Politics

A Kentucky middle school teacher says Gov. Matt Bevin delivered a “low blow” when he publicly scolded her in a Facebook Live video Monday night.

Bevin displayed a one-sentence email — with a curse word redacted — sent from teacher Corinne Ellis to kick off an hour-long live video session in which he selected questions from state workers about the state’s pension crisis and potential changes.

“These are the kind of things that are not helpful to this discourse,” Bevin said of Ellis’ email in the video, which as of Tuesday afternoon has been viewed more than 126,000 times.

“This does not encourage good dialogue. This is somebody who is an educator in a middle school in Kentucky. That concerns me at a whole ‘nother level that I’m not going to get into. But I’m grateful for the fact that that was the rare exception. More of it than there should have been.”

Ellis, who lives in Lexington, sent Bevin an email earlier this month that said “Do not ever f—— email me again” in response to the governor’s request for state workers to weigh in on how to fix the state’s ailing pension systems.

In an emailed statement, Ellis said she is not a fan of Bevin’s policies and called his Facebook attack a “low blow.”

“He had to initially get sympathy from his scarce supporters and show them he’s a ‘victim’,” Ellis said.

“He then chose to call out my full name and profession, which felt like a threat to me and my job. This was a Q&A, a place for people to ask questions about him cutting pensions. I sent a statement, which he publicly addressed because he wanted to make an example of me and shame me just because I hurt his feelings.”

Bevin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bevin has repeatedly used his social media accounts to lash out at political opponents, opinion columnists and reporters. He’s also broadly antagonized teachers in political fora. In an interview on WVLK radio last week, Bevin criticized teachers who he said “hoard” unused sick days and comp time to boost their pension benefits.

In the Facebook Live Q&A on Monday, he lashed out at teachers considering retirement in reaction to proposed changes to their pension benefits.

“If you happen to be a teacher who would walk out on your classroom in order to serve what’s in your own personal best interest at the expense of your children, you probably should retire,” Bevin said. “I’m being completely serious. If that’s truly where you are at this stage in your career, I wouldn’t suggest that being in a classroom is probably the best use of your time. And yet I know for a fact that almost all of you teachers that are watching this don’t think that way.”

On Monday, a consulting group hired by the governor’s office recommended major changes to state pension benefits, including a repeal of the sick time policy for teachers and raising the retirement age to 65.

Bevin has promised to call a special legislative session later this year for lawmakers to make changes to the state’s pension systems, which serve about 500,000 current and retired state workers.

Combined, the state’s pension funds have an unfunded liability ranging between $35 billion and $70 billion.

House Speaker Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown, said he was “disappointed” by the governor’s comments about teachers hoarding sick days.

“We all need to turn down the rhetoric and recognize we’ve got a serious problem and we need to come together as Kentuckians and try to solve this problem,” Hoover said during a news conference Tuesday.

Ellis, the teacher whom Bevin addressed in the video, said that the governor can work toward fixing the state’s pension problem without attacking educators.

“We are the hardworking people who will do whatever it takes to see that our kids succeed in a world that usually has the odds stacked against them,” Ellis said.

“We do this because we care, and we know the importance in educating our youth whether it be in core content or real life experiences. As an elected official, he should be protecting his citizens, but as usual, he is out for himself and his own agenda.”

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.