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Former State Rep. Joni Jenkins

Former Kentucky House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins retired from the Kentucky General Assembly after serving more than 25 years. Renee Shaw talks with Jenkins about her accomplishments, political dynamics in Frankfort and her next chapter.
Season 18 Episode 15 Length 26:31 Premiere: 01/15/23

Jenkins Reflects on Accomplishments in Legislature and Offers Advice for a New Generation of Political Leaders

After more than a quarter-century in Frankfort, then-House Democratic caucus leader Joni Jenkins surprised her colleagues and supporters when she suddenly withdrew her candidacy for reelection early last year.

Under redistricting, her 44th state House district in southwestern Jefferson became majority minority with the addition of areas of West Louisville. As a white woman, Jenkins decided to step aside and open the door to more minority representation in the General Assembly.

“I just felt like if we had the opportunity to elect another person of color, because there are so few serving in Frankfort, that I didn’t want to be the person that stood in the way of that,” says Jenkins.

Last November, voters elected Shively Mayor Beverly Chester-Burton, an elementary school teacher and Black woman, who ran unopposed for the seat. Jenkins describes Chester-Burton as “a perfect person to serve that district.”

Now enjoying her retirement, Jenkins says she will have more time to devote to sleeping, exercising, and gardening. But beyond that?

“I don’t know what’s next,” she says.

Decades of Change and Transition

When Jenkins arrived in Frankfort after her election in 1994, Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly, women office-holders were few and far between, and legislative sessions happened every other year. Jenkins says she appreciated having the off-year of interim meetings to acclimate to the job.

“You had that year to get to know people, to go to committees, and kind of get a feel for it before you really jumped in and had a full-blown session,” she says.

Learning how to navigate the state capitol complex provided its own challenges.

“It took me about five years to figure out where the bathrooms were,” Jenkins adds with a laugh.

She left in 2022 having been elected the first female floor leader of either caucus, and the GOP firmly in control of the House and Senate. In all the partisan jockeying she’s seen over the years, Jenkins says she’s surprised by how the current Republican leadership has moved to strip powers from the executive branch.

“In my time in the legislature, there’s always been a quest to make the legislature relevant and independent and more powerful,” she says. “But there has to be a balance there and I think we may have flipped that balance a little bit, and I think that’s due to political philosophies more than what really works for Kentuckians.”

When it came time in the 2022 session to act on a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow the legislature to call itself into special session, Jenkins voted to put the proposal before voters. But she says that doesn’t mean she supported the idea of letting lawmakers do something historically only reserved for governors.

“I was a little hesitant even in that vote because I haven’t seen this General Assembly in the years I’ve been there under two different majorities make the most mature decisions about things,” she says.

That amendment failed in the November elections, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Policy Achievements and Missed Opportunities

As the demands of being a lawmaker grew after annual sessions launched in 2001, Jenkins left her full-time job running a women’s shelter. But victims’ services remained a priority for Jenkins, as did education and help for individuals battling addiction.

The drug scourge hit too close to home when Jenkins lost a nephew to an overdose in 2013. As a result, the Democrat shepherded bills that moved the state to start addressing the opioid crisis and to launch one of the first needle-exchange programs in the nation. Jenkins says those bills made it to final passage because the partisan breakdown of the House and Senate was still closely divided in those days.

“We really hammered out what I think was good policy because we had to listen to each other and we had to compromise,” she says.

Before she retired, Jenkins had hoped to pass an additional harm reduction measure that would have created so-called safe consumption sites where those with an addiction can go and use their drug of choice under medical supervision. The idea is to reduce the risk of overdose or the transmission of disease from an infected needle, and to increase the chance of getting users into addiction treatment.

Jenkins understands resistance to the idea, saying she would’ve opposed it herself a decade ago. But she says data from New York, Canada, and elsewhere indicate these sites successfully move people from addiction to recovery.

On domestic violence, Jenkins says it’s time for lawmakers to think “outside the box” to address the issue. She says interventions that help at-risk families before violence occurs are important, as is providing more trauma-informed care for children.

Jenkins is dismayed at how Frankfort Republicans have targeted the Jefferson County Public Schools. For example, lawmakers passed bills that strip powers from the county’s board of education and to allow charter schools in Metro Louisville. As a public-school advocate, Jenkins says GOP leaders should let parents in Jefferson County decide the future of their schools. She points to how voters solidly rejected far-right school board candidates who ran in the last election.

“Louisvillians are watching and they have made decisions on how they want their public schools run,” Jenkins says. “Leaders in Frankfort should pay attention to that.”

‘Stay True to Your Values’

As she gets used to her new seat on the political sidelines, Jenkins says she hopes lawmakers will take the long view when it comes to policymaking. She says just because Republicans control the legislature now doesn’t mean the pendulum won’t someday swing back the other way.

“I reminded my colleagues many times that what you’re doing today could harm the institution, so let’s make sure we keep it healthy,” says Jenkins.

She’s also curious to see how her legacy might unfold in the future. She recalls a high school student she worked with years ago when the girl was doing a class project on dating violence legislation.

That girl, Rachel Roarx, is now 25 years old, and was sworn in earlier this month as the youngest female legislator in state history. To Rep. Roarx and all her former colleagues, Jenkins offers this bit of parting advice:

“You have to know what your values are and stay true to your values, and everything else kind of falls in place from that,” she says.

Sponsored by:

Host Dr. Wayne Tuckson in a dark shirt and gray jacket on the program set with a "Check Schedule" button.Host Dr. Wayne Tuckson in a dark shirt and gray jacket on the program set with a "Check Schedule" button.

Season 18 Episodes

Dr. Monalisa Tailor - Kentucky Medical Association

S18 E18 Length 26:36 Premiere Date 02/05/23

Devine Carama - ONE Lexington

S18 E17 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 01/29/23

Congressman John Yarmuth

S18 E16 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 01/22/23

Former State Rep. Joni Jenkins

S18 E15 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 01/15/23

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton

S18 E14 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 01/08/23

James Comer and Morgan McGarvey

S18 E13 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 12/18/22

Poet and Playwright Constance Alexander

S18 E12 Length 28:03 Premiere Date 12/11/22

Author Emily Bingham

S18 E11 Length 27:15 Premiere Date 11/20/22

Bill Goodman - Kentucky Humanities

S18 E10 Length 26:33 Premiere Date 11/13/22

Restoring American Democracy

S18 E9 Length 26:33 Premiere Date 11/06/22

Breast Cancer

S18 E8 Length 26:45 Premiere Date 10/30/22

Secretary of State Michael Adams on Election Issues

S18 E7 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 10/23/22

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto

S18 E6 Length 27:08 Premiere Date 10/16/22

Darlene Thomas - GreenHouse17

S18 E5 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 10/09/22

Bob Jackson - Murray State University

S18 E4 Length 26:31 Premiere Date 10/02/22

David Adkins - The Council of State Governments

S18 E3 Length 27:41 Premiere Date 09/25/22

Melynda Jamison - CASA of Lexington

S18 E2 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 09/18/22

State Treasurer Allison Ball

S18 E1 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 09/11/22

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EKU Criminal Justice Professor Pete Kraska

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Premiered On: 08/08/2021

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  • Monday January 30, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 30, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 30, 2023 2:12 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 30, 2023 1:12 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 30, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 30, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Devine Carama - ONE Lexington - S18 E17

  • Sunday February 5, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday February 5, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday February 4, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday February 4, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday February 1, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday February 1, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

  • Friday January 27, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 27, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Rachael Denhollander - S15 E11

  • Thursday January 26, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 26, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland - S15 E10

  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Alice Allison Dunnigan - Pioneering Journalist - S15 E9

  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 24, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Terry Brooks - Kentucky Youth Advocates - S15 E6

  • Monday January 23, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 23, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former Congressman John Yarmuth - S18 E16

  • Sunday January 29, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 29, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 28, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 28, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 25, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Friday January 20, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 20, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler - S14 E35

  • Thursday January 19, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 2:11 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 1:11 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 19, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education - S14 E32

  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky - S14 E27

  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 17, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform - S14 E25

  • Monday January 16, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 16, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Former State Rep. Joni Jenkins - S18 E15

  • Sunday January 22, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 22, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 21, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 18, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Colene Elridge - S14 E23

  • Friday January 13, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 13, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Marcie Timmerman - Mental Health and Wellness - S13 E43

  • Thursday January 12, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 12, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tiffany Manuel - Affordable Housing - S13 E42

  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Shining a Spotlight on Epilepsy - S13 E35

  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Criminal Justice Reform - Cherise Fanno Burdeen - S13 E34

  • Monday January 9, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 9, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton - S18 E14

  • Sunday January 15, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 15, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 14, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 4:30 am ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 11, 2023 3:30 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 11:00 am CT on KET

Bob Jackson - Murray State University - S18 E4

  • Sunday January 8, 2023 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 8, 2023 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 7, 2023 3:30 pm CT on KETKY

Dr. Donna Grigsby - S13 E28

  • Friday January 6, 2023 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 6, 2023 4:30 am CT on KETKY
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