Old Guard vs. New Blood: Kentucky Dems’ decision to sideline energetic young candidate is a misstep

by Paul Oliva

In Kentucky’s House District 93, a political caper has unfolded that may hold lasting implications for the Kentucky Democratic Party (KDP). The late representative Lamin Swann’s seat, left vacant after his untimely passing in May, was widely expected to witness an energized, historic race. Emma Curtis, a young transgender activist, took the reins and launched a spirited and public campaign. However, in a surprising turn, the Democratic nominating committee selected Adrielle Camuel, a party insider with little public campaign presence. 

Even as a nonpartisan observer, I can’t help but shake my head as I examine the opaque selection process and the potentially detrimental consequences this decision may have on the KDP, both in the short-term and the long-term. While the decision to nominate Camuel over Curtis may have been within the rules, it raises serious questions about the values the Party holds dear.

Curtis did everything right. At just 26 years old, she already had solid name recognition, having made a name for herself as an activist. Her fundraising efforts, a common weak spot for young progressive candidates, reflected the energy and passion she’s known for as she successfully raised $10,000 in just a few weeks. Moreover, her progressive platform resonated with many, and she secured the backing of Swann’s mother, Pam Dixon, and his campaign team.

In stark contrast, Adrielle Camuel’s candidacy appeared to emerge from the shadows. Before the nomination, there was scant public awareness of her intentions to seek the nomination. Also conveniently a member of the nominating committee, Camuel did not have a public platform nor did she raise any funds. It is worth noting that she did recuse herself from the voting process but, as a party insider, she presumably had built rapport with the rest of the members of the committee prior to the vote.

2023 is not just any year in Kentucky politics; it’s a gubernatorial election year. Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, is seeking re-election and party leadership may be wary of having a candidate with a platform like Curtis on the same ticket. Curtis’s unapologetically progressive stance might be viewed as a political risk in a red state like Kentucky. Camuel, on the other hand, is a known quantity in Democratic circles and could have been perceived as a safer bet.

The decision to nominate Camuel over Curtis has been met with a quiet disappointment and disillusionment on social media, particularly among people who saw in Curtis a representation of themselves and the issues they care about. In an era where representation and inclusivity in politics are increasingly recognized as essential, this decision may appear regressive to many. Young, marginalized voters are often seeking candidates who reflect their lived experiences and who will advocate for issues that directly impact their lives. 

The KDP’s perceived sidelining of a candidate who not only represented marginalized communities but also ran a substantial and passionate campaign could discourage future political involvement and diminish trust among these groups. Emma Curtis and her supporters did everything by the book – they campaigned vigorously, raised funds, and garnered endorsements. The fact that this did not result in a nomination, while a seemingly less public and less supported candidacy did, could erode trust in the party’s processes and commitment to democratic principles.

The Democratic Party has been seeking ways to engage and energize younger and more diverse constituencies. However, the decision to sideline a young, dynamic candidate representing marginalized communities sends mixed signals about their commitment to this cause.

In the long run, this could weaken the KDP’s ability to build a broad, energetic base that is essential for not only winning elections but also effecting meaningful change through policy. By not capitalizing on the energy and enthusiasm that candidates like Emma Curtis bring, they risk alienating a generation of potential leaders and voters.