Teacher candidates make small gains in Kentucky legislature

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - At least 10 current or former teachers have won seats in the Kentucky Legislature eight months after thousands of public school teachers closed nearly two dozen districts to protest changes to the pension system made by the Republican-dominated legislature.

Tuesday's elections saw at least 36 teachers on the ballot, most of them Democrats. But the "blue wave" Democrats had hoped for failed to materialize. At least 22 of the teacher candidates lost, including retired kindergarten teacher Linda Story Edwards. She lost to her former student, Republican Chris Freeland in House District 6.

Republicans were guaranteed to maintain their majority in the state House of Representatives. But it will likely be a slightly smaller majority. In Jefferson County, special education teacher Tina Bojanowski ousted two-term Republican incumbent Phil Moffett. And in Daviess County, college professor Jim Glenn was ahead of Republican Rep. D.J. Johnson by just one vote. Johnson said he planned to ask for a recanvass.

Teachers Josie Raymond and Lisa Willner in Louisville and Patti Minter in Bowling Green, all Democrats, won seats vacated by retiring Democratic lawmakers. High school math teacher R. Travis Brenda defeated a Madison County school board member in a central Kentucky district, while incumbent Republican teachers John "Bam" Carney and Regina Huff both won re-election. Democrat Charles Miller had no opposition.

Republicans won a majority in the state House of Representatives in 2016 for the first time in nearly 100 years. The GOP then pushed through bills allowing charter schools and making changes to the struggling retirement system for teachers, moving all new hires into a hybrid system. Thousands of teachers responded by marching on the Capitol, and dozens more filed to run for office.

"I'm tired of just, people who never stepped foot in a classroom since they left in high school deciding what's best for classrooms," said Emily Sullivan, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher in Georgetown, Kentucky. She voted for Democrat Jenny Urie, a high school history teacher who lost to Republican state Rep. Phillip Pratt in district 62.

Republicans have pushed back, arguing Kentucky's pension system is among the worst funded in the country. Since Republican Gov. Matt Bevin took office, the legislature has pumped billions of dollars into the struggling Kentucky Teachers Retirement System. System administrators noted the $2 billion appropriation over the next two years fully funds the annual required contribution "for the first time in more than a decade."

"I don't understand why they are so angry about that," said Mike Strickland, a 46-year-old engineer who lives in Georgetown and voted for Pratt. "They get so angry over nothing. They think the world is coming to an end."

The National Education Association says nearly 1,800 educators are on the ballot in state legislative races across the country. Momentum for teacher candidates started in West Virginia, when teachers there went on strike to secure pay raises from the state legislature. Other protests followed in Kentucky, Arizona and Oklahoma.

Multiple incumbents from both parties appeared headed to losing their seats in the Kentucky legislature on Tuesday, with some races separated by just a few votes. Five-term Democratic state Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg trailed Republican Nancy Tate by just six votes while five-term Republican state Rep. Jill York of Grayson trailed Democrat Kathy Hinkle by five votes.

Republican state Rep. Larry Brown of Prestonsburg, who defeated Democrat House Speaker Greg Stumbo in 2016, lost to Democrat Ashley Lafferty by more than 2,000 votes. In Louisville, Republican Rep. Ken Fleming lost to Democrat Maria Soloris by 224 votes.

And following a tumultuous year of scandal in the #metoo era, a pair of Republican lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior toward women easily won re-election. GOP Rep. Jim Stewart, accused of making "unwanted verbal advances" on a female courier in 2015, defeated Democrat Debra Ferguson Payne by more than 7,500 votes. Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, who signed a secret sexual harassment settlement last year, defeated Democrat William "Bill" Fishback by nearly 3,500 votes.

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