FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democrats running for Kentucky governor have turned Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's feud with some teachers' groups into a frequent attack line against the incumbent.
With political activism surging among teachers, courting their support has been a priority leading up to the May 21 primary. Each of the leading Democrats claims to be the education champion, and now Adam Edelen has picked up a key endorsement.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association says it's backing Edelen for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The influential group is from Kentucky's most populous county and a Democratic stronghold.
Edelen called the endorsement a "game-changing moment."
"This is a big deal because what it speaks to is the understanding of teachers that we've got to have a governor who has an agenda for education beyond just preserving our pensions," Edelen, a former state auditor, said in a video. "We've got to keep the pension promise, and I'll do that as governor. But keeping it doesn't change the fact that every schoolteacher I know spends money out of their pocket buying materials for our kids."
Two other Democrats running for governor — Attorney General Andy Beshear and House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins — tout their own credentials in supporting public education.
Beshear was asked Monday in Louisville if he was surprised by the Jefferson County endorsement. He replied: "I didn't even know that they were endorsing, but at the end of the day, I fight for our classroom teachers and I think they see it."
Beshear has taken up legal fights against Bevin actions opposed by teachers and stood with them when they descended on the Capitol to protest changes to state pensions.
Adkins is backed by a statewide group called "Educators for Rocky" with more than 3,600 members. His first TV ad shows him giving a thumbs-up to a crowd of teachers at a statehouse rally.
Teachers in Jefferson County and other districts have used sick days to close schools in protest of pension and education bills. Bevin said recently that teachers who called in sick were "walking out on students, leaving them in the lurch." The protests came amid a wave of teacher activism across the country that began last year in West Virginia and spread to other states.
Last year, thousands of teachers closed schools across Kentucky to demand generous state funding for schools and to decry pension changes they said would discourage people from entering the profession. On one day of mass closings, Bevin asserted without evidence that a child left home alone had been sexually assaulted somewhere in Kentucky. He later apologized.
The pension law signed by Bevin was struck down by Kentucky's Supreme Court last year on procedural grounds. Beshear filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling.
Teachers staged more rallies this year to speak out against education bills.
Beshear also has called on Bevin's administration to rescind subpoenas sent recently to several school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools. The subpoenas seek the names of teachers who might have used sick days that shut down schools when they attended statehouse rallies. Beshear has threatened to sue if the subpoenas aren't rescinded.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Education Association's political action committee has said it will not make endorsements in the primary. It's urging educators to work on behalf of their preferred candidates. KEA represents more than 40,000 active and retired educators statewide.
Looking ahead to the fall campaign, the committee's chair, Patty Evans, said: "Rather than splinter our membership, the state KEPAC committee will meet after the May primary to bring a recommendation for the November election."
The other Democrat running for governor is frequent candidate Geoff Young. Bevin's GOP challengers in the primary are state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods and Ike Lawrence.