LANCASTER, Ky. (AP) — A high school math teacher defeated the Republican majority leader of the Kentucky House of Representatives on Tuesday in a primary election following waves of education protests at state Capitols.
Travis Brenda narrowly defeated state Rep. Jonathan Shell, who two years ago was credited with helping orchestrate the first GOP takeover of the Kentucky House of Representatives in nearly 100 years.
But voters turned on Shell for his role in writing a new state law that moved all future teachers into a hybrid pension system. Lawmakers passed it on one of the last days of the legislative session, hurrying it through the process so fast that it was never available for the public to read before the vote.
The bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, prompted thousands of teachers to march on Kentucky’s Capitol, closing schools in more than 30 districts.
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“He lied to us,” said Carol Plummer, a school bus driver in Garrard County where Shell lives. “I hope it sends a message.”
Shell did not answer a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The election result is a warning to other Republican lawmakers on the ballot in November, where dozens more teachers are mounting challenges, mostly as Democrats.
Shell was one of four Republican incumbents facing a primary challenge from a teacher on Tuesday. Shell was the only one to lose. But he was the only one of the four to vote for the pension bill.
At least 40 current or former educators are seeking seats in the state legislature this year. Tuesday, 16 of them had primary elections. Of those, seven won or were leading late Tuesday night.
“They picked on the wrong group,” Brenda said. “Not just the educators but all state employees are rising up and we’re not going to let things be done to us.”
Elsewhere, Republican state Rep. Michael Meredith won the GOP nomination in House district 19 despite being one of four lawmakers to sign a secret sexual harassment settlement last year.
Of the four lawmakers who signed the settlement, Meredith was the only one facing a primary challenge. Two did not run for re-election. A third, former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, is unopposed.
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against Meredith last month.
A fifth Republican lawmaker, Rep. Jim Stewart, came under scrutiny in March when a memo surfaced detailing harassment allegations against him from 2015. But Stewart won the GOP nomination in House district 86 with 71 percent of the vote.
Other incumbents to lose on Tuesday included Republican state Rep. Wesley Morgan in House district 81, Republican state Rep. Tim Couch in House district 90 and Democratic state Rep. Dennis Horlander in House district 40.