Murray State University English professor Paul Walker vows he didn’t play hooky when he drove to Frankfort to file his candidate papers.

“My office hours and schedule are public record, so no issues there,” said the congressional hopeful with a chuckle.

Walker and singer-songwriter-guitarist Alonzo Pennington of Princeton are battling for the Democratic nomination in the First District. The primary is May 22.

The winner will face incumbent Republican James Comer of Tompkinsville on Nov. 6. He has no primary opponent.

Why he’s running

Paul Walker
Paul Walker

“I’m running for Congress because the concerns and interests of working people can be better addressed in Washington,” Walker said. “I believe every person living in America deserves opportunities for financial security and guaranteed access to education and healthcare.”

He said worried and anxious looks on his students’ faces also prompted him to toss his hat in the ring.

“There is a concerted assault on workers, education, women, and health,” he said. “My students see an unfriendly world waiting for them after graduation. It motivated me to do more to help expand their opportunities and especially reduce their growing burden of student-loan debt. In short, I wanted to serve Kentuckians in ways beyond teaching in the classroom, so I decided to run.”

Writer who teaches writing

A Utah native, Paul Walker earned a Ph.D. at Arizona State University and has taught at MSU since 2007. He said that when he arrived in the Calloway County seat, he knew he wanted to stay.

“I wasn’t born in Kentucky, but I made the choice to live here,” he said.

An award-winning educator and an author, he considers himself foremost a writing teacher who helps students “explore how our perspectives connect with the ideas of others, while making us more adept at communicating those ideas in various situations.”

For several years, he directed the First-Year Writing Program, and he has served on the Faculty Senate and the MSU President’s Commission on Sustainability.

He is co-director of the Purchase Area Writing Project, a program that “is dedicated to helping primary and secondary school teachers in the western Kentucky area build student success in writing.” Walker is also the chief sponsor of the Young Author’s Summer Camp.

Walker said that as a teacher, he knows how to listen and consider multiple perspectives, not just two sides.

He said he “doesn’t make decisions impulsively and will not do what the party tells me to do.” He added that respecting the ideas of constituents is crucial, promising that “if we disagree on some things, I will listen and make decisions that benefit everyone’s quality of life.”

The campaign

Walker knows Comer is a well-entrenched and well-financed incumbent. He understands that the Republicans will spend whatever they think it will take to keep him in office.

Paul Walker speaking at campaign event

“But there are a lot of frustrated voters this year,” he said. “Our American way of life is being threatened, and the message I’m giving to voters is that I care and I’m qualified to do the necessary work to make things better for all of us.”

Walker has been stumping the district, which sprawls 300 miles east from the Mississippi River. Like most candidates everywhere, he’s also relying on social media.

“We live in a time where connections can be made through social media in ways that are almost unbelievable. In the short time since I announced my candidacy, many people already recognize my name and face when I’m out and about in the district.

“As I continue my social media efforts and put signs up in the counties, my name and personality will be more and more known, and I look forward to speaking with people so they can know who I am and what I stand for.”

A supporter of unions

Walker comes from a family of educators. His father was a school administrator; his mother was a teacher before she opted to stay at home.

“My father belonged to the Utah Education Association, which is similar to the KEA, and I recognized by his membership in it that a collective organization had power to provide good working conditions and policies that benefited workers, their families and local communities.

“As a university professor, I have been part of active efforts to unionize our campus, but unfortunately these efforts have so far been ineffective.”

Both Paul Walker and Alonzo Pennington are courting union support. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO voted “no recommendation” in the Democratic primary, freeing unions to endorse whomever they wish.

The two Democrats oppose state and national “right to work” and prevailing wage laws. They support boosting the minimum wage.

“The myth of right to work is that workers benefit,” he said. “That’s simply wrong. More and more organizations are finding out the hard way that hiring non-union workers or using independent contractors undercuts the quality of the project and erodes the healthy tax base for the community.

“When labor does well, everyone does well. Any local business, from a restaurant to a bike shop and to a clothing store will fail if the local families are barely scraping by because of non-prevailing wage bids. If there is any money saved by right-to-work projects or not paying the prevailing wage, ten times that money is lost by the community.”

Walker pledges to help bring good-paying industrial jobs back to the district. “On a large scale, I would eliminate tax breaks and incentives for companies whose profits leave the region and state. Incentives would be provided for local entrepreneurs and existing businesses to expand.

“This would provide a level playing field for local companies to grow and create union industrial jobs. I would also encourage universities in this part of the state to partner their business incubators to help businesses grow into profitable companies that keep their profits in Kentucky’s local communities.

“Further, I would ensure that infrastructure developments such as fiber-optic cables and transportation improvements make this region ready for major local investment.”

Fighting off-shoring and job loss

Walker said President Trump has broken his promise to stop outsourcing and keep jobs stateside. Reportedly, a record 93,000 jobs have gone overseas since he was elected. Trump and his daughter still make money from products made overseas.

“As consumers, we look for inexpensive goods, but as community members, we want successful businesses. We have to individually make the choice to support our community, and collectively we have to make it easier to do so.

“This can be done by providing incentives for small and mid-size businesses that pay fair and prevailing wages, and punishing large companies that take jobs offshore to lower wages. No one likes to speak with an automated or outsourced customer service rep from another country – but our choices are limited when so many companies do it. The incentives for these companies that do not invest locally need to change on a national level.”

Pushing renewables while investing in coal workers

The western Kentucky coal fields are a short drive east of Murray. Market forces—primarily a shift to natural gas—have forced many mines to shut.

“The reality is that industries shift, but it is irresponsible to leave trained workers without opportunities to shift with those technological changes.

“The solar and wind-power industries in Kentucky are growing quickly, and as they expand there are and will be opportunities for coal miners and other workers to transition to an industry that also produces cleaner energy for the increasing needs of communities. Energy sources such as natural gas extraction can provide transitional jobs as well, but heavy investment into renewable sources is safer, and in the long run, better for our communities.”

Providing health care for all

Walker also supports single-payer health insurance. “I would work hard to make it happen sooner than later by helping all the involved groups sit down and discuss the ways to make it work for individuals, families, and healthcare providers.”

Single-payer is anathema to Trump, who never misses a chance to slam the Affordable Care Act. The president carried the First District in a blowout. Polls show Trump is still popular in Kentucky, where he won 118 of 120 counties.

“Trump has appealed to many people because he gives the impression that he ‘tells it like it is,’” Walker said. “But we know that his blunt and self-inflating statements don’t fit with reality. I understand that many voters are frustrated by politicians and politics-as-usual, which is why I intend to represent Kentucky workers and their families with integrity and honesty – not by selling out to political party agendas and lobbyists.”

Not your everyday politician

Walker detects a rising buyer’s remorse in the district he wants to represent. “Working people everywhere, including here, are frustrated by what they see as clear evidence that Trump and other politicians are ignoring them. I believe voters are thinking hard about what they want in the next few years, and there are plenty of them who will consider fresh faces like me who truly want to serve the public good.”

Walker doesn’t flee the “Democratic” label. When Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes ran for the Senate in 2014, she refused to say whom she voted for in 2012. Walker voted for President Barak Obama twice and for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“I’m not going to be a party rubber stamp,” he said. “But Democrats generally care about people first, and that’s a value I endorse.”

More information about the candidate is available via email at paulwalkerky@gmail.com and on his campaign website, http://www.votepaulwalker.com.

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.