LEXINGTON (AP) — When Kentucky’s former state auditor and the host of the state’s most popular sports talk show decided to start a new political organization, they both agreed on one thing: They would not try to elect anyone to office.
The result is the New Kentucky Project, a statewide organization that launched Tuesday in a search of new ideas and new people to make them work.
The group signals the return of Adam Edelen, the charismatic former state auditor who was preparing a run for the U.S. Senate before he shockingly lost re-election to Republican state Rep. Mike Harmon in November. And it is the first political work for Matt Jones, the host of Kentucky Sports Radio, whose show has turned into a must-stop for politicians seeking statewide office.
Edelen and Jones say the New Kentucky Project is a nonprofit organization seeking to organize chapters in all 120 counties that would be governed by an executive committee. Members have to pay $20 annual dues, or $10 for college students. While the group is not overtly partisan, Edelen and Jones said it does “lean Democratic” with a core set of values promoting education, affordable health care and pro-labor policies.
But the group will not endorse candidates, make political contributions or run ads. At least, not right now.
“If we created this just to get people elected, we’re just a part of the problem that we’re trying to fix,” Jones said.
The project seems positioned to capitalize on the unusual 2016 presidential election, where a pair of unconventional candidates from both parties — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders — galvanized legions of supporters who had never been involved in politics before.
“There is no doubt Trump and Bernie have opened up that notion of what a politician can be,” Jones said. “Now, and I don’t mean this about Bernie but I certainly mean it about Trump, why not have a rational person do it?”
Edelen says he was, and still is, a partisan Democrat. Jones prefers the label “progressive.” But the group itself is seeking to shed political party labels.
“Young people who were conditioned in a 300-channel (TV) world, the notion that you are going to be able to go to them and say, ‘You’ve got two choices in the political sphere, you need to sign up with one all the time,’ is laughable,” Edelen said. “That generation gets excited about ideas. They get galvanized around beliefs. And those beliefs aren’t always going to be in the same party.”
While Edelen and Jones said both major political parties have failed the voters, they seemed to save their most pointed criticism for Democrats. Edelen said the reason the party failed in the November statewide elections was because it ran a campaign focused on “disqualifying Matt Bevin.”
“You ought to have to be about something,” Edelen said, with Jones quipping: “I would argue there is a lot of state Democrats who haven’t taken positions on anything in recent years.”
While Edelen and Jones bemoaned the hyperpartisanship of today’s political environment, their announcement on Tuesday was met with typical partisan responses. Tres Watson, spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s “blowout win” in 2014 and Gov. Matt Bevin’s victory last year show “Kentucky is a red state that is becoming redder by the day.”
“No new liberal political organization will change that fact,” he said.
Democratic Party spokesman Daniel Lowry said the party was “100 percent behind the mission of the New Kentucky Project.”
“Plus, it’s obvious that they join most of Kentucky in realizing what a terrible mistake Matt Bevin is for the Commonwealth,” Lowry said.