As an associate history professor at Eastern Kentucky University, Carolyn Dupont sees a big-picture view of why she says the Kentucky legislature needs to change.
“I teach American history, and I’m a big believer that what moves us forward in history are the actions of ordinary people,” says the Democratic candidate for Kentucky’s 22nd District, south and west of Lexington. “I’m not a proponent of history from the top down. Ordinary folks have the power to make change.”
Dupont sees her background as part of the change that needs to happen in the Kentucky Legislature. She’s never run for office—she describes her political experience as some volunteering and being a concerned citizen. She’s running against Republican Tom Buford, who’s been in the Senate since 1991.
“I’m a fresh voice,” says Dupont. “The Legislature is really quite monolithic and it became more ideologically monolithic with the 2016 elections.”
Dupont says the freshness her background would bring includes her gender—only four of the 38 Senate members are women—and her profession.
“We have people with roughly the same life experience and same professional background,” she says. “We have an abundance of lawyers and real estate folks and bankers in the Kentucky legislature. Not enough folks from other professional backgrounds, not enough diversity of life experience and perspective.”
So what difference does that make? “So I think that what we have is this kind of groupthink where our legislators pass around a bunch of ideas often that aren’t very well vetted and very well tested,” she says.I think what we have in Frankfort is this kind of groupthink, where our legislators pass around a bunch of ideas that often aren’t very well vetted or very well tested.” – Carolyn Dupont, candidate for KY SenateClick To Tweet
Ideas that aren’t very well tested or vetted – like what? “There’s this idea that if we keep cutting taxes, that the growth fairy will appear, and create economic growth,” Dupont says. “Along with that, we have a tax system that places the bulk of its burden on the middle and lower-income classes and the least of its burdens on those who can best afford it. And we give away a great deal of revenue to corporations that really don’t provide a tangible economic benefit.”
Dupont says, “We have got to create a tax system in Kentucky that creates adequate revenue for our state’s needs, and we have not had that for decades. If we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to have these budget fights, and we’re going to continue to starve the quality public services that Kentucky needs and the quality public services that businesses look for when they want to locate someplace.” She calls for “meaningful tax reform that creates more revenue and that distributes its burdens fairly.”
Carolyn Dupont on more revenue for education
Where does Dupont want most of that increased revenue to go? Education.
In particular, she says, “I’m going to propose, and be standing for, and will fight for universal preschool. We know that quality preschool helps children be learning-ready and in Kentucky, somewhere close to 50 percent of our students are not learning-ready when they start school.”
Dupont says research shows that quality universal preschool “has a demonstrable impact on raising graduation rates, long-term employment rates, and wage and salary rates.”
But instead of considering new efforts like universal pre-school, Dupont says the legislature has been heading in the other direction. She notes that adjusted-for-inflation per-pupil state education support is lower than 10 years ago. And even a recent increase in that per-pupil funding she says is spin, “because it was simply robbing Peter to pay Paul” with cuts to other areas of education like preschool, higher education, textbooks, and teacher training.
Dupont says because companies look to locate near highly trained workforces, “Investing in education is not spending, it’s investing – and it will improve the overall economic standing of our state. … We need to be sure that schools are funded in a way that means they can have appropriate class sizes and enough resources, and that teachers can stop paying for resources out of their own pockets. We need more career and technical education pathways and we need to do more to make higher education affordable.”
Carolyn Dupont on criminal justice reform
Dupont also wants to see effective action reforming Kentucky’s criminal justice system and lowering the state’s high levels of opioid addiction. She says the two issues are related.
Dupont questions sentencing laws that have resulted in Kentucky having one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.
“I don’t mind being tough on crime, but we’ve got to ask, are we really being effective?” She says for someone convicted of a felony, “Their lives are kind of ruined … many of them can’t find employment so they resort to the kind of activity that possibly got them in prison in the first place.”
Dupont wants the legislature to rethink the role of the criminal justice system in opioid abuse.
“Here’s where criminal justice bleeds into the opioid crisis, because opioid addiction is a mental health issue and we’re trying to handle it with the police and the courts,” she says. “We have great police, we have great courts, but they are not designed or created to be mental health service providers.”
As possible solutions, Dupont refers to one police department that has hired a social worker, and hospital emergency rooms that have hired specialist peer counselors. But more important than those kinds of specific ideas, Dupont says the legislature needs to make a higher priority of bringing more points of view to crafting solutions.
“It’s complicated. We have to work harder,” she says. “What we need is comprehensive criminal justice reform that really listens to all stakeholders and takes into account the voices of people at every level.”
Carolyn Dupont on pensions
In one unusual proposal, Dupont would consider eliminating pensions for legislators. She links that proposal to the past year’s protracted, and still unresolved, debate over funding retirement programs for Kentucky state employees.
“There’s nothing more exemplary of naked self-interest than the fact that when it came to a choice of which pensions were not going to be funded, they never picked their own,” she says. “I find it galling that our public servants, people who do the real work of making Kentucky move every day, our teachers, our police officers, our public workers, have had their pensions pilfered in a sense, and yet our legislators, their pensions are secure.”
Dupont cites the process used to deal with the state employee pension system as the sort of legislative failure that calls for new legislators. The process started months before the session began, and involved a last-minute plan that was attached, incredibly, to a bill on agreements between local sewer districts.
“It was a big waste of taxpayers’ money,” says Dupont. “We need a legislature that can use the time that the taxpayers are paying for and use it effectively.”