Beware ALEC-backed legislators running for reelection in Kentucky


As Kentucky voters head to the polls on Tuesday, it’s important to highlight some of the recent legislation that has been tied to an outside special interest group called ALEC, as well as which Kentucky legislators appear to have shown loyalty to this organization by sponsoring and/or supporting ALEC-influenced legislation either before or after traveling to their conferences or receiving campaign support. So, after cross-referencing several sources, we’ve identified 15 candidates on this year’s ballot that appear to be loyal ALEC supporters.

First, what is ALEC?

ALEC stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council, and it is a national organization that has been linked to powerful out-of-state corporate interests that promote a “free-market” libertarian agenda. They are often hyped by “astro-turf” (artificial grassroots) organizations with ties to the Koch Brothers and other wealthy business elites. You may be familiar with Americans for Prosperity, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions (BIPPS), and Pegasus Institute. Their efforts both locally and nationally have been linked to laws that promote environmental deregulation, voter suppression, dismantling of unions and pensions, and privatization of public education, to name a few.

Some examples of ALEC-backed legislation that made its way to Kentucky in the past two years include: right to work, a repeal of the prevailing wage laws, “pension reform,” “education reform,” and even a seemingly innocuous overturn of Louisville Metro Government’s plastic bag ban.

In “education reform” alone, ALEC playbook tactics and buzz words include “school choice,” student “safety,” “neighborhood schools,” “accountability,” “failing schools,” and school vouchers disguised as “scholarships.” They also strive to undermine local control of our public schools, such as neutering site-based decision making (SBDM) councils and having a mayor or governor appoint school boards (instead of allowing voters to elect and hold them accountable). In just the past two years, we’ve seen every one of these maneuvers attempted in Kentucky.

After several key pieces of ALEC legislation hit a snag during the General Assembly in 2017 and 2018, we’ve started to see some of these playbook maneuvers extend into governmental regulation-making bodies, such as the Kentucky Department of Education. Just two calendar days after the close of Kentucky’s 2018 General Assembly, where public pressure prevented charter schools from receiving permanent funding, and scholarship tax credits never even came to the floor for a vote, the Governor replaced six members of the Kentucky Board of Education with charter school proponents, including Wayne Lewis’s business partner and co-founder of Kentucky Charter School Association, and long-time critic of JCPS, Hal Heiner(discussed here and here). According to this article from Insider Louisville, “None of the new appointees have public school teaching or administrative experience listed in their biographies provided by Bevin’s office.”

The very next day, Bevin’s newly-appointed state board of education pressured the state department of education’s highly qualified and well-respected commissioner, Stephen Pruitt, to resign, and named charter school bill architect Wayne Lewis as interim commissioner.

One of the former KBE members expressed his frustration with Bevin’s engineering of the board:

“I can promise you right now that Wayne Lewis is not running the Department of Education,” said Roger Marcum, a former chairman and eight-year member of the education board who was angered over Pruitt’s ouster. “Bevin and Heiner are running the Department of Education.”

After less than two weeks in his new role, and only spending two days visiting JCPS stakeholders and schools, the new interim commissioner released the results of a 14-month audit of the state’s largest district, but not before apparently altering Pruitt’s initial recommendation from state assistance to state management (aka, “takeover”), which would essentially replace the locally elected school board with the commissioner himself.

Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education immediately appealed this recommendation and a hearing was scheduled. Two weeks before the hearing, a compromise was reached, essentially buying the state’s largest district a two-year stay of execution.

With ALEC and its financial backers likely still chomping at the bit to open their first charter schools in our state, the state’s operatives set their sights on easier targets across the state. Just as public education allies in other states had warned us, and as if reading from a script, the new commissioner lowered teacher certification requirements, raised graduation requirements (to support the “failing schools” narrative), and set new criteria to identify schools that would be targeted for state assistance, putting over one-third of all Kentucky schools in the crosshairs.

Kentucky led the nation in education reform in 1990 with the Kentucky Education Reform Act. We don’t need cookie-cutter “model” legislation that has been failing in 44 other states to improve educational outcomes in our Commonwealth. Instead, we need to elect candidates who put their constituents ahead of outside corporate interests. We need to elect leaders who know that experienced educators, parents and students, working collaboratively with elected school board members and community leaders, can offer more insight about how to reform education than (mostly) stodgy old white men who themselves have little to no training in the education field, nor experience navigating the public school system as a stakeholder.

