Richard Heath is a Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representatives who has served District 2 since 2013. With an extensive background in business, Heath has focused much of his legislative agenda on policies to boost the state’s agriculture and manufacturing industries. He has also been an outspoken advocate for gun rights and anti-abortion measures. After unsuccessful runs for Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture in 2015 and 2023, Heath continues to be influential in the state legislature. This article will provide an in-depth look at Heath’s path from local contractor to seasoned lawmaker.
Early Life and Education
Richard Heath was born on March 5, 1960 in Murray, Kentucky. He grew up working on his family’s farm in Calloway County, gaining firsthand experience with agricultural production. This upbringing helped spark Heath’s lifelong interest in farming and rural issues.
After graduating from Calloway County High School in 1978, Heath went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Murray State University in 1982. He continued his studies at Murray State, completing his master’s degree in agriculture in 1984.
Armed with his agriculture education, Heath embarked on a career as an entrepreneur in the construction industry. In 1985, he founded Heath Builders in Murray, Kentucky. As president of the company, Heath specialized in design-build services and custom modular buildings.
Over the next 25 years, Heath expanded his business throughout western Kentucky. Heath Builders completed projects for commercial, industrial, and institutional clients. They became known for their innovative use of modern materials and building techniques.
Outside of his own company, Heath took on leadership roles with several construction industry organizations. He served on the board of the National Frame Builders Association and held membership in the Associated General Contractors of America.
Entry Into Politics
Election to Kentucky House (2012)
Although he had never held public office before, Heath decided to run for a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2012. He sought the open District 2 position representing Calloway County. Running as a Republican, Heath defeated his primary opponent with 79% of the vote.
In the general election, Heath faced Democrat Kelly Whitaker. His campaign emphasized job creation, improving infrastructure, and supporting agriculture. On November 6, Heath won the election with 55% of the vote.
Committee Assignments and Sponsored Legislation
As a freshman legislator, Heath received appointments to the House Committees on Agriculture, Economic Development, and Education. With his background in farming and construction, he quickly emerged as a leader on agriculture and infrastructure issues.
In 2013, Heath sponsored a popular bill to exempt nonprofit agriculture organizations from state sales tax. He also introduced legislation to increase funding for highway construction projects.
After winning re-election in 2014, Heath assumed the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee. He led efforts to pass the Kentucky Right to Farm Act in 2015, limiting nuisance lawsuits against farms. Heath also sponsored bills to legalize industrial hemp production and reform regulatory burdens on agribusinesses.
Other priorities for Heath included expanding vocational training programs, protecting gun rights, and improving high-speed internet access. He consistently received high ratings from conservative groups for his voting record as a social and fiscal conservative.
Re-election Campaigns (2014-2022)
Heath faced a series of Democratic challengers as he ran for re-election to the State House in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020. Relying on his local popularity and Republican leanings of District 2, Heath defeated each opponent by sizeable margins. His closest contest came in 2018 when he garnered 69% against Democrat Charlotte Goddard.
Due to continued Republican dominance in his district, Heath has run unopposed in some primary and general elections. He secured his 6th term in the Kentucky House with an easy victory in November 2022.
Campaigns for Agriculture Commissioner
Throughout his legislative career, Heath expressed interest in becoming Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture. The commissioner oversees programs related to farmland preservation, agricultural marketing, and consumer protection. Heath ran for the open seat twice but came up short both times.
2015 Republican Primary
With the retirement of Commissioner James Comer in 2015, Heath decided to enter the Republican primary contest. His opponent was State Representative Ryan Quarles, another strong advocate for agriculture.
Heath campaigned on his lengthy background in farming and promise to fight federal regulations. However, Quarles had much greater fundraising capabilities and more legislative experience. In a close primary battle on May 19, Quarles defeated Heath by around 2,000 votes.
2023 Republican Primary
After two successful terms as commissioner, Quarles was unable to seek re-election in 2023 due to term limits. Heath launched another campaign for the position, hoping to finally achieve a long-held goal. His main competitor was former State Representative Jonathan Shell.
Once again, Heath’s opponent leveraged much greater financial resources. Shell portrayed himself as the reform candidate and consolidated support from business groups. In the May 2023 primary, Shell beat Heath comfortably by 12 percentage points.
Political Positions and Priorities
Throughout Heath’s time as a state representative, he has maintained staunchly conservative views on social and economic issues. Some of his major policy priorities include:
As a longtime farmer, Heath believes sustaining Kentucky’s agriculture industry must remain a top priority. He has fought against environmental and labor regulations that he views as burdensome to farmers. Heath also wants to reduce income taxes and make electricity rates more affordable for agriculture producers.
Business and Economy
With his entrepreneurial background, Heath strongly supports policies aimed at boosting Kentucky’s business climate. He has voted for budgets that cut corporate taxes, spur manufacturing growth, and reduce red tape. Heath also wants to increase vocational training to prepare workers for skilled technical jobs.
A strong defender of the 2nd Amendment, Heath has co-sponsored multiple bills to expand gun rights in Kentucky. He supports constitutional carry legislation, opposes firearm registration programs, and has called for declaring Kentucky a “sanctuary state” against federal gun laws.
