Comer has competition


AFT Local 1360

Democrat Paul Walker, who just tossed his hat in the ring for Congress, says he supports “unions because unions respect workers.”

An associate professor of English at Murray State University, Walker aims to unseat incumbent First District Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville.

Walker is already in labor’s corner. He steadfastly opposes "right to work." 

“‘Right to work’ is a term that misleads workers and communities,” he said. “Labor unions provide fair, equitable, and safe working conditions that mutually benefit workers and owners. Unions ensure that workers' labor is valued, not exploited, which ensures quality production, lower turnover, and genuine investment into the local economy.”

Walker has never belonged to a union, but he was involved in talks about unionizing through the American Association of University Professors when he was on the MSU Faculty Senate. "Unfortunately, that effort didn't go as far or as well as we hoped," he said. 

Walker, who has taught at MSU since 2007, also pledged his support for public education. "I've worked closely with public school teachers for several years, and have listened to their fears and frustrations that result from having no collective power to challenge top-down policies that don't help student learning.

"Though there are exceptions, workers in all fields are often treated as dispensable, especially if they raise their voices about real issues and cite their real experiences that contradicts what is imposed on them from the top."

An author and award-winning educator, too, Walker plans to file Thursday in Frankfort. The filing deadline is Jan. 30.

Comer hasn’t been in the House long enough to receive a grade on the AFL-CIO’s legislative scorecard. But unions don't consider him a friend.

When Comer ran for governor in 2015, he said passing a RTW law would be his first priority.

Gov. Matt Bevin edged him in the May primary and won in November. Egged on by Bevin, the GOP-majority legislature quickly approved a RTW law in 2017. With the governor's backing, Republican lawmakers also repealed the prevailing wage.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Republican, has proposed a national RTW law. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has introduced legislation to suspend the prevailing wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act on all federal highway construction contracts.

Walker said he would oppose both measures, which would have to pass the House and Senate.

"I’m running because the concerns and interests of working people should be better addressed in Congress,” his website says. “Every person living in America deserves opportunities for financial security and affordable access to education and healthcare. As your representative, I will listen to you with respect, and will make decisions that benefit everyone’s quality of life. Even if we disagree on some things, I will hear and acknowledge your concerns, and strive to be a positive presence in Washington.”

Comer is one of Donald Trump's most loyal lawmakers, even riding with the president on Air Force One to a Kentucky rally.

Comer voted to gut the Affordable Care Act. He supported the GOP Robin-Hood-in-Reverse tax bill which Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, called a scam, denouncing it as “simply theft — monumental, brazen theft from the American middle class and from every person who aspires to reach it.”

Walker said he would have voted against both Republican bills. He supports a single-payer health care plan.

Comer has backed Trump's legislation 93.7 percent of the time, according to Five Thirty Eight's online "Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump."

Neither Comer nor Walker are expected to draw primary opposition. Sam Gaskins of Hopkinsville dropped out the Democratic primary, citing health reasons. Comer defeated Gaskins in 2016.

The 35-county First District sprawls from the Mississippi River close to 300 miles eastward to south-central Kentucky, Comer’s home turf. Murray is in the Jackson Purchase, Kentucky's westernmost region. 

Click here for more information about Walker, who is also co-director of the Purchase Area Writing Project and a member of the National Council of Teachers of English.