Adkins served one term as sheriff of Pulaski County and was the collector of internal revenue from 1933 to 1940, when he was first elected as governor. In the 1940 general election, Adkins defeated the Republican Harley C. Stump, the mayor of Stuttgart and a leader of the Arkansas Municipal League. Adkins sought to build a voting base based on his background as a Methodist Sunday school teacher and church employee. He campaigned on a platform of reform and ending the practice of bootlegging. In his second term Adkins signed into law a bill that would prevent anyone of Japanese descent from owning land in Arkansas. Looking for a new challenge, he was defeated in 1944 in a bid for the U.S. Senate. In 1948, Adkins was appointed administrator of the Arkansas Employment Security Division, the agency responsible for worker's unemployment insurance. In 1954, Adkins strongly supported the Democrat Orval Faubus in the gubernatorial general election against Pratt C. Remmel, the Republican mayor of Little Rock. In 1956, he established a public relations firm in Little Rock.