ASHLAND The governor’s race had not yet been called late Tuesday but teachers and labor union supporters already were celebrating a projected Andy Beshear victory.
The prospect of a governor more attuned to the educational community than incumbent Matt Bevin was exhilarating to educators even though the margin remained paper-thin late into the evening.
“Teachers finally feel like we can breathe, to know there are finally going to be checks and balances in Frankfort, that things can be done the right way rather than backdoor deals,” said Paula Pleasant, who teaches at Greysbranch Elementary and is active in the 120Strong public employee advocacy group.
“The tears are just flowing down my face because we have fought for this for three years,” said Heather Thomas, who teaches at Ramey-Estep High School and is secretary of the Boyd Education Association. “(Bevin) has refused to work with us and we’ve told him over and over again we’d remember what he’s done to us and now we’ve proven what we said.”
Educators across the state were goaded into action by remarks Bevin made, including characterizing teachers as “thugs,” and for criticizing teachers who used sick days to attend rallies at the state Capitol.
They also are still simmering over a pension reform plan they opposed and which was passed by slipping it into an unrelated sewer bill.
A Beshear victory may stem the flow of teachers from Kentucky, said Suzanne Griffith, who taught in the Boyd County District for 29 years and now teaches in the Chesapeake, Ohio district. “I left Boyd County after 29 years because I was afraid of pension changes,” she said.
With all precincts reporting, Beshear appeared to have eked out a paper-thin victory, taking 49.18 percent of the vote to Bevin’s 48.86 percent, according to the Associated Press.
Beshear got 711,955 votes to Bevin’s 707,297, a difference of 4,658 votes, according to the AP.
“I’m glad Matt Bevin got his due . . . it’s a huge accomplishment but not one that belongs to Democrats or to teachers. I think it’s a direct result of the way he has presented himself to voters,” said John Mulvaney, a Paul Blazer High School social studies teacher and president of the Ashland Education Association.
Educators, public workers and union workers may have made the difference, said state Rep. Terri Branham Clark, D-Ashland. “This was a referendum vote on an attack on pensions, retirement and public education ... I think the sleeping giant was labor. Blue collar workers have been greatly impacted by legislation passed since Bevin has been in office,” she said.
That includes enactment of the right-to-work law and the repeal of the prevailing wage law.
“We feel like we’ve been in a battle for the last two years, and we would rather have dedicated all the hard work and effort to our classrooms,” said Boyd County High School teacher and Boyd County Education Association president Melissa Salyers.
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