FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron is looking to separate himself from the last GOP governor, apologizing for former Gov. Matt Bevin’s feud with educators, in an effort to reclaim lost territory with teachers — whose voting clout helped vault the incumbent Democratic governor into office.
Speaking to a group of school administrators last week, Cameron acknowledged the lingering political damage caused by the rift between Bevin and some prominent education groups. Cameron said he came before the local school leaders “in a spirit of humility,” conceding that “some of you may have misgivings about any Republican nominee for governor.”
“I also want to say I’m sorry,” Cameron added. “Sorry if me or anyone in my party has ever given you the impression that we don’t appreciate you or that we don’t respect you. Let me assure you that the Republican Party in this state under my leadership will show that we do — not only in word but in deed.”
Cameron didn’t mention Bevin by name, but his remarks clearly were aimed at healing wounds from when the pugnacious ex-governor ripped into teachers during a policy fight over pensions that turned personal. It underscored a political reality: Bevin’s checkered legacy remains an issue in this year’s gubernatorial showdown between Cameron and Beshear, who is seeking a second term.
In 2019, Beshear benefited from Bevin’s dispute with teachers as he narrowly defeated the GOP incumbent in the deep-red state.
Bevin lashed out at teacher rallies opposing his pension plan that shut down schools. In one instance, Bevin connected a girl’s shooting with a school closing caused by teachers who called in sick to protest. Another time, he asserted that children were sexually assaulted or ingested poison somewhere in Kentucky because teachers were protesting at the statehouse.
Beshear has made support for public education a cornerstone of his term and has pledged to keep pushing for higher teacher pay and universal access to early childhood education if he wins reelection. Republicans in control of the legislature have increased spending on public education, but not at the levels sought by the governor.
Meanwhile, Beshear’s campaign and his allies are trying to connect Cameron to Bevin on multiple fronts. They say Cameron, the state’s attorney general, failed to hold Bevin accountable for issuing hundreds of pardons and commutations before leaving office. They point to policy positions shared by Cameron and Bevin, including requiring some able-bodied adults to work in exchange for health coverage through Medicaid.
Beshear’s campaign, in a new ad debuting this week, revisits the tumultuous period of mass teacher rallies against the Bevin-backed plan to move new teacher hires into a hybrid pension plan. The pension legislation was struck down by the state Supreme Court on procedural grounds. Democrats note that Cameron’s running mate, state legislator Robby Mills, supported the measure.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Beshear’s running mate, is herself an educator. Coleman has credited support from teachers as a crucial factor in Beshear’s 2019 victory and predicted teachers are “going to show up even more” for the Democratic slate in November.
The Beshear ad slams Cameron for supporting a measure to award tax credits for donations supporting private school tuition. That legislation also was invalidated by the state Supreme Court. Opponents said it would have diverted money from public schools. Supporters said it would have provided opportunities for parents who want new schooling options for their children but can’t afford them.
“Daniel Cameron’s policies would undermine our teachers, our parents and our public schools,” Beshear says in the ad.
Cameron blames Beshear for pandemic-related school shutdowns linked to students’ learning loss — reflected in disappointing statewide test scores. He said Beshear’s strained relationship with the GOP-dominated legislature hasn’t helped the education system.
Cameron’s speech was light on policy specifics, signaling he plans to unveil his education plan in the coming weeks. He touched on broad themes, including efforts to recruit and retain teachers while skipping over the school choice issue.
“We must empower local districts to make more decisions about how best to educate our students,” Cameron said. “We must refocus the Kentucky Department of Education on its mission — preparing our young people to become capable citizens of their community. And we must surge resources to close the pandemic learning gap.”
Cameron’s speech showed he’s not conceding anything to Beshear and is willing to fight on the incumbent’s turf.
He promised educators he would be their ally in the governor’s office and vowed to take steps to stop the loss of teachers burdened by overloaded responsibilities, offering an empathetic voice over teacher burnout while noting his wife and mother were educators.
“Kentucky can’t afford to continue losing so many talented professionals out of the classroom simply because you’re not getting the support you so well deserve,” he said. “We need to fix this and we need to fix it quick.”