Rep. Watkins laments increased partisanship politics at Capitol


As he has each January the past six years, District 3 State Rep. Gerald Watkins has settled into his Frankfort office as a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

While his daily activities on behalf of his constituents in Paducah and a portion of McCracken County are much the same, this session will be different.

It will be his last.

Watkins, a Democrat, announced in August that he will not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 2013.

While he has grown weary of the constant travel back and forth to Frankfort, and living in hotels during session, he still has a desire to serve. That's why he recently announced his intentions to run for the Paducah City Commission, where he served six years before become a state legislator.

"I did wrestle with that decision for well over five months, trying to make sure," Watkins said. "I knew once I made the decision and went public, I couldn't change my mind."

The third-term legislator said he was gratified by some of the responses he has received.

"I did have an awful lot of people that tried to talk me into getting back in it. They felt I had tried to a good job, and that was flattering," he said.

"But I made my decision and I'm comfortable with it. I never went up there to be a long-termer. I'm looking for the next phase of my life. For years I wanted to serve in the statehouse, and I've had that opportunity. That was a real blessing and real honor."

Watkins said he still enjoys working on legislative issues but admits the process has changed significantly over the years.

"I guess the thing I probably am most disappointed with is how partisan it is ... on both sides. It didn't used to be so partisan," he said.

"And, it's like that at the federal level, too. It's just downright ugly at the federal level. That's just something that has changed in our society. We don't treat each other with the type of respect we should, like we used to, and it's spilled over into politics where the other side is not someone to work with, they're the enemy."

Watkins stresses he has friends on the other side of the aisle in Frankfort, such as state. Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah.

"I've worked very closely with Sen. Carroll. We have worked together in passing major bills. He's a good guy," Watkins said. "But it's just too partisan, You may have a great bill, but because you belong to the other side, your bill won't get pulled up.

"So that makes it a difficult environment. It's not as productive as it should be as you go about the business of improving the lives of Kentuckians."

With his decision to seek election to the city commission again, Watkins recognizes some may think it's not a step up in his career.

"I just look at it as an opportunity to serve," he said. "The big draw, I guess, of the city commission would be economic development. After six years in Frankfort, I realized outside of the governor, it's these local officials (who have the most impact).

"They either offer the incentives and invite companies in and aggressively pursue them, or they don't. And, that's where you can really benefit your community," Watkins said. "More than I can as a state representative."

This session in Frankfort will be a busy one.

"We've got to pass a budget, we've got to do something with the pension issue, we need to revise the tax code ... in addition to other bills I'd like to see passed, he said. "There's 137 other lawmakers that have bills they too would like to see passed, so it's going to be a very busy session."

That's probably a good thing, Watkins said, since this is his last go around in Frankfort.

"I've tried to keep it (being his last session) out of my mind. I think probably the last couple of weeks it will kind of tear at my heart a little bit," he said. "I've been doing this for six years, working out of my own office, working with a lot of the same people, and you build some really strong friendships.

"I think that (experience) will last a lifetime and be kind of bittersweet, to think that I'm not coming back. But I'm also excited about moving on."

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