Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Elections are kind of like a new school year. New faces show up. Fresh ideas are disseminated. Personalities emerge. Elections often teach us as much about the candidates’ values as we learn about ourselves. In other words, elections serve as teachable moments.

Like a school yard playground, the campaign season brings out bullies. Just ask Matt Jones who believes his Hey Kentucky! television show was shut down by someone in Amy McGrath’s campaign who saw him as a potential threat to her 2020 candidacy for U.S. Senate. Dominant personalities clearly emerge and when tensions heighten they eventually square off while onlookers figuratively encircle the combatants and cheer them on. Perhaps there’s something primitive in us that hankers for a good fight.

Those political bystanders encircling the candidates are political action committees (PACs). The most influential, engaging in the 2019 Kentucky governor’s race will be independent expenditure (IE) PACs. The Kentucky Registry of Election Finance calls them Unauthorized Campaign Committees. Whatever one calls them, the U.S. Supreme Court authorized them in their 2010 Citizens United Ruling. They determined such groups, often funded by corporations and wealthy individuals, should be allowed to engage under First Amendment free speech protections. On a practical and positive level, IEs moved some concerned citizens off the sidelines—citizens who were previously reluctant to publicly engage for fear of political or economic retribution. I’ve spoken to several Kentuckians who’ve experienced this.

Susan B Anthony’s List, American Principles Project, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, Putting Kentucky First and Commonwealth Policy PAC (full disclosure, I’m associated with this PAC) will engage on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, Kentucky Family Values, National Education Association (NEA) and Kentucky Education Association (KEA) will engage on behalf of Andy Beshear. Educators will play a role in the election, but considering the values embraced by the NEA in particular, their impact may not be as potent as some believe.

Consider that the NEA Representative Assembly officially went on record earlier this summer to support Roe v Wade and a woman’s “right to abortion.” They approved measures to “incorporate the concept of “White Fragility” into their staff trainings and communications; monetary reparations for descendants of black slaves; “support of the Equality Act to be a top legislative priority;” and blamed the U.S. government for destabilizing Central American countries which led to the migrant crisis. This is a far cry from their original mission when the NEA first formed in 1857 to advocate for better public education.

Another proposal considered by the NEA Representative Assembly said the “National Education Association will re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education. NEA will make student learning the priority of the Association.” Maybe NEA members need a remedial course on their original mission since this proposal failed.

It’s not as tough as trigonometry to figure out that supporting abortion rights has nothing to do with public education while supporting core educational values does. Teachers hold diverse opinions on the abortion issue and many Kentucky teachers identify as pro-life. In light of the far-left tilt, expect NEA’s current active Kentucky membership of 28,000 to concurrently decline with its political influence, at least in the Commonwealth.

This is important because the NEA is expected to heavily engage the Kentucky Governor’s race, and educators as a group are likely to spend big if the 2018 election is any indication. According to the 2018 KREF report, the NEA PAC spent $275,000 to defeat Kentucky Republican state House candidates. The KEA spent $335,000 and Jefferson County Teachers Association spent $40,000. The math adds up to $650,000 in financial resources spent. But minus the values most Kentuckians embrace, their impact will be limited.

Whether it’s the Susan B. Anthony List supporting pro-life candidates or Kentucky Family Values supporting democratic candidates, one expects a PAC to reflect the core values of their constituency. Failure to do so, as the NEA has done, alienates their membership and limits their political impact.