‘We’ll remember’ at the polls, public workers warn lawmakers ahead of pension vote
Teachers across the state last spring shouted “We Will Remember in November,” their mantra to vote out of office those state legislators who voted last spring for Republican-backed public pension legislation they detested.
The results of Tuesday’s elections suggest that maybe teachers forgot in November.
After all the campaigning, unofficial results showed Democrats only gained two seat in the 100-member House, keeping Republicans in firm control with a majority of 61-39. However, four of those races were decided by fewer than 10 votes, which leaves open the possibility that possible recanvasses and recounts could change the outcome in those races. Democrats won three of those races and Republicans won one.
In the Senate, Republicans picked up another seat to have a majority of 28-10. Democrat Ray Jones of Pikeville ran for another office, which means his seat will be open after the first of the year.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, dismissed the “Remember in November” campaign, which was conducted mainly by the Kentucky Education Association and KY 120 United, a public schools advocacy group.
The campaign “is nothing but the unions,” Stivers said late Tuesday night..
He said most teachers understood and appreciated that several lawmakers in this year’s legislative session voted to fully fund the state’s pension systems.
“The KEA lost big last night but teachers won,” Stivers said Wednesday morning at a news conference in his Capitol Annex office. He said KEA “misinformed” teachers.
KEA President Stephanie Winkler said teachers fared well in Tuesday’s elections.
“Kentuckians voted to send nine educators from both sides of the political aisle in the statehouse election night,” she said. “With victories in both urban and rural areas of the state, these newly elected educators have vowed to protect and promote quality public education in Kentucky.”
Winkler noted that 51 educators ran for the legislature this year. She highlighted Democratic teacher Tina Bojanowski’s win in Louisville over “pro-charter school champion” Phil Moffett and Rockcaste County High School teacher R. Travis Brenda’s victory Tuesday night after defeating House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell of Lancaster in the May Republican primary election.
“Educators across the state are more activated and inspired than we have seen in decades, and that didn’t end on Nov. 6,” Winkler said.
Jennifer Urie, a history teacher at Owen County High School, lost her Democratic bid for the state House to Republican incumbent Phillip Pratt of Scott County. He won 58 percent to 42 percent.
Urie said education issues did not turn out to be as important to the race as she thought they would.
“The passion of the protests from last spring may have cooled for some, and Republicans were able to change the focus in the race by nationalizing it,” said Urie.
She said Republican mailers in the district falsely painted her as favoring open borders and linking her to National Democrats Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.
Dean Sumpter, employed by Berea College as a college and career guide at Wayne County High School, lost in the 52nd House District to Republican incumbent Ken Upchurch 73 percent to 27 percent.
Sumpter said he tried to make Upchurch’s pension vote an issue in the race but never got far with it. “The pension issue boosted enthusiasm among some people but did not transfer to the larger electorate,” he said.
Sumpter also said most teacher candidates were outspent.
Nema Brewer, a Fayette County public schools employee who helped co-found KY 120 United said teachers did not forget to vote Tuesday.
“We had people show up in forces at the polls,” she said. “Turnout was decent. Sure, we wanted to do better but we just were a new group that had to go up against Republicans’ big money and despicable ads that tried to paint every Democrat as a super liberal.”
She noted that four Republican candidates were endorsed by the group.
“We will take a few days off and then make sure people we endorsed and won are held accountable in the 2019 General Assembly and we will be out for next year’s race for governor,” she said.
The seven House seats Republicans flipped were District 3, where Randy Bridges defeated Martha Emmons; District 6, where Chris Freeland beat Linda Edwards; District 24, where challenger Brandon Reed defeated incumbent Terry Mills; District 27, where challenger Nancy Tate outpaced incumbent Jeff Greer by six votes; District 49, where Thomas Huff beat Linda Belcher; District 72, where Matthew Koch defeated Emily Ferguson; and District 87, where Adam Bowling beat Dustin Allen.
Among the House seats Democrats flipped Tuesday was Fayette County’s 88th House District. The seat was open because Republican incumbent Robert Benvenuti III did not seek re-election.
In Tuesday’s race, William Farmer Jr., a Republican tax accountant who represented the district from 2003 to 2012, lost by 48 votes to Democrat Cherlynn Stevenson, a non-profit event planner making her first bid for public office.
Among the other Democratic flips Tuesday were the 11th District, where Robert Wiederstein beat Republican James Buckmaster; the 13th District, where Jim Glenn won by one vote over Republican incumbent DJ Johnson; the 32nd District, where Tina Bojanowski ousted Republican incumbent Phil Moffett; the 48th District, where Maria Sorolis outpaced Ken Fleming; the 91st, where Cluster Howard won by seven votes over Toby Herald; the 95th, where Ashley Tackett Lafferty knocked off Larry D. Brown; and the 96th, where Kathy L. Hinkle narrowly won over Republican incumbent Jill York.