A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Key advisor Rocky Adkins weighs bid for state ag commissioner; a help for Beshear’s re-election?

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter

Rocky Adkins, a senior advisor to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and former Democratic floor leader in the state House of Representatives, is considering running for state agriculture commissioner next year.

Some think such a move could improve Beshear’s re-election efforts, running with a strong slate of Democratic candidates for the state’s constitutional offices.

Adkins, 62, of Elliott County, told the Northern Kentucky Tribune in an interview Thursday that he has not yet decided if he will run to become Kentucky’s next farm chief but he is “keeping options open and not ruling anything out.”

He stressed that he did not start talk about his possible candidacy but that he has heard it.

“That’s all flattering but right now I am still working day and night for the governor as this team builds up Kentucky,” he said.

Adkins said he realizes that the job of promoting Kentucky farmers is “very, very important.”

He said he sees advances in farming, especially agri-tech, as “a strong part of our economy. This administration has worked hard on that and it must be continued. The diversification in agriculture can help the entire state as it is now helping my native Eastern Kentucky.”

Adkins represented the state House’s 99th district from 1987 to 2019. The district included Elliott, Lewis, and Rowan counties. From 2003 through 2016, he was the House majority leader. From 2016 to 2019, he was the chamber’s minority floor leader.

Adkins ran for governor in the 2019 Democratic primary and finished second place behind eventual winner Andy Beshear. Beshear got about 38 percent of the vote and Adkins 32 percent.

Beshear named Adkins his senior advisor early in taking office in December 2019.

The state’s current agriculture commissioner, Ryan Quarles of Scott County, is term-limited from running again next year. He is a candidate in the 2023 Republican primary election for governor.

Two Republicans already have announced their candidacies for agriculture commissioner next year – Jonathan Shell of Lancaster and state Rep. Richard Heath of Mayfield.

Shell is a former Republican floor leader in the Kentucky House and led U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 2020 re-election campaign’s grassroots efforts in Kentucky. Heath narrowly lost to Quarles in the 2015 Republican primary election for agriculture commissioner. Heath said he got a late start in that race, moving him to jump in the race early this time.

Ryan Salzman, associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University, said Beshear’s re-election efforts could strengthen with Adkins on his slate.

All Kentucky state constitutional offices – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, treasurer, and agriculture commissioner – are on the statewide ballot next year.

“Especially now with so-much straight-political-party-ticket voting, a strong slate is extremely important,” said Salzman. “Rocky Adkins on Beshear’s slate could undermine straight-ticket voting in this state that has been going Republican.

“Any chance you can get of not having straight-ticket voting, the better off you are.”

Salzman also said having a popular candidate like Adkins on your slate may entice other strong candidates of your party to run for other constitutional offices.

Regardless what Adkins decides to do, the political science professor said he is becoming “extremely bullish” on Beshear’s chances of winning re-election.

“His chances started improving with his handling of COVID-19.  Many people saw that his No. 1 concern was with saving people’s lives,” said Salzman. “Then he attracted a big electric battery plant to the state and other major economic development projects and has done well with natural disasters the state has faced like tornadoes.

“I think the governor’s race is pretty even now and Beshear seems to be improving all the time.”

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