Spurred by new laws authorizing charter schools and making changes to the state’s pension system, an unprecedented 34 current and former teachers are on the ballot in Kentucky for seats in the state legislature.
Bob Nelson isn’t one of them. The retired teacher in Logan County missed the deadline to file for office, making him one of a least six teachers mounting long-shot write-in campaigns in a year Democrats are expected to be highly motivated to turn out and vote.
But Nelson and others like him got a boost this week from Attorney General Andy Beshear. The democrat, who is running for governor next year with a campaign built around endearing himself to public workers, issued an opinion on Thursday saying it was OK for poll workers to post lists of certified write-in candidates at voting precincts. Previously, state officials had told poll workers not to do this because it might violate the state’s ban on electioneering at voting precincts.
It’s unclear what impact the opinion will have. Attorney General opinions are advisory, so they don’t have the force of a judge’s order. But the Kentucky State Board of Elections has the authority to say what is and what is not electioneering. The board is scheduled to meet Tuesday and will discuss the opinion and what to do about it.
It was welcome news for Nelson, whose name won’t be on the ballot but any votes cast for him will be counted.
“It doesn’t even take 10 seconds to color in a box and write somebody’s name if they know you are there,” Nelson said. “It might cause somebody to be reminded of that kind of thing.”
The opinion was not welcomed by Republican state Rep. John “Bam” Carney, the lawmaker Nelson wants to replace. Carney viewed the opinion as politically motivated, part of Beshear’s effort to support teachers running as Democrats.
“My opinion is that ‘Little Andy’ has more things to worry about,” Carney said. “They need to be worried about doing their jobs that are related to the actual offices they are in instead of trying to influence elections while they are using taxpayer monies.”
Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said the opinion is “based solely on the law.” Carney’s “personal attacks” on Beshear do not change “what the law does or does not allow,” Sebastian said.
Republican lawmakers have reason to be worried. In May, House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell lost to R. Travis Brenda in the Republican primary. Brenda, a high school math teacher, had never run for public office before.
But Carney is a teacher, too. He taught social studies at his local school district before moving into an administrative role. He’s now chairman of the House Education Committee and has faced criticism from his fellow teachers for supporting charter schools and changes to the state’s pension system.
“I just don’t understand why if you are teacher why you would want to hurt your profession,” Nelson said.
Carney opposed funding charter schools this year, which did not make it into the state budget. He also voted for the Republican spending plan, which makes the full required contribution to the plan for the first time in a decade and “keeps the system on the path to full funding,” according to Executive Secretary Gary Harbin.