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Adams and Henry, candidates for SoS

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RCN Interviews KY Secretary of State Candidates

The River City News sat down with the two candidates running for Secretary of State in Kentucky on Tuesday. Incumbent Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has served for eight years and cannot run again.

The Democrats nominated Heather French Henry and the Republicans nominated Michael G. Adams. 

Adams, an attorney specializing in election law, is running on a platform to revamp and update our election processes, claiming that he wants to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. This includes voter ID laws, updating the database of Ky. voters (referred to as the voter rolls), and offering free resources to those that run for public office. 

"I'm running to clean up the corruption in this office," Adams said. "Our state is a decade behind in maintaining our rolls, we've got an estimated 300 thousand people on our rolls who shouldn't be on them; they're dead or they don't live here anymore - they can vote in some other state if the latter is the case." 

Henry, winner of the 2000 Miss America beauty pageant, wife to former Ky. Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, and former Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, says she has run her campaign with the needs of veterans in mind and a generally more complete view of the office of SoS - citing the office is in charge of elections, business administration, and state-land management.

As Commissioner and Dep. Commissioner on KDVA, Henry touted her work advocating for polling locations to be set in Kentucky's the four veteran nursing homes across the commonwealth: stating that these institutions were already handicap accessible, made voting more accessible for Ky.'s veterans, and allowed the precincts to 'show off' the state-funded resources Ky. has for its aging veterans - which in her opinion are stellar. 

Henry also stated that even before she served on the board for KDVA, she championed the rights for oversea soldiers to vote in their country's elections. 

As for the business administration aspect of the SoS's office, Henry stated that she has worked with previous SoS administrations to offer free filing fees to new small businesses started by veterans in order to support the substantive growth of Kentucky's small business community. She also cited her involvement in adding accreditation to disabled veterans - putting them on par with woman and minority owned businesses in the commonwealth - affording them an advantage when seeking government contracts and endeavors that cross state-lines. 

"Looking at [the business administration duties of the Secretary of State's office] in a fuller spectrum, [I'm] wanting to offer more programs and services; partnering with small business administrations and chambers of commerce," she said. "Right here in Covington, Newport, and the Northern Kentucky area - think about all of the small businesses that get started every single year. The Secretary of State should fundamentally be involved in helping provide whatever resources a small business needs in order to help them grow." 

"I'm really passionate about the business administration portion," Henry said. "Which you'll not really hear from anybody else in this race."

Henry also stated that she is concerned with incorporating younger generations into the Secretary of State's office citing how her oldest daughter was turning 18 before the general election and nobody had talked to her about her eligibility to vote. 

"Having her register, and then being able to go to the polls with her and just to see her face as she voted for very first time - she sees her mother's name, on her very first ballot, in her very first election," Henry recounted. "And that's paramount, right? We're heading into the year 2020, which is going to be the hundredth anniversary of the woman's right to vote, and what a phenomenal time to be running for Secretary of State - and the potential to be in that role and to lead that celebration." 

One idea that Henry offered was a public service announcement on the importance of voting told from the perspective of Kentucky's veterans to encourage the commonwealth's citizens - on both sides of the aisle - to get out and vote.

For Adams's campaign, cleaning up voter rolls is a large priority. To do this, he states that we will review the current rolls and remove anyone that is deceased or living out of state.

"It's just basic government competence to take people off the rolls who shouldn't be eligible to vote in our elections," he continued. "It's not voter suppression to take people off who shouldn't be voting." 

Adams cited that he would simply follow the current laws to clean up the commonwealth's voter rolls and make sure that every vote was legitimate - saying that it's not voter suppression to take people off the roles that are dead or no longer live in Kentucky. 

On the topic of voter ID laws, Adams stated that for the past year and a half he has only publicly supported this concept if IDs were free to those that couldn't afford them. 

He said that Indiana passed a similar law in 2005, then defeated a lawsuit when it was taken to the supreme court. 

