By Jim Waters | Bluegrass Institute

Jim Waters | Bluegrass Institute
Jim Waters | Bluegrass Institute

Unusual antics occurring on the campaign trail these days include a bizarre race to choose the next president of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), the state’s teachers’ union.

When’s the last time you heard a KEA candidate ask: “Why does KEA oppose transparency?”

Randolph Wieck, a history teacher at Louisville’s DuPont Manual High School, did so in challenging incumbent union boss Stephanie Winkler in the current edition of KEA News by making his entire statement about the sinking Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS).

Winkler didn’t say a word about the dilemma, beaming instead on Page 4 about how “our membership, leadership and political activism are growing by leaps and bounds every day” while Wieck warned on Page 5: “Your pension is rapidly being drained away.”

He in many ways falls into the same trap as many of his cohorts in the union and legislature by laying too much blame for KTRS’s decline on underfunding while failing to recognize the unsustainability of a pension plan bestowing such lavish benefits.

But he rightly – and very much unlike his union chums – offers a clear and convincing connection between making KTRS more transparent and solving the growing crisis of the entire system he reminds is “at 37% funding (assets/debts) – LOWEST in the U.S.”

Noting that “KTRS has lost 20% of its value in the last three years,” Wieck, who’s filed a federal lawsuit against the KTRS, pummels the record of both the state union and Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA). 

“Current KEA/JCTA leadership – through limp, ineffective action – are killing your retirement pension,” he leveled.

Whoa! Has Donald Trump found a running mate? Would he be open to adding a union sympathizer who claims to have a degree from the London School of Economics to the GOP ticket?

A better question: If a KEA presidential candidate connects more transparency with meaningful reforms to keep retirement plans from imploding, and if the state Senate unanimously passes bill after bill year after year – including during the current legislative session – why do union bosses like Winkler and JCTA chief