Lisa Willner may be leaving the Jefferson County School Board, but her heart remains—as it long has been—with education.

If Willner, who is running to replace retiring state Representative Jim Wayne in the 35th District, could change one thing, “we would have sufficient funding for our educational and health care system that would allow every individual and every community to thrive,” Willner said recently in an interview with Forward Kentucky.

Willner sees Kentucky, and the United States as a whole, going in the wrong direction.

“We’re seeing consolidation of wealth and power,” she noted. “We’re seeing coopting of public protections. We’re seeing erosions of checks and balances. Concentrating as much wealth and power in as few hands as possible — that’s the complete opposite of what’s healthy for a democracy.”

“Consolidation of wealth and power. Erosions of checks and balances. Concentrating as much wealth and power in as few hands as possible — that’s the opposite of what’s healthy for a democracy.” – Lisa Willner, candidate for KY HouseClick To Tweet

About Lisa Willner

Willner, the executive director of the Kentucky Psychological Association, graduated from Yale University and received her doctorate from the California School of Professional Psychology. For her, education, health care, and environment “are all huge concerns.” However, the Commonwealth cannot “invest appropriately until there’s significant tax restructuring,” she noted.

Willner and her husband John Scruton have lived for 23 years in the 35th District, which includes part of the Highlands, Germantown, and Audubon Park. According to Willner, it was Wayne himself—a licensed clinical social worker and the General Assembly’s only mental-health professional—who urged her to run.

Lisa Wilner & husband John Scruton (photo courtesy of Lisa Wilner)
Lisa Wilner & husband John Scruton (photo courtesy of Lisa Wilner)

Deciding to run for office

“Several years ago, Jim Wayne, I was meeting with him, talking about some mental health issues that I was advocating for. We were friends, and we had a good, friendly conversation. And he asked me, if I had ever thought about running for elected office.”

Wayne told her that politics needed more bright folks, more progressives, and more women.

“At the time, I did not imagine running for state rep — or any other position. But that’s what planted the seed,” Willner explained.

For a long time, Willner resisted, even though Wayne periodically urged her to run for office. But Willner, long involved in her children’s schools, finally ran for school board in 2014 and won, a year after her youngest graduated from JCPS. She quickly became one of the leaders in the successful movement to remove Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Lisa Willner on Bevin and Frankfort

Lisa Wilner at one of the education rallies in Frankfort (photo courtesy of the candidate)
Lisa Wilner at one of the education rallies in Frankfort (photo courtesy of the candidate)

Should Willner defeat her Republican opponent, she would not only inherit Jim Wayne’s seat, but his status as the legislature’s only mental-health professional.

Willner knew that “what we did as a district was directly affected” by what happened in Frankfort. That fact was emphasized by the 2018 General Assembly, which she described as “a nightmare, dysfunctional” – characterized by illegal legislation in the form of the pension bill, secret “backroom deals and behind-the-scenes maneuvering” and “a disgraceful attack on our teachers” and public schools.

Governor Matt Bevin’s attacks on public education should not have been a surprise.

“In the governor’s defense—which I don’t say very often—he said there would be an austerity budget, and he would cut expenses to the bone …. He told us what he was going to do, but people didn’t show up to the polls.”

Why people should show up to vote for Lisa Willner

Less than one-third of Kentuckians — 30.7 percent — bothered to vote in the 2015 election. That was even lower than the percentage that voted in the 2014 mid-term election, which itself had the lowest turnout since World War II. Consequently, just 511,374 voters decided who the next governor would be.

Why, then, should voters make the effort to get to the polls and elect Willner?

“We need principled and compassionate leadership, and I will serve the district, and I will put the voters and the people of my district and of the Commonwealth first,” she said. “I’ll stand up for our schools, our working families, and I will also do my best to bring the real-life concerns of people to the table.”


Ivonne Rovira
Ivonne Rovira, a teacher and an activist, is the research director for the statewide organization Save Our Schools Kentucky. Ivonne previously worked for The Miami Herald, the now defunct (and greatly lamented) Miami News, and The Associated Press. All three of her children are proud products of Jefferson County Public Schools.