No Blue Wave in Kentucky, Not Even a Ripple

Dustin Isaacs

We all heard the uproar and the hysteria in Kentucky over the past year. Some people in Kentucky were led to believe that “Republicans took away pensions”. That’s ludicrous of course; but this was a reality to those led to believe it by the Kentucky Teachers Association (KEA) and a Democratic party desperate to regain power. They encouraged voters to “Remember in November” as they stoked fear into the minds of our dedicated and hardworking teachers, officers, and other state employees.
With little hope to rebuild a Kentucky Democratic party that is in shambles, Kentucky Democrats latched on to the only issue they thought they could gain traction on; the state pension crisis. Ironically, it is the same pension crisis THEY are primarily responsible for and that THEY ignored for years. Even more ironically, they attacked Republicans for their efforts to address the problem that Democrats neglected. I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures, and there were many desperate Democrats hoping they could ride a blue wave back into office. The fact of the matter is, Governor Matt Bevin and Kentucky Republicans courage to address the pension crisis was the only hope for Kentucky Democrats. The party is in shambles and is still reeling from the 2016 red wave.
Imagine yourself as teacher in a classroom preparing students for their future; or an officer on the street protecting your community. Never mind that you are not paid nearly what you deserve in an ideal world; but then your supposedly trustworthy advocacy group tells you, “Republicans are taking away your pension”. I would be angry too. The information provided by some and reiterated by Democrat candidates – no matter how inaccurate – caused understandable fear that teachers, firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, and other state employees retirements were at risk.
The sad reality regarding Kentucky’s pension crisis is that the future of ALL Kentuckians is at risk, especially those reliant upon their retirement. This is a discussion I’ve attempted to have with many over the past year; but I was often met with anger, scorned, and eventually ignored.
For every dollar that our state pensions demand, that is a dollar that cannot benefit a child in their classroom, or an officer patrolling our streets. The money cannot magically appear no matter how much everyone truly wishes it could. “Finding funding” isn’t simple. Despite what Ocasio-Cortez says; we can’t ‘just pay for it”. That’s like you spending all of your money on your bills, child care, food, etc; and then someone demanding you “just pay for a retirement plan”. Great advice; but not simple. You would have to allocate money away from other expenses. Chances are you’re not going to be too pleased with not being able to pay a utility bill, or purchase the amount of food you need. You wouldn’t even like having to give up your television service or cell phone. Nobody would; but sometimes it’s simply a financial reality. In Kentucky, the immediately required money can only come from available revenues. The long game is broadening the tax base and creating economic prosperity so that there is more revenue.
Governor Bevin and Kentucky Republicans have made the tough, seemingly unpopular (pre-election); but correct decisions to address the pension crisis. 15% of our entire state budget was allocated to state pensions in the 2018-20 budget. In the Governor’s 2016-18 budget, there was also record funding for pensions. Republicans were even able to match per-pupil funding levels for education. This accompanies the Governor’s executive decision to ensure 100% of state lottery money truly went to education. In the past, Democrats milked lottery monies to fund their pet projects. They did the same with revenues that could have otherwise funded pensions. Regardless of the facts, Kentucky Democrats and the KEA insisted that Republicans were waging a ‘war on education’. It’s an absolute falsehood; but it makes for a pretty good talking point during campaign season.
Despite the strong, much needed leadership of the Governor and the Republican majority, the KEA and special interests thought they could form a blue wave in Kentucky by playing on voter’s emotions. Not only was this tactic ineffective; but it was a disservice to the thousands of people who expect their advocates to look out for their best interests. Unfortunately, the KEA and Kentucky Democrats chose politics over people.
The “Remember in November” narrative (to Democrats credit, appeared at times to be a very effective one) failed to materialize into a wave. There was barely even a ripple effect from the misinformation campaign. Republicans maintained a super-majority in the Kentucky State House, and even picked up a seat in the State Senate.
I am very proud of Kentucky for looking beyond the conjecture and recognizing what Governor Bevin and the Republican majority has done to make Kentucky the best version of itself that it can be. Not only have they fully funded state pension; their leadership has equated to thousands of new jobs (with more currently on the way as companies build the foundation of their facilities). Companies have invested over 17 BILLION dollars into our state since 2016. Kentucky’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in decades. Wages have risen dramatically despite many candidates such as Kelly Smith (KY-89) arguing that Republican policies are lowering wages.
Kentucky currently has a Governor that has championed the passage of Right-to-Work (which companies have credited for their decision to invest in Kentucky), pro-life legislation, and the much-needed conversation on how we must reform Criminal Justice and the adoption and foster care system. He has a legislature that is finally capable of working alongside him and providing the direction our state needs.
Special interest and the desperate Kentucky Democratic Party can throw all the stones they would like. In the end, this past election is evident that it will amount to no more than a ripple; certainly not a wave. The people of Kentucky are pleased to be riding a wave towards economic prosperity alongside the leadership of a Governor and a Republican majority that has a proven record of getting results free of the corruption and greed that has plagued our state in the past.

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