Labor and its allies have battled strong headwinds in Kentucky recently. The election of Gov. Matt Bevin in 2015 and a GOP takeover in the House the following year meant a single-party state government intent on rolling back union rights.
|Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin’s opponent in the November election. Beshear has talked openly about working with labor.
Photo credit: Creative Commons/Flickr user University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.
Soon after, the state adopted a right-to-work law. It eliminated prevailing wage laws. It gutted workers' compensation laws. Bevin issued an executive order doing away with an independent board that oversaw the state’s worker safety program.
Bluegrass State residents have an opportunity to reject those changes in November. Attorney General Andy Beshear, an advocate for union rights and working families, is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee and is working to deny Bevin a second term.
The good news for Beshear and his supporters is that Bevin is hugely unpopular. Some polls indicate he’s the least popular governor in America in his home state. His confrontational style has even alienated some of allies. He was sued by his own Republican lieutenant governor.
Still, it’s an uphill climb. President Trump is hugely popular in Kentucky, winning it by nearly 33 points in the 2016 election. Not surprisingly, Bevin is tying himself closely to the president.
That’s why Louisville Local 369 political director Gene Holthouser is urging members to remember this is a race about Bevin, not Trump.
“The message is that’s fine, you like the president,” Holthouser said. “This is about the governor. He’s the one who brought right-to-work to Kentucky. He’s the one who did away with prevailing wage.
“This is not a national election. This is a statewide election. This has nothing to do with Donald Trump. It’s all about Matt Bevin and how he’s hurt us. We talk about it all the time in union meetings, how much we’ve all been hurt by this man.”
Kentucky political director Frank Cloud agrees, calling the election a tossup. Cloud and other IBEW members have been canvassing for Beshear nearly every weekend since the primary in May. About 3,400 mailers are being sent or have been sent to members throughout the state.
Cloud urges IBEW members and allies to keep their focus on economic issues and not on divisive social issues, which Bevin and other GOP leaders are pushing because they know they could prove advantageous in a socially-conservative state.
“We’ve got to educate our people on what Bevin’s done,” Cloud said. “If we can get our union people out to vote, [Beshear] will win. But we’ve got to get them out to vote.”
Another positive for the IBEW and other unions: In Beshear, they have a candidate with a track record of supporting unions and working families.
As attorney general, he’s consistently taken on Bevin’s unlawful actions, including a lawsuit arguing that a bill signed by the governor gutting pensions for public school teachers was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court subsequently agreed. Beshear also has filed nine lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, alleging they are responsible for the opioid epidemic in the state.
His father, Steve, served as governor from 2007-15. State law prohibited him from running for a third term. The elder Beshear also was supportive of unions and working families.
“He’s very pro-union,” Holthouser said of the younger Beshear. “As attorney general, he’s saved our bacon several times butting heads with Bevin. Without him, we’d be in a lot worse shape. His family has supported working families for a long time in this state.”
Beshear said he will work to repeal the right-to-work law and bring back prevailing wage law if elected. He also has pledged to have a union member serve as head of the state’s Labor Cabinet.
“Everything that we do is going to be about working families and not an out-of-state CEO,” Beshear told the Kentucky AFL-CIO. “Labor’s going to feel like they’ve got a friend in the governor’s office again and they’re going to have access to that in the governor’s office.”
Kentucky’s gubernatorial election is Nov. 5. Louisiana and Mississippi also are holding elections for governor this year.