“Guess they were just stringing some of us naïve…retired teachers along,” a friend of mine mused in an email to me.

His state senator and state representative had promised his local retired teachers’ group that they’d never vote for a pension “reform” bill that would hurt teachers.

Then they did.

Friends don’t say, “I-told-you-so” to friends. So I didn’t.


Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who opposed the pension legislation, shouted from the House floor that the bill is illegal. Attorney Gen. Andy Beshear agrees and vows to sue if Gov. Matt Bevin signs the bill.

Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, a lawyer, also doubts the measure’s legality. “Republicans snuck a so-called ‘pension overhaul’ into an unrelated sewage bill (SB 151) – which is fitting, considering how slimy this process has been,” jabbed a fund-raising email from Thomas, who is running for Congress.

“What do I care about the law?” harrumphed Cornelius Vanderbilt, the 19th century Robber Baron. “Hain’t I got the power?”

The Republicans have the power, and they used it, bare-knuckles. The millionaire commodore would be popping his buttons with pride.

Last year, we—trade unionists—were in the GOP’s crosshairs. Cheered on by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, GOP lawmakers passed a “right to work” law and a measure to repeal the prevailing wage.

This year, public employees, including teachers, had the targets on their backs. (The Republicans weren’t through with us either. They finished up where they left off in 2017, gutting the state workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance programs.)

True, a handful of Republicans stood with us last year. A few more refused to hop on the workers’ comp and pension-busting bandwagons.

Lurking behind all this anti-worker legislation is a painfully inconvenient truth: Some of my union brothers and sisters helped put the Republicans in charge in Frankfort. Some teachers did likewise.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” the cartoon character Pogo famously observed.

I don’t know who first admonished, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” In the case of union members and teachers voting Republican, it ought to be “Fool me once, shame on me.”

When he ran for governor, Bevin didn’t hide his anti-union agenda. He was gung-ho for “right to work” and for axing the prevailing wage. So was almost every Republican on the ballot in 2016, when the GOP flipped the House, our firewall against an anti-labor onslaught.

Too, Bevin and most Republicans didn’t mask their anti-public education agenda. They touted vouchers and charter schools—his GOP-majority legislature delivered on the latter. Bevin also called for pension “reform”—meaning benefit cuts and privatization—on the gubernatorial campaign trail.

Bevin is still lambasting teachers and the Kentucky Education Association.

The two lawmakers from my friend’s neck of the Bluegrass State woods aren’t the only Republicans who professed to march to their own drummer when they were back home facing angry teachers and other public employees.

But the pension bill is more proof—as if proof were needed—that when Republicans are in the Capitol in Frankfort, most of them step smartly to the beat of the party brass and big donors.


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.