FRANKFORT, Kentucky — The Kentucky county clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will run for re-election in 2018, facing voters for the first time since her protest against gay marriage in rural Appalachia provoked a national uproar.
Kim Davis could face a familiar foe: A gay man to whom she refused to issue a marriage license said he’s seriously considering running against her.
“I think I could win,” said David Ermold, an English professor at Pikeville University who was among the many who sued Davis in 2015. “I don’t think that she has learned anything from the experience at all. I really, truly think that she feels like she is right. I really don’t think she cares at all about what civil rights are.”
Mat Staver, founder of the Florida-based law firm Liberty Counsel, which represented Davis during the monthslong controversy, confirmed Tuesday that she will seek a second term. He said Davis was unavailable for comment because of a medical procedure.
“She loves her job and she loves the people,” Staver said. “I’m sure [the election] will probably have more attention because of who she is, but you know she doesn’t have any major concerns about it.”
Filing for Kentucky’s 2018 election cycle opens Wednesday.
Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses in 2015 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. After Ermold and others sued her, a judge ordered her to issue the licenses. Davis refused and spent five days in jail.
She was released to a carnival-like atmosphere at a rural county jail, greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters as she stood arm-in-arm with a Republican presidential candidate while a church choir sang nearby.
Davis has not kept a low profile since getting out of jail. She caused an international outcry when she greeted Pope Francis during his visit to Washington, eventually leading to the resignation of the Vatican’s U.S. ambassador who had arranged the visit. Earlier this year, Davis traveled to Romania in support of an effort there to change the constitution so it defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Her protest also inspired the state’s Republican governor to issue an executive order to remove the names of county clerks from marriage licenses. The state legislature then made the change permanent.
But the various lawsuits against Davis continue. In July, a federal judge said state taxpayers had to pay the more than $220,000 in legal fees for some of the couples that sued Davis. The state has appealed the ruling, but it might not be resolved before the 2018 election.
“It’s hard for her to make the argument that the $220,000 she has cost taxpayers is a good value for Rowan County residents,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Kentucky Fairness Campaign.
Staver said that would not be an issue for Davis, noting the money would not come out of the county’s budget.
Davis was elected as a Democrat, but switched parties to become a Republican shortly after the controversy erupted. Rowan County is heavily Democratic. While its voters overwhelmingly elected Donald Trump for president, nearly all of the local elected officials are Democrats.
Davis is well known in the county of nearly 24,000 people, having worked in the clerk’s office for nearly three decades when her mother was the clerk.
“Everybody is speaking and getting along,” Rowan County Democratic Judge-Executive Walter Blevins said. “I don’t see a lot of animosity toward her.”
But her actions brought international attention to the county, much of it unwelcome by local residents annoyed at the chanting protesters and satellite trucks taking all of the parking spaces at the county courthouse.
Those feelings could return in a heated campaign, but Blevins said Davis will still be hard to beat.
“Anytime you take on an incumbent it’s an uphill battle,” he said. “She may have all kind of dignitaries come in here and speak for her that would make a difference. The president of the United States may come in here and campaign for her.”
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