Political Newcomer Challenging Majority Whip in Kentucky's 32nd District Senate Race
In Kentucky Senate District 32, which covers Bowling Green and Warren County, Democrat Jeanie Smith is a teacher and first time candidate challenging Republican incumbent Mike Wilson, the majority whip.
Hanging over this race is the controversial Senate Bill 151, pension reform legislation that passed quickly as an attachment to a sewage bill.
The bill was ruled unconstitutional by a district court, then went to the state Supreme Court, which has not yet issued a ruling. Both candidates say education is a priority.
At a recent Democratic fundraiser and rally in Warren County for Smith, several incumbents and candidates, as well as a few dozen other supporters, joined in singing the state song, "My Old Kentucky Home."
Smith is a 7th grade social studies teacher at Drakes Creek Middle School and said she sees families struggling.
“Right here in Warren County we have increasing poverty. My school, my middle school which was just ranked 20th across the state for middle school, we have a population of about 48 percent that are on free and reduced lunch and that’s common across the county.”
Smith said after months of thinking about running for state Senate, she reached a tipping point.
"What we saw was that our governor and the legislators were not standing up for the people that they were supposed to be representing. They’ve taken away health care. They’re reducing wages. We’ve seen cuts to public education funding and now we’re seeing attacks on teachers and state employees."
She said her goal is to attract broad support.
“I see a movement of people who are working really hard who are tired of being walked on," said Smith. "And I think that is teachers. I think it is women. I think it is working families. I’ve talked to so many people, I know too many people who are working multiple jobs and still can’t get ahead.”
Smith is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Wilson, who began serving in the state Senate in 2011 and is a member of the Senate Education Committee. Wilson says he understands that the pension reform bill is a big issue for teachers.
“Well, you know, I don’t blame them for being angry," said Wilson. "I would be angry too if somebody had promised me something they couldn’t deliver on and we get down the road and there’s a $60 billion hole that eventually runs out of benefits. My goal was to try to save the pensions. And so those of us that are really focused on trying to save them and fix them, we turn out to be the bad guys. But it is the right thing to do, to make sure that their benefits are there."
Wilson is the former general manager of Christian Family Radio in Bowling Green and is currently vice president of business development for Southern Kentucky Jobs, a workforce communication and marketing firm.
He was the sponsor of education reform legislation connecting schools more directly to another of his key issues - workforce development.
"It actually brought control from the federal government back to the local and district level and also incentivized our schools to begin doing the technical education," said Wilson. "They were already doing some of it, but this really incentivizes it for them all students."
Wilson said that as Senate Majority Whip he's been able to fight for Western Kentucky University. One thing he said he’s proud of is getting equalization funding, an adjustment for previously unfunded growth at the university.
“And I was able to secure that, for Western, plus get all the capital projects back in, for Western. Those are things I’ve been able to advocate for, in the position I’m in. And if you have a freshman senator, they’re not going to be chairman, they’re not going to be in leadership, and they’re not going to be in that position to advocate for Western or education.”
The economy, workforce development and education are topics that are shaping political campaigns across the nation and Kentucky’s 32nd District Senate race is giving voters in the Bluegrass State an important voice, on those issues.
Election Day is Nov. 6.