The charter school bill that became law in 2017 in Kentucky was not written for Kentucky, but was crafted by ideologues who believe they know what “other people’s children” need. They believe that the business community, for a profit, can do a better job educating our young minds than traditional, proven education models, despite research and case study after case study that say otherwise.

Who are the 15 incumbents aligned with ALEC?

So, who are the legislators on this Tuesday’s ballot across the state who have demonstrated they are in lock-step with ALEC? Let’s start with this photo.

Kentucky elected officials and others at the ALEC convention (photo from Gov. Bevin's Twitter feed)
Kentucky elected officials and others at the ALEC convention (photo from Gov. Bevin’s Twitter feed)

This was from the ALEC conference in Colorado in July of 2017. From left to right, we have Senator Jimmy Higdon, two presumed staffers, Senator Alice Forgy Kerr, Rep. Addia Wuchner (not seeking reelection), Rep. Kim Moser, Senator Ernie Harris, Governor Matt Bevin, Rep. Jim DeCesare (not seeking reelection), Rep. Robby Mills, Senator Mike Wilson and another presumed staffer.

Of the people in the picture, here are the ones on the 2018 ballot. There’s a complete list by district at the bottom of the article:

Jimmy Higdon – Senator Higdon voted for many of the ALEC bills, including charter schools, overturning the plastic bag ban, right to work, and to repeal prevailing wage. However, he voted against the gang violence bill. His opponent is Stephanie Compton.

Alice Forgy Kerr – Senator Kerr also voted for charter schools, overturning the plastic bag ban, right to work, and to repeal prevailing wage, as well as the gang violence bill. Her challenger is educator Paula Setser-Kissick.

Kim Moser – Rep. Moser voted for charter schools, net metering, and neighborhood schools, and overturning the plastic bag ban. She co-sponsored “right to work” and repealing prevailing wage in the House. However, she voted against the gang violence bill.  She is being challenged by Larry “Santa” Varney.

Ernie Harris – Senator Harris voted for charters and the gang violence bill. He voted against overturning the plastic bag ban. He was absent during the vote on right to work and prevailing wage. His challenger is Dr. Karen Berg.

Robby Mills – Rep. Mills’ voting record is from his time in the House. However, he is currently seeking a senator seat. He was absent for the charter school vote, but aligned with his ALEC colleagues on gang violence, net metering, neighborhood schools and overturning the plastic bag ban in 2017, as well as right to work and repealing prevailing wage in 2018. He is challenging the Senate incumbent Dorsey Ridley.

Mike Wilson – Senator Wilson voted for charter schools, the gang violence bill, and overturning the plastic bag ban, as well as right to work and repealing prevailing wage. His challenger is educator Jeanie Smith.

Also at the conference, but not in the picture:

Sal Santoro – Rep. Santoro voted for charter schools, neighborhood schools, the gang violence bill, net metering, and overturning the plastic bag ban. He also voted for right to work and was one of the co-sponsors on repealing prevailing wage and net metering. He is being challenged by Jesse Parks.

Diane St. Onge – Rep. St. Onge was absent for the vote on overturning the plastic bag ban. However, she sided with her ALEC colleagues on charter schools, net metering, and gang violence. She also co-sponsored right to work legislation and repealing prevailing wage. Josh Blair is hoping to unseat her in the house.

More ALEC operatives hiding in plain sight

In addition, the following gentlemen have been praised by Americans for Prosperity (funded by the same sources as ALEC) for their “legislative leadership on key issues that align with our organization’s goals.” As such, AFP has committed to call, canvass and mail on behalf of these Kentucky representatives running for re-election this year.

Phil Moffett – Rep. Moffett is by far one of ALEC’s “Most Wanted” when it comes to pushing their libertarian agenda. Americans for Prosperity recently praised him for his support of “liberty and economic freedom.” Moffett was one of the sponsors behind HB103, the first charter school bill of 2017, which contained language familiar to ALEC watchdog groups. He has also been an outspoken critic of JCPS and their student assignment plan.

This comes as no surprise considering he is the co-founder of Kentucky Education Restoration Alliance, an organization he formed with Jim Waters in 2009. Mr. Waters is one of the officers of the aforementioned astroturf “think tank” BIPPS, which has been undermining JCPS and public education since it was co-founded with Chris Derry in 2003. Mr. Derry was Gov. Bevin’s partner at Waycross Partners.

