Joni Jenkins is first woman to lead Democrat House caucus
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky House Democrats made history Friday by selecting state Rep. Joni Jenkins as their top-ranking leader, making her the first woman to serve as the party’s floor leader in the chamber.
Jenkins, who was first elected to the House in 1994, will succeed Rocky Adkins as the House minority floor leader.
Adkins ended his decadeslong House career recently when he accepted the job as senior adviser to Gov. Andy Beshear. Adkins finished runner-up to Beshear in this year’s Democratic primary for governor.
With Adkins’ departure from the House, Jenkins moves up the leadership ladder. She has served as minority whip, a role that will be filled by Rep. Angie Hatton of Whitesburg.
By assuming the role of minority floor leader, Jenkins will become the leading voice for Democrats in the Republican-dominated chamber. Democrats hold 37 seats in the 100-member chamber, and nearly half of them are women. Two seats that were held by Democrats are currently vacant.
“It’s one more glass ceiling that gets broken,” Jenkins said of her election as minority leader. “I hope it’s a message to young women and young men that there’s room for everybody at the table, and every voice should be heard.”
Jenkins said she’s confident that Republicans and Democrats will work together on an array of issues next year. She listed education, health care and child welfare — including adoption and foster care — as issues for potential common ground. But when differences surface, she’ll be a forceful advocate for Democratic ideas, she said.
“There are going to be times that we’re going to hold them (Republicans) accountable when we don’t agree,” Jenkins said in an interview.
House Speaker David Osborne congratulated Jenkins and Hatton in a statement and said Republicans look forward to working with them.
“While we may have political differences, there is certainly a mutual respect and understanding that our first priority must be the people of Kentucky,” he said.
Jenkins is from Shively, a suburb of Louisville. During her legislative career, she has been a strong advocate for crime victims, especially for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. She has also focused on housing issues and the state’s drug-abuse problems.
Her selection as minority leader is the latest indication of the growing influence of women in the Kentucky legislature. On the Republican side, state Rep. Suzanne Miles of Owensboro serves as the House majority caucus chair. In the Senate, Republican Julie Raque Adams of Louisville also serves as majority caucus chair.