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Kentucky Ousts Anti-Labor Governor; Thanks Goes to Union Families

November 6, 2019

By Steve Wishnia

Andy Beshear will be Kentucky’s next governor.

LEXINGTON, Ky.—Kentucky voters have narrowly elected state Attorney General Andy Beshear governor, unseating Matt Bevin, possibly the most anti-labor incumbent to occupy a state house since Scott Walker.

Beshear, a Democrat, carried the state by about 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes declared him the victor. Bevin refused to concede, claiming “irregularities.”

“I want to say thank you to our union families that helped make this election happen,” Beshear said in his victory speech. “To our educators, your courage to stand up and fight up against all the bullying and name-calling helped galvanize our entire state.”

He told supporters that he hadn’t yet spoken to Bevin, but “my expectation is that he will honor the election that was held tonight.”

“Bevin’s loss is significantly tied to his attempt to gut Medicaid expansion and his vicious attacks on KY teachers who joined the #RedForEd strike wave last year.” Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson posted on Twitter. “So many excited terms I can’t type on Twitter!”

Bevin, a Tea Party Republican, was elected in 2015, defeating incumbent Steve Beshear, Andy Beshear’s father. He ran on an anti-union platform, but didn’t get to put it into effect until Republicans won control of the state legislature in the 2016 elections. Within the first week of the 2017 session, the legislature passed bills to ban the union shop, repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law for public construction projects, and prohibit union dues from being deducted from paychecks without the employee’s written consent. 

In March 2018, after the legislature enraged educators by slipping provisions to gut pensions for future teachers into a bill ostensibly about sewage treatment—it gave them a “hybrid cash-balance retirement plan” instead of a defined-benefit pension, and allowed the legislature to reduce benefits at any time — Bevin said public workers owed the legislature “a deep debt of gratitude” for dealing with the state pension system’s financial problems. 

That bill provoked a walkout by teachers that closed schools in more than 30 counties, and Bevin’s reaction was rabidly loudmouthed. “I guarantee you,” he told Louisville’s WDRB-TV after teachers held a rally in Lexington, that “somewhere in Kentucky,” children were sexually assaulted, had ingested poison, and “were introduced to drugs for the first time” because single parents had to leave them unattended.

Bevin also signed a bill that limited workers’ compensation benefits for permanent partial disability to 15 years. That law resurrected a system in which miners trying to get medical benefits for pneumoconiosis (black-lung disease) had to have their lung X-rays reviewed by multiple radiologists. The state Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional in 2012, after several years in which more than 90% of claims for black lung were dismissed. The bill expanded that system to include claims for asbestosis, silicosis, and mesothelioma.

Beshear’s victory was a significant upset, coming in a state Donald Trump carried by 30 percentage points in 2016. Trump campaigned for Bevin, while the state AFL-CIO endorsed Beshear in May.

Bevin won most of the state’s rural counties, but Beshear carried several in the Appalachian east. He won the cities of Louisville and Lexington by 2–1, running up a 100,000-vote lead in Louisville.

Meanwhile in Virginia, Democrats won control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since the 1990s. That eliminates what state Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax) told LaborPress in January was the biggest obstacle to raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour. Marsden, who had introduced a bill to raise the minimum to $11.25 by 2022, said that it might be possible to persuade a few Republicans to support an increase in a floor vote, but not in a committee vote heavily lobbied by opponents. 

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Williams, a Democrat who said he wanted to raise the minimum, but has been unable to get an increase out of committee in the Republican-controlled legislature, will face businessman Eddie Rispone in a runoff Nov. 16.

November 6, 2019

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