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Kentucky Politics Distilled: Derby Week And ‘Nasty’ Politics

J. Tyler Franklin/WFPL News

This week in Kentucky politics, Gov. Matt Bevin weighed in on the potential state takeover of Louisville’s public school system; the leader of Kentucky’s House of Representatives called for an investigation into a statewide broadband internet project; and a Republican state Representative abruptly dropped out of her re-election campaign, saying that this year’s legislative session was the “nastiest” in history.


As celebrities, political figures and horse fans descend on Louisville this week for the most exciting two minutes in sports, out-of-towners looking to learn about the local political scene will find that the biggest thing going on is a potential state takeover of Kentucky’s largest school district.


Here’s Gov. Matt Bevin. “We have got to make change. We’ve got a less-than-stellar end result right now. And we have too many children, especially so many of our under-privileged kids coming from the west-end of Louisville in particular that are falling farther and farther behind.”


Bevin recently appointed new members to the Kentucky Board of Education. One of the board’s first actions was to force out the education commissioner and install a new one, who quickly recommended the state intervene in management of Jefferson County Public Schools.


A takeover would relegate the locally-elected school board to an advisory role. Interim commissioner Wayne Lewis says the JCPS superintendent would still be in charge of day-to-day management of the district, but would have to report to state officials weekly.


On WHAS Radio, Bevin blamed the district’s problems on the local school board and teachers union.


“Having decision-making removed from the people that have failed is to me something absolutely worthy of consideration because the local JCPS school board has failed miserably the students in this county,” said Bevin.

Bevin’s education moves came on the heels of a wild legislative session that was marked by massive and nearly constant rallies from educators and other state workers. They were protesting changes to public retirement benefits.


The session also featured public infighting among Republicans, especially in the state House of Representatives. There, members were divided amidst a sexual harassment scandal involving former Speaker Jeff Hoover.


This week, Republican state Rep. Donna Mayfield announced halfway through a candidate forum in Winchester that she’d had enough.


“This past legislative session has been the darkest, nastiest session,” said Mayfield. “I do not want to be around the heartless viciousness willfully carried out by so many people. I no longer have room for this need in my family’s life.”


That audio comes from a Facebook live video of the forum posted by the Winchester Sun.


Mayfield, who was first elected in 2010, abruptly ended her reelection campaign and threw her support behind her Republican primary opponent Les Yates. He had to take the stage immediately afterwards.


“This is a sad occasion to see somebody do what just happened right here,” said Yates. “But, that being said…my name is Les Yates, I’m running for state representative in the 73rd district…”


Last year was the first in Kentucky history that Republicans had control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.


They have supermajorities in both the House and Senate, though Democrats are hoping to ride a wave of outrage from teachers and other state workers to regain some of the seats they lost in 2016.


Brad Bowman is the communications director for the Kentucky Democratic Party.

“I think Kentuckians are awake to the issues at hand,” said Bowman. “We have to stand up to this new Republican majority that’s changing the face of Kentucky.”


Meanwhile, this week the leader of the state House called for an investigation into the deal that created the Kentucky Wired high-speed internet project, a public-private partnership that has cost the state tens of millions of dollars in delays in recent years.


Kentucky Wired was first approved at the end of Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration and is supposed to result in a 3,000-mile fiber optic cable network that stretches to all of Kentucky’s 120 counties.


The initiative was originally scheduled to be completed in 2016. It’s been delayed because the state hasn’t secured agreements with companies that own the telephone poles the fiber optic wire is supposed to hang from as quickly as predicted.


This year the state approved $110 million in loans to pay for delays associated with the project.


Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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