Heath identifies as pro-life and has backed legislation to limit access to abortion. He has voted for parental consent requirements, bans on dilation and evacuation procedures, and a “heartbeat bill” prohibiting abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy.
While supporting public K-12 schools, Heath believes parents should have educational choices for their children. He has sponsored initiatives to create education savings accounts and provide state tax credits for private school tuition costs.
Controversies and Criticisms
Heath’s staunch conservative stances have made him a polarizing figure in Frankfort. Liberal critics argue that he is too closely aligned with corporate agriculture interests and gun lobbyists like the NRA. Here are some specific controversies surrounding his career:
- In 2013, Heath voted against expanding Kentucky’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Opponents criticized him for denying low-income residents access to health coverage.
- Heath has faced backlash for sponsoring pro-gun bills allowing firearms on college campuses and removing permit requirements. Critics contend these measures threaten public safety.
- Environmental groups have rebuked Heath’s efforts to weaken clean water protections for streams near mining and agricultural sites. They argue this damages Kentucky’s natural resources.
- Liberal and public education groups have opposed Heath’s support for charter schools and private school tax incentives, fearing they will undercut funding for traditional K-12 schools.
Despite these controversies, Heath has continued earning re-election in his conservative-leaning district. However, the criticism has likely impacted his unsuccessful statewide runs.
Campaign Financing and Donors
Throughout his campaigns for the State House and Agriculture Commissioner, Heath has raised around $190,000 in total contributions. His primary sources of campaign funds have come from the following interests:
- Agriculture industry groups such as the Kentucky Farm Bureau
- Local construction companies and real estate developers
- Financial companies and banks based in Kentucky
- Healthcare professionals and nursing home operators
- Electric and gas utilities
- Political action committees tied to Republican leaders and the GOP
Compared to other veteran legislators, Heath’s fundraising numbers are relatively low. His opponents for higher office have routinely dwarfed his campaign war chests by wide margins. For instance, Ryan Quarles outraised Heath by nearly $500,000 leading up to the 2015 Agriculture Commissioner primary.
Scorecards and Evaluations
Richard Heath has consistently received high marks from conservative and pro-business groups for his voting record in the Kentucky House:
- The American Conservative Union has given Heath lifetime legislative scores between 95-100%.
- The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce approved over 95% of Heath’s votes on their annual scorecards.
- Kentucky Right to Life has rated Heath 100% every year based on his sponsorship of anti-abortion bills.
- The National Rifle Association (NRA) has endorsed Heath in every election and awarded him an “A” grade for his pro-gun rights agenda.
Alternatively, progressive organizations have ranked Heath very poorly:
- The Kentucky AFL-CIO gave Heath a 17% lifetime score for his anti-union stances.
- Sierra Club of Kentucky rated him 0% in 2016 for trying to undermine environmental protections.
- Kentucky Equal Justice Organization flunked Heath with a 29% score for opposing Medicaid expansion.
These varied scorecards illustrate the partisan divisions over Heath’s legislative record.
Richard Heath resides in Murray, Kentucky with his wife Ruth. They have three adult children together. When he is not working as a state representative, Heath enjoys hunting, fishing, and helping operate the family cattle farm. He attends Grace Baptist Church in Murray and has taught Sunday School classes.
In summary, Richard Heath has become an influential figure in Kentucky’s state legislature over the past decade. His background as an agriculture businessman shaped a policy agenda focused on assisting rural and manufacturing interests. A staunch social and fiscal conservative, Heath has championed gun rights, anti-abortion measures, and pro-business reforms.
While unable to achieve higher statewide offices, Heath continues to exercise power in Frankfort and his Western Kentucky district. Moving forward, he will likely maintain his conservative advocacy while also attempting to mend fences with groups he has alienated. Regardless, Heath seems well positioned to keep impacting Kentucky’s political landscape for years to come.
Who is Richard Heath?
Richard Heath is a Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representatives. He was first elected in 2012 and represents District 2 including Calloway County.
What is Heath’s professional background?
Heath founded a construction company called Heath Builders in 1985. He has over 25 years of experience in the building industry.
What are Heath’s political priorities and views?
Heath is a fiscal and social conservative. His priorities include supporting agriculture, cutting taxes and regulations, expanding gun rights, and restricting abortion.
What controversies has Heath faced?
Heath has faced backlash from liberal groups for stances against Medicaid expansion, gun control measures, and environmental regulations. He has also been criticized for supporting charter schools over public schools.
How much campaign money has Heath raised?
Over his Kentucky House campaigns, Heath has raised around $190,000 total. His donors include agriculture, construction, banking, and utility companies.
How do scorecards rate Heath’s voting record?
Conservative groups consistently give Heath very high rankings of 90-100%. Liberal organizations score him very poorly below 30% due to his right-wing stances.
What higher offices has Heath run for?
Heath unsuccessfully ran for Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner in the 2015 and 2023 Republican primaries. He lost both times to opponents with more campaign funds.