Democratic state Rep. Gerald Watkins decides against running for fourth term in 2018

08/23/2017 05:41 PM

State Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, will not seek re-election next year as Democrats look to rebound from a 17-seat swing in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.

Watkins, who won a third term in office last year, made the announcement Tuesday on his personal Facebook page and told Pure Politics in an interview Wednesday that he made his intentions known to give others in the 3rd House District ample time to consider entering the 2018 race.

Watkins, who served as a city commissioner in Paducah for three terms before entering the legislature, said he contemplated not running for re-election in 2016 and has thought about next year’s race since February.

He said he “loved” life as a public servant, but three factors determined his decision: driving four hours to and from Frankfort, living in a hotel room for three months during legislative sessions and using all of his vacation time as a political science professor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College to serve in the General Assembly.

“I have no vacation days each year because of this situation and haven’t had a vacation in seven years, and my daughter a week ago Saturday married a U.S. Marine and he’s stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and they’re living down there,” Watkins said. “As it is right now I can’t see them, and I want to have some time to go visit my daughter and son-in-law and spend some time with them.”

Watkins said he never went to Frankfort to become “a long-termer” and has seen seven of his bills passed. Next year, he hopes to usher a pair of criminal justice bills across the legislative finish line in his last session as a state representative.

He’s introduced them in recent sessions. One would make personal possession of any drug a misdemeanor offense and require drug treatment and community service as a sentence, with involvement by the faith community available, and the other would implement a “three strike” system that would hand down life sentences for those who are convicted of violent Class A or B felonies in three separate cases.

The former would affect about 14,000 inmates and save an estimated $312 million in prison costs, which Watkins said could be used to fund drug treatment programs.

“That would put the repeat violent offenders – that’s who I’m targeting – get them off the street, get them in prison, and we get the people out of prison that don’t need to be there, and I think society’s better served and we save a whole lot of money,” he said.

Watkins says he’s heard of several people interested in running for the 3rd House District seat, but he declined to name them out of respect for their individual decision-making processes. He said he would not endorse a candidate in the primary but may do so in the general.

Still, he says it will be a difficult seat for Democrats to retain in 2018. The party lost control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century as Republicans won a 64-member supermajority last year.

“It’s a real challenge for a Democrat,” he said, noting significant margins of victory in the district for Republicans in recent statewide and congressional races. “I’m a moderate-conservative Democrat and have been involved and active in my community for a long time. I know a lot of people. I’ve taught at the college 27 years, had over 12,000 students, so I guess I probably had an advantage.

“But it will be a challenge. It would have to be, to me, a moderate-conservative, center-right or a conservative Democrat, the only way that the Democrats can hold this seat.”


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