"I want a photo ID plan that follows Indiana's model for two reasons," Adams said. "A) it's humane because they make IDs available for free to those that can't afford them. And B) because the Supreme Court upheld that plan." 

Henry states that she also doesn't want to support avenues for voter fraud - but wants to be wary of voter suppression and keep an eye on how she and her administration will approach certain topics of conversation, as the way these topics are approached will dictate how they will be resolved.

When asked about the biggest difference between his and Henry's campaign, Adams cited his experience and connections to top GOP elected officials across the country. 

"I'm the only candidate with election experience - running to be the chief election official," he said. "Miss Henry has a distinguished career in being a talking head and in other pursuits - but she has never done any election administration work."

Henry cited their leadership styles and her experience as being the only candidate running for the office with leadership experience running a large statewide office. 

"I'm a nationally recognized election attorney, with a very successful election law practice, I've served on the state board of elections," he continued. "I know how to go in on day one next year as we prepare for a competitive senate race and the presidential race. I know how to get things done, how to reform our system, how to ensure that our elections are secure from tampering." 

"As soon as you take office in 2020, you're hitting the budget session," Henry said. "There's no learning curve there, you're inheriting a budget from the outgoing secretary; so you're going to have to scrub through that immediately and you're going to have to look at the resources that have been requested, and then you're going to have to look at some additional resources that you're going to have to request for some future things."

Henry says that her first initiative after she wins will be to work with county clerks to find out what they need and the best way to provide those resources. 

Adams said that Henry has no experience in this field at all. 

When asked about the autonomy of our County Clerks in Northern Kentucky, Adams said that he views the office of SoS as a support role - being available for what the people on the front lines need. He said that he is inclined to give the clerks the space to do their job, but wants to give them better funding - brought from his connections in DC and Frankfort. 

Henry says that we need a state leadership to respond to the needs of the county clerks - and we need to listen to the boots on the ground. find out what is working and what is not. 

When asked what his candidacy means to Northern Kentucky - Adams cited low voter turnout and offered the idea of free websites to all candidates seeking any public office on both sides of the aisle as a possible solution; stating that he didn't have a magical answer to this concern. 

"My understanding is that she wants to change state law to require a civics curriculum," Adams said. "I certainly agree that civics is not given the attention it deserves, but before I would want to mandate on Kentucky school boards, I want to have some input from the site based decision-making councils and the school boards as to how that would actually work in practice. I think it's a great idea."

Henry says Northern Kentucky has a special place in her part - and that Northern Kentucky is truly the gateway to the rest of Ky. 

Henry says that she has passion for all three aspects of the office. 

"In fact, [Adams] call the other parts of the office rubber-stamping," she said. "Which I take great offense to that as a small business owner."

Adams is an off-the-record UofL fan. 

Adams is VP Pence's election law attorney, helped when he ran for Gov. and VP, helped Pence set up a PAC to support other GOP candidates across the country. Pence held a fundraiser for Adams at the Trump Hotel in DC. Has represented multiple politicians, and issue groups across the nation. Has a 25-year relationship with McConnell.

"You have to be fair and neutral in this office," Adams said. "I'm going to be fair and play it straight, I'm not going to political in this office; publicly or privately." 

Adams said that he would rely on his current relationships with GOP members in positions of power to find more funding for Kentucky and didn't seem worried about having to work with elected officials on the opposite side of aisle.

"I would challenge you, or anyone else to find a single democrat who would say anything negative about me," Adams stated, quickly noting that he was leaving Henry out of that statement. "You look at the Democratic county clerks on the state board of elections that I worked with on the state board of elections. You look at democratic attorneys that I've done campaigns against, even they will say complimentary things." 

"What Democrats will tell you is that I'm an honest guy and I want the right answer," Adams concluded. "And that's what Kentucky deserves in this office." 

Written by Connor Wall, associate editor