by Phillip M. Bailey, Louisville Courier Journal –
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is gunning against one of his own party’s nominees for a state House race in a ruby red Northern Kentucky district.
Attorney C. Ed Massey won the uncontested GOP primary for the House 66th District seat, which covers northern Boone County.
But Bevin is the special guest at a fundraiser for one of Massey’s opponents, independent Stacie Earl, who boasts that she is the “true conservative” in the fall election.
“I’m disappointed that as the Republican leader of our state and the leader of the Republican Party, he would elect to endorse an independent over a member of his own party,” Massey told the Courier Journal on Wednesday.
“However, I’m not surprised given the interaction he’s had with teachers and public education.”
Massey, who lives in Hebron, said he thinks Bevin administration officials recruited Earl to enter this race due in part to him being a longtime supporter of public education.
Earl did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Massey has served on the Boone County Board of Education for more than two decades. He has ties to several national education groups and is being endorsed by the political arm of the Kentucky Education Association, the statewide union that has been at odds with Bevin over pension reform.
Bevin should be applauded for trying to salvage Kentucky’s woefully underfunded retirement system, Massey said. But that the governor has “personally offended” him with a series of “incendiary” comments about teachers over the past several months.
“I think (Gov. Bevin) has extremist views when it comes to public education,” he said.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an email or phone call seeking comment for this report.
Bevin has showered teachers with a heap of criticism for standing up against plans to overhaul the state retirement system.
Just last month, in a Cincinnati radio show interview, he compared opponents of pension reform to “drowning victims” who refuse to be saved.
In April, when teachers swarmed Frankfort in protest, Bevin faced a national backlash when he told reporters that children were being sexually abused or had ingested poison because they were left unsupervised as educators were demonstrating at the capitol building.
“I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them,” Bevin said at the time. “I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were left alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them.”
State lawmakers in both parties took the extraordinary step of passing two resolutions condemning those remarks by the governor.
“I think it’s indicative of what’s coming up in the extremists of both parties,” Massey said. “We’ve lost civility, and we’ve lost the ability to keep our eye on the best interests of the commonwealth. It’s become more about what’s right for the party than what’s right for the commonwealth, and that bothers me.”
Earl, who also hails from Hebron, says on her campaign website that she is a former business owner who is ready to battle corruption. She said she first experienced that when trying to remove her daughter from a middle school program.
“I removed my child and home-schooled her, only to find that her education, in general was inadequate, especially when it came to civics and government (by design?!),” Earl said on her website.
Bevin’s decision to headline the fundraiser puts him at odds with the state GOP that he leads, but it fits in line with his history of bucking the party and criticizing other Republicans.
Scott Hofstra, a spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party, has been a Bevin supporter since he launched an unsuccessful insurgent bid against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014. He said Bevin’s entrance into the 66th District House race is a healthy reminder to grassroots conservatives that his values come before party politics.
In 2017, Bevin called out a group of GOP lawmakers, namely former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, a Jamestown Republican, over a confidential settlement with a woman on Hoover’s staff who accused him of sexual harassment.
Bevin supported a resolution at a state GOP meeting calling for Hoover and three other legislators to resign. The party voted that measure down after it was criticized by several House Republicans.
And in the final days of the 2018 legislative session Bevin vetoed the GOP-controlled legislature’s budget and tax reform plans before they rebuffed him with an override.
Hofstra said Bevin wants more allies like Earl, a small business owner, in the state legislature who will fully support his agenda.
“He needs people in the House who are conservative, who will see Kentucky’s future the way he sees it because right now, unfortunately, there are a lot of conservatives in the state House who are not conservative — not at all,” he said.
Part of the rift over the 66th District began in January, when incumbent Republican state Rep. Addia Wuchner, of Florence, surprised many when she didn’t seek re-election. She told constituents about that decision two hours before the filing deadline, which was around the same time Massey filed for the Republican nomination.
Wuchner was excoriated by GOP officials, who said she was handpicking a successor.
“It’s concerning that backroom deals get cut to allow somebody to not face the voters, not let other candidates get in the race,” Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer in January.
Wuchner did not immediately respond to a request for comment left with a spokeswoman.
Massey said Wuchner did call him ahead of the filing deadling to alert him about her decision. He said there was no prior agreement for him to be her successor, pointing out he ran against Wuchner in 2004.
Massey said Wuchner called other individuals about her decision as well. “I was the only one who stepped up,” he said.
Earl described the maneuver as an attempt to undermine Boone County voters, however. She used her Facebook page to discourage donors from giving to the local party in the weeks leading into the general election.
“Boone County Republican Party just decided to give dirty Ed money for his campaign, even though he stole the seat, without a single vote,” Earl said. “Is the Republican Party representing you?”
But Tres Watson, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky, downplayed the rift, saying the governor is appearing at Earl’s fundraiser as a private citizen rather than the state GOP leader.
“Gov. Bevin is a real Republican,” he said. “What makes the governor attractive to voters of both parties and independent voters is his passion. He wears his heart on his sleeve, his opinions on his sleeve and he’s not afraid to use the bully pulpit to make his voice heard.”
Watson said the party is behind Massey and remains confident he will win the election with the help of straight party voters considering the GOP’s strong registration numbers in Boone County.
Democrat Roberto Henriquez, Libertarian Lex Hannan and write-in candidate Brett Wesseling are also running for the seat.
This story is developing and will be updated.
Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at 502-582-4475 or email@example.com. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/philb.