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Democratic Candidates For Kentucky Governor Court Teacher Vote Amid Protests

Ryland Barton

Kentucky’s Democratic candidates for governor mingled with educators who descended on Frankfort Thursday to oppose a bill that would make changes to the board that oversees the teacher pension system.

The state’s two largest school districts and a handful of others closed on Thursday after a large percentage of teachers called in sick.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, Rep. Rocky Adkins and former state auditor Adam Edelen — three of the four Democrats running for Kentucky governor — all mingled with the hundreds of educators and other supporters in Frankfort Thursday morning.

Beshear criticized the bill, saying that it diminished teachers’ representation on the pension board.

“At the end of the day, this is about their retirement, their promised retirement and their ability to control how that’s administered,” Beshear told reporters.

“We all ought to have that type of say in our retirement and today is another attempt to cut them out of the process.”

Advocacy group KY 120 United called for the “sickout” on Wednesday night in response to House Bill 525, which would reorganize the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System board.

Beshear has been at the forefront of the teacher pension issue since he sued Gov. Matt Bevin and the legislature for passing a bill that changed retirement benefits for most future and some current state workers amid massive protests last year.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ended up overturning the law in December, saying that lawmakers had violated the state Constitution by rushing the bill to passage.

But Rep. Rocky Adkins, a longtime Democratic leader in the legislature, said that he is the “proven” candidate when it comes to defending public education.

“I think I’m the proven person in this race that understands public education and understands what it is to actually be in a classroom and teach a classroom full of children, our most precious resource,” Adkins said.

Democrats have latched onto the pension issue amid historical low-water marks for representation in the statehouse and party registration across the state.

Democratic statehouse candidates hoped to ride a wave of opposition to Bevin and the unpopular pension bill that passed last year, but the party only netted two seats in the state House of Representatives and lost one in the Senate.

Republicans have had supermajorities in both chambers since 2017.

Adam Edelen, a businessman and former state auditor, also threw his support behind the protesting teachers, but said Democrats need to broaden their platform.

“I think that our challenge this election is to not just run on our opposition to Matt Bevin, but to run on ideas to make Kentucky a more modern place, and that’s what I’m doing,” Edelen said.

Retired state engineer Geoff Young is also running as a Democrat.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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