Rep. Moffett also introduced a “friendly amendment” for HB520, which permitted mayors to authorize charter schools. Did we mention that Rep. Moffett also serves on School Choice Scholarships, Inc., which was co-founded by the mayor’s father, George Fischer? If any of these connections are too close for comfort, you’ll be happy to know that special needs educator Tina Bojanowski is highly favored to replace Rep. Moffett on Tuesday.

Kevin Bratcher – Rep. Bratcher runs a close second behind Rep. Moffett. Bratcher co-sponsored the neighborhood schools and the “Blue Lives Matter” bills, as well as the plastic bag ban in 2017. In 2018, he co-sponsored right to work and repealing prevailing wage. Ronel Brown, an instructional assistant at Manual High School, is hoping to end Bratcher’s 21-year tenure.

Richard Heath – As a co-sponsor of the charter school bill that passed on the last day of the 2017 session, Rep. Heath certainly fits ALECs description of a “true policy champion.” He also receives a perfect score (from ALEC’s point of view) for his votes on charter schools, neighborhood schools, gang violence bill, net metering, and overturning the plastic bag ban. He also co-sponsored right to work and repealing prevailing wage. Rep. Heath is being challenged by educator Charlotte Goddard .

Jim Gooch – Climate change denier Rep. Gooch was a sponsor for ALEC’s bill for “reforming net metering,” even repurposing an analogy about “Bob the Grocer” being forced to buy a farmer’s tomatoes straight from the ALEC playbook. Like a good ALEC policy champion, Jim also voted for all seven of the suspect bills: charter schools, neighborhood schools, gang violence, overturning the plastic bag ban, right to work and repealing prevailing wage, in addition to the net metering bill he sponsored. Bruce Kunze is hoping to unseat Rep. Gooch.

DJ Johnson – Rep. Johnson did not take a lead role in any of the seven ALEC bills mentioned above. He does, however, have a perfect voting record, by their standards. He is being challenged by educator Jim Glenn.

Brandon Reed – After defeating Rep. Terry Mills in 2016, Rep. Reed has also earned a perfect score on the seven ALEC bills. “Brandon Reed promised our citizens positive change when he was elected in 2016. Since then, he has voted to lower wages and benefits for hard-working Kentuckians, to allow charter schools which takes money away from our public schools, to reduce funding for education, to cut teachers and state workers’ pensions, and to raise taxes on lower and middle income workers while lowering taxes for wealthy individuals and big corporations,” Mills said. “These are not positive changes.” Terry Mills wants his seat back.

Ralph Alvarado – Senator Alvarado was recently recognized as ALEC’s Legislator of the Week. He voted in favor of all five of the above ALEC bills that made it to the Senate. He also sponsored Kentucky’s Medical Panel Review bill in 2017, which has been tied to ALEC, as well. Senator Alvarado is being challenged by educator Denise Gray.

Tuesday is our chance to change direction

Tuesday will mark one of the most important elections in recent history, especially for Kentucky. This could potentially be the state’s last chance to replace these ALEC-backed legislators with authentic representatives for people of the Commonwealth, so that they can stop and even reverse the damage that’s been done by them during these past two legislative sessions.

Please vote on Tuesday!

ALEC Incumbents and Challengers, by District

Robby MillsS-04Dorsey Ridley
Alice Forgy-KerrS-12Paula Setser-Kissick
Jimmy HigdonS-14Stephanie Compton
Ernie HarrisS-26Karen Berg
Ralph AlvaradoS-28Denise Gray
Mike WilsonS-32Jeanie Smith
Richard HeathH-02Charlotte Goddard
Jim GoochH-12Bruce Kunze
DJ JohnsonH-13Jim Glenn
Brandon ReedH-24Terry Mills
Kevin BratcherH-29Ronel Brown
Phil MoffettH-32Tina Bojanowski
Sal SantoroH-60Jesse Parks
Diane St. OngeH-63Josh Blair
Kim MoserH-64Larry Varney
Gay Adelmann
Gay Adelmann moved to Louisville in 2012 with her husband and two teen-age sons. She immediately found herself thrust into public education advocacy work when a pattern of repeated decisions made by district leaders without authentic stakeholder input continued to negatively impact her son’s school and other schools across the district. In 2015, Gay co-founded Dear JCPS, a stakeholder advocacy group that provides critical feedback from stakeholders to district leaders and decision makers, and demands transparency and accountability surrounding their decisions.