The Return of ALG? The Pros and Cons of a Return to Politics via the State House

The departure of Kelly Flood from the Kentucky state House of Representatives offers an interesting set of circumstances for former Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. 

Flood, D-Lexington, has served in the state legislature since her election in 2009, now with her departure at the end of 2022 another resident in the 75th House District, Alison Lundergan Grimes will have to decide if the timing is right for a return to elected politics, or if she can have more of an influence outside of a shrunken Democratic presence in the General Assembly. 

The former Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State served two terms in the statewide elected office from 2012 to 2020. Grimes gained national prominence during that time challenging U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014 for the U.S. Senate seat he’s held since 1985. The Senate race resulted in a large loss for Grimes but garnered her national attention and a national fundraising network. 

However, the family took a blow at the end of her term when Grimes’ father Jerry Lundergan and campaign consultant Dale Emmons were sentenced in 2020 for funneling more than $200,000 in unlawful corporate contributions to Grimes’ 2014 U.S. Senate race, and attempting to conceal those donations from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

A return to Frankfort could be a kick start to rebuilding the Grimes brand in a virtually guaranteed victory for the state House in the downtown Lexington district that includes the University of Kentucky. But the seat also holds its own pitfalls. Some in the state Democratic Party have reached out to Grimes asking her to run for the seat, according to sources. 

Grimes, now a mother of two, could be seen as taking a step down from her previous statewide elected role as Secretary of State to a seat that serves just over 40,000 Kentuckians. There’s also a consideration for the work she could do as part of a minority in the state House. Democrats only hold 25 of the 100 House seats, easily giving Republicans a supermajority, and the ability to maneuver legislation through the lower chamber without the help of the minority party. Essentially a return of sorts to the 1980s, when Democrats ruled both chambers of the General Assembly. 

By staying out of elected politics in the state legislature Grimes can effectively keep her powder dry and be more selective with her entry points into current politics. In the state House, she would be de facto leader, a position which could draw out numerous battles and policy positions she’s likely to lose in the legislature – given the makeup of the body. Grimes and current Gov. Andy Beshear also do not have the best familial relations, with a well-documented feud between the clans, putting Grimes in charge of Democrats in the legislature would likely further that turmoil – not that would be a massive calculation point, but it is worth noting. 

Given the nature of Kentucky’s changing politics and the family strife, the position in the state House is a way back into the “game,” if you will. She can once again be a player – and it poses an interesting hypothetical. 

If she chooses not to run, it could be said she can be a voice outside of the system that, if she returns later it would be for a position benefitting her stature as a statewide voice with national appeal. Grimes could run in 2027 for governor or run for McConnell’s seat again if he retires at the end of his current term in 2026 or vacates the post early. 

At this point in time, it’s unlikely Grimes will run for the state House seat for those reasons listed, but if she did run and brought her own fiery brand to the legislature it could certainly add a mix Republicans in the state House have yet to deal with as they battle members of their own caucus in their still early days of power.