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Koch cash flowing to Kentucky

Berry Craig
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AFT Local 1360

The billionaire Koch brothers are buying flood insurance against a teacher-driven blue wave in Kentucky.

"They're scared of teachers," said Democratic strategist Daniel Hurt of Grand Rivers. "Why else would they be spending money to hold Republican seats thought to be safe?"

The Bluegrass State branch of Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity will spend money on a half-dozen Republican incumbents in House races: Reps. Richard Heath, Jim Gooch, D.J. Johnson, Kevin Bratcher, Phil Moffett and Brandon Reed are about to enjoy Koch largesse. 

All of the endorsed lawmakers, save Reed, face opposition from public school teachers. 

AFP-Kentucky state director Andrew McNeill told Associated Press reporter Adam Beam that the nods were based on the incumbents' records and not "who their opponents were."

Hurt chuckled at the claim. "It's teachers," said Hurt, who is managing both a House and a Senate campaign in his native western Kentucky.

Boosted by a backlash against controversial GOP public pension legislation, at least 29 teachers or former teachers are running for the legislature on the Democratic ticket, Beam wrote.

The Koch laying-on-of-hands comes with lucre for "grassroots efforts by canvassing and phone banking that will be backed up by a targeted direct mail effort," according to an AFP-Kentucky news release.

AFP national headquarters is in Arlington, Va., a capital city suburb. "Washington, D.C., is coming to Kentucky," said Hurt, an honorary delegate to the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

In 2017, Heath, Gooch, Johnson, Bratcher, Moffett and Reed joined almost all House and Senate Republicans in passing a "right to work" law and repealing the prevailing wage. 

In the last session, the sextet was on board with GOP bills that curbed workers' compensation and unemployment benefits, cut taxes on wealthier Kentuckians and "reformed" public pensions. (A court ruled the dubious pension bill unconstitutional.)  

Republican plans to go after pensions drew to the Capitol thousands of protesting teachers and others, including union members.

Anyway, the release said Koch-Kentucky was helping bankroll Bratcher, from Louisville, because he helped ramrod RTW and PW repeal legislation as well as a GOP paycheck deception bill that also passed.  

Bratcher is House majority whip.

He told Beam that he was glad for AFP-Kentucky support, but hedged, "I don't agree with the Koch brothers on everything, and I don't agree with Americans for Prosperity on everything."

He evidently didn't detail whatever differences he might have with the Kochs. 

"It's the same old thing," said Hurt, the 2017 state AFL-CIO Youth Labor Award recipient. "They say what they need to say to make themselves look better to the voters but take the money."

He said the six Republicans "are in line with Koch values, not Kentucky values. Kentucky values include support for unions and public education. The Kochs want to break unions, drive wages down and transfer tax money to charter schools."

Ronel Brown Sr., an instructional assistant at Dupont Manual High School, is taking on Bratcher.

"I'm sure they're worried about him losing his seat," Beam quoted Brown. "He's not for the people of Kentucky, he's just for the rich ones."

Elementary school teacher Charlotte Goddard of Pottsville, is tackling Heath, who is from Mayfield.

Tracey Newport, her campaign manager, said Koch-Kentucky's endorsement of Heath "proves that we're doing something right. They are obviously scared of losing this seat; we've gained their attention."

The state AFL-CIO also endorsed Brown and Goddard, who is also KEA-endorsed.

A footnote: Unions remember AFP-Kentucky for scheming to keep union members and their supporters at bay on Jan. 4, 2017, the day a GOP-majority House committee held a public hearing and advanced the RTW and PW bills to a floor vote.

That morning, Koch-Kentucky reserved the room where the committee was to meet and hosted a breakfast for supporters of the bills. After the free feed finished, everybody was encouraged to stay for the hearing, thus taking up most of the seats.

"Suits in there, boots out here," chanted a crowd of frustrated and angry union members and their allies from the hallway.