Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones, the top Democrat in a legislative chamber dominated by Republicans, is looking to switch roles by running for judge-executive in Pike County.
Jones said Monday he plans to run for the top elective position in the sprawling Appalachian county in 2018. The countywide post would allow him more family time and give him a new executive approach to helping tackle the county’s economic problems.
The Pikeville Democrat will hold on to his Senate seat while campaigning for the judge-executive’s job back home in Pike County.
Jones, 47, has served in the Senate since 2001 and won his fifth term in 2016. Jones has been Senate minority leader for three years.
Pike County is struggling from job losses and population declines related to the region’s shrinking coal mining industry. Jones, in a phone interview Monday, summed it up as “probably the worst economic situation in my lifetime.”
“I feel that it’s better for my community, it’s better for me to be here trying to address some of these issues from an executive-level position, as opposed to a legislative position,” he said.
The job change also would allow him to spend more time with his family, Jones said. He and his wife have three children ages 11, 8 and 3. As a senator, he spends long stretches in Frankfort.
Kentucky Democrats have seen their numbers and influence dwindle in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 27-11 advantage. The GOP also controls the state House of Representatives by a wide margin and holds the governor’s office.
Jones said his party’s minority status wasn’t a factor in his decision to look elsewhere. Democrats have been in the minority since his arrival in the Senate, he said, adding he’s still been able to get things done for his district.
Jones won his Democratic primary with 71 percent of the vote in his re-election campaign last year. He did not face a general election opponent. Besides Pike, Jones represents Elliott, Lawrence, Martin and Morgan counties in the Senate. President Donald Trump won by lopsided margins in the district, as eastern Kentucky went heavily toward Republicans last year.