Buddy Wheatley announces bid for secretary of state

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington) is running for secretary of state. 

Wheatley announced his candidacy for the position at the Local 38 Covington Firefighters Union Hall in the Peaselburg neighborhood on Tuesday.

Outgoing Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington) announced his bid for Secretary of State on Tuesday. Photo by Mark Payne | LINK nky

“What we need most is real leadership in the Secretary of State’s Office — a true champion for voting rights,” Wheatley said. “Someone who will stand up to election deniers.” 

Wheatley lost his bid for reelection in the 65th District in November. Defeated by Republican Stephanie Dietz in a heavily changed district due to this year’s redistricting, Wheatley announced his candidacy for a statewide office just over a month later. 

“In the 2022 election cycle, we saw only 41.8% voter turnout — the lowest midterm turnout in Kentucky in nearly three decades,” Wheatley said.

Both voter turnout and voter locations are something he said he wants to work on if elected to the position. In Kenton County, the number of voting locations decreased from 50 to 24 this past election cycle, which election officials said caused long lines. 

“Our ability to vote is central to our democracy and our safety,” Wheatley said. 

After the 2022 election, Wheatley talked to his fellow legislators and said that voting locations are a part of the picture. 

“It didn’t just happen in Kenton County, it happened in Warren County,” Wheatley said. “It happened in Jefferson County.” 

Wheatley will be running against Republican Michael Adams who was elected to the position in 2019. While Adams has done some things to improve voting in Kentucky, Wheatley thinks there is more to be done. 

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Wheatley was involved with two voting bills during his last term in office — House Bill 574 in 2021 and House Bill 564 in 2022. The latter made early voting more accessible by allowing three early voting days and permanently establishing vote-by-mail ballots. 

Adams is known for reaching across the aisle regarding voting in Kentucky, often taking on election deniers in his own party. 

“This is going to be a really tough race for Representative Wheatley because Secretary Adams is pretty well respected in a bipartisan fashion,” said Ryan Salzman, a political science professor at Northern Kentucky University and Bellevue City Councilman.

Salzman also said that Adams has pushed back on his own party to help expand voting rights while at the same time doing many of the things his party wanted or things he campaigned on, such as cleaning up the voter rolls and making voting more secure. 

“He’s not going to have something that he can as easily be attacked on,” Salzman said. 

Adams responded on his campaign Twitter account that Wheatley would have a hard time running against him. 

While Salzman thinks it will be a tough race, he believes it’s a good move for Wheatley, who now has statewide name recognition after serving in the legislature. 

“I think that this would be a great position for Representative Wheatley,” Salzman said. “I think that his experience in the legislature, especially during COVID, and all of the policy making that went on around changes to the election law, which have to begin with the legislature, could really give him a unique perspective to bring to that job.” 

Wheatley joins a growing field of Democrats announcing their candidacy for statewide constitutional seats in Kentucky, including fellow Rep. Pam Stevenson (D-Louisville), who is running for attorney general. Democratic tax attorney Kim Reeder, from Morehead, is running for auditor.

So far, no Democrats are running for Treasurer or Agriculture Commissioner. 

In addition to Kentucky’s constitutional seats, the governor’s office is up for grabs in 2023. Incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear will face whoever emerges from an extraordinarily crowded Republican field. 

So far, 12 Republican candidates have announced their gubernatorial bids, including Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) and former attorney Eric Deters. Maddox withdrew her bid on Dec. 20. 

That list further includes Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Auditor Mike Harmon, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, and former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft. 

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