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Kentucky Education Association

Teachers Elect Their Own to Kentucky State Legislature

In the wake of a recent strike, unions get a boost in the Bluegrass State

Brian Young's picture
May 31, 2018

As teacher walkouts and strikes swept the nation in April and May, Kentucky teachers joined the movement by flooding the state capital. They were calling on Governor Matt Bevins to veto three anti-union and anti-teacher bills. While he did veto two of the bills and worked out a compromise to increase funding to schools, he signed into law a bill that would virtually eliminate pensions for new hires.

Just weeks after the legislative session ended, Kentucky held their state primaries. Union members from many different trades and political parties ran with the help of the Kentucky AFL-CIO. One of these candidates included Travis Brenda who decided to primary against Republican Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell a major supporter of the pension bill. Brenda, a High School Math teacher, has never run for office before but had the support of the Kentucky Education Association as well as the Fraternal Order of Police. Shell, a rising star in the Republican Party and a favorite of US Senator Mitch McConnell, was stunned when Brenda beat him by just 123 votes.

Brenda wasn’t the only teacher on the ballot either. Across the state 40 teachers were on the primary ballot, running as both Democrats and Republicans. Other teachers that won included retired teachers Linda Edwards and Tom Williamson and current educators Jenny Urie and Lisa Willner. The teacher’s winning streak even extended to the Congressional Primary in the First District where Dr. Paul Walker, a Professor at Murray State won his election.

Overall 10 of the 15 candidates that were endorsed by the Kentucky AFL-CIO won their elections. Of the 5 that lost, 3 lost to teachers who are pro-union and committed to rolling back many of the anti-worker pieces of legislation, like Right to Work, that Kentucky has passed over the last few years.

With so many teachers winning, State AFL-CIO Political Director Liles Taylor called 2018 “the year of the teacher.” "I hate it that more of our candidates didn’t win,” said Taylor. “But if it means that teachers are that doggone powerful, then we’ve got some serious momentum going in the fall."

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