 58, said growing up outside Sandy Hook, one of Kentucky’s smallest county seat towns, is a positive and that his 30-year rise through the political ranks is proof that small town boys can find success in politics. He has represented the 99th District in the House of Representatives since 1987.
“There’s no question I’m getting a lot of encouragement to look at the race and we are,” he said. “The reason we’re giving it serious consideration is because of that encouragement I’m getting from across Kentucky.”
Serving in legislative leadership has upped his name ID. He campaigns across the state on behalf of legislative candidates. He has also served as emcee of the Fancy Farm picnic, an annual gathering that serves as the traditional kickoff of every campaign season in Kentucky.
“Rocky is just a good honest guy, and still young enough to be energetic,” Gilmore said.
Adkins has been in House leadership throughout most of his 30 years in Frankfort, serving as House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2016. Once a basketball standout at Elliott County High School and Morehead State University, where he was a captain and point guard of an NCAA tournament team in 1983, he has become a political powerhouse in northeastern Kentucky.
He has stayed loyal to Morehead State where this fall a dining commons on campus was dedicated to and named after him.
A more than 20-year survivor of cancer, he actively raises funds for research by sponsoring an annual golf tournament that has raised $2.3 million since its inception in 1995.
Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear has also indicated he is considering a run for governor, while incumbent Republican Matt Bevin hasn’t made his intentions about re-election known.
“We’ll see,” he told reporters last month. “I have a year and some change to make that determination and make that announcement.”
Adkins said if he decides to get into the race, he’ll work hard to win.
“Everything I’ve gotten in life I’ve worked hard for and I’ve earned it,” he said. “I think that’s what it takes in anything that you achieve in life.”