Kentucky House Democratic leader withdraws re-election bid

Ryan C. Hermens/rhermens@herald-leader.com

House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, withdrew her candidacy for re-election on Wednesday.

Jenkins was first elected to the legislature in 1994 and made history in 2019 when she became the first woman to serve as the top leader of a legislative caucus in Kentucky.

The minority leader said in a press release that a major factor in her decision to not seek re-election was the changing composition of her district. Jenkins, who is white, said that she would not stand in the way of current Shively mayor Beverly Chester-Burton, a Black woman who is seeking election to the seat. Chester-Burton filed for House District 44 yesterday, the last day that candidates could file.

“I have long advocated for a General Assembly that looks like Kentucky, so when minorities became the majority population in the newly redrawn 44th House District, I did not want to be a barrier to a person of color joining the Kentucky House of Representatives,” Jenkins said.

According to race and ethnicity figures shared by House Republicans, House District 44 went from roughly 40% minority according to 2010 census numbers to 55% minority in its new iteration per 2020 population data.

Republicans had complete control over drawing the maps, and touted the fact that their House map featured a growing number of majority-minority districts.

Jenkins has served as representative of Shively and surrounding areas in Jefferson County since 1994. Her service overlapped with that of her father, who was mayor of Shively between 1994 and 2004.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair noted Jenkins’ historic contributions and called her record “impeccable.”

“Joni Jenkins is a trailblazer who has made Kentucky a better commonwealth through her years of service that should be a model for other leaders,” Elridge said. “... Leader Jenkins built an impeccable record serving the commonwealth, protecting our most vulnerable and improving the lives of Kentuckians from all corners of the state.”

The Jefferson County native was previously chair of the House Women’s Caucus as well as the Jefferson County Delegation.

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, commended her commitment to her district.

“Her extraordinary work on behalf of women and children has brought attention to the challenges our state faces, while her willingness to work across the aisle has provided an opportunity to seek meaningful solutions,” Osborne said. “Leader Jenkins always puts people before politics and while we have not always agreed, I have never doubted her commitment.”

Jenkins said in the release that there has been “no greater honor” than leading the House Democratic Caucus. She will maintain her seat and her role as caucus leader through the end of the year, according to the press release.

“I have loved representing my beautifully diverse district for many years, and will be forever grateful that the voters gave me the chance to serve them,” Jenkins said. “I will finish my term the same way I started my first: Fighting for those I represent and for a better commonwealth.”

Jenkins’ announcement comes as the number of House Democrats has hit a historic low. 24 members of the House are Democrats, compared to 75 Republicans. Before the 2016 election, the chamber was controlled by a Democrat majority.

A lawsuit recently filed by Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, claims that the Republican-drawn maps will likely shift the Democrats even further into the minority. It calls the maps an example of “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

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