LANCASTER, Ky. (AP) — Teachers in Kentucky could soon be taking politicians to school.
Following weeks of protests at the state Capitol, Republican voters in central Kentucky ousted House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell on Tuesday in favor of Travis Brenda, a high school math teacher who has never run for public office.
Brenda won the GOP nomination and will face Democrat Mary Renfro in the November general election. His victory on Tuesday sent perhaps the loudest signal in Kentucky of a potentially raucous November election.
Democrats in the central part of the state chose another newcomer to politics, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, to push for what is expected to be the state’s most hotly contested congressional seat against incumbent Republican Rep. Andy Barr.
And Rowan County Democrats denied David Ermold the chance to take on Kim Davis, the clerk who denied him a marriage license in 2015 because of her religious objections to same-sex marriage. Instead they chose Elwood Caudill Jr., who ran a low-key campaign.
The mandate was clearer in Shell’s race, where voters appeared to turn on him because he co-authored a bill that made changes to the state’s public pension systems that cover hundreds of thousands of teachers and state workers.
Shell was one of four Republican incumbents to face a primary challenge from a teacher on Tuesday. He was the only one to lose. But he was also the only one to vote for the pension bill.
“He lied to us,” school bus driver Carol Plummer said. “I hope it sends a message.”
Shell co-authored a bill that moved all future teachers into a hybrid pension system. Lawmakers passed it on one of the last days of the legislative session, hurrying it through. It was never available for the public to read before the vote.
The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, prompted thousands of teachers to march on Kentucky’s Capitol, closing schools in more than 30 districts.
“They picked on the wrong group,” said Brenda, a fourth-generation farmer and 20-year teaching veteran at Rockcastle County High School. “Not just the educators, but all state employees are rising up and we’re not going to be let things be done to us.”
Shell did not answer a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment after the race Tuesday.
Brenda credited a groundswell of teacher support for the win and said it sends a message that teachers and public workers won’t be silent. His race follows a wave of education protests at the Kentucky Capitol and elsewhere around the country, with teachers and others calling for increased pay and other benefits.
Others in the Republican-dominated legislature could face their own reckoning in November, when dozens of other teachers will be on the ballot. At least 40 current and former educators have filed to run for office this year in Kentucky. Sixteen of them had primaries on Tuesday. Of those, seven won or were leading late Tuesday evening.
Johnny Baker, a Baptist minister and small business owner, said Shell’s ouster means other lawmakers should take note that “you’re still accountable to the people.”
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