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Kentucky State House Race Upset Highlights Teachers’ Ire

Kentucky's 71st House district GOP primary has made national news after the floor leader for the GOP was defeated.

Kentucky House Floor Leader Jonathan Shell, a Republican from Garrad County, was defeated in Tuesday’s primary by Travis Brenda, a math teacher from nearby Rockcastle County. The close election is being heralded as the opening salvo in Kentucky teachers’ push-back against the Commonwealth’s recent pension reform act. Shell, often referred to as a “rising star” in Kentucky politics, drew the unlucky task of shepherding that pension reform bill through the House earlier this year. The political maneuvers to pass the bill—seen as skulduggery by opponents and standard operating procedure by those with knowledge of state politics—served as a rallying cry for educators. They promised to “Remember in November” but moved up their time table when forty current and former educators filed to run for office this year.

Local residents, even former educators, were shocked by the primary result. Some expressed dismay at the loss of power for the district. Few expect the seat to flip to Democrat control, however. In fact, having a teacher running as Republican—instead of the easily targeted Shell—might help secure the seat.

What remains to be seen is if Travis Brenda can navigate the turbulent waters of Kentucky public employees’ pension reform. The current system is bankrupt. The Commonwealth is suffering from continued tax revenue, and population, decline. The teachers’ pension program was instituted by a Democrat controlled House and signed by a Democratic governor. Current Governor Bevins, a Republican, efforts to salvage the safety-net were met with thundering criticism—but few alternative fixes. If Brenda can use his personal knowledge of education in Kentucky to reach a solution that is both viable and satisfactory to teachers, he’ll have earned his election to the House.

Mr. Brenda is, assuming a successful general election campaign, about to learn that there’s a big difference between opposing legislation and actually writing it. For the sake of all Kentuckians, let’s hope he’s up to the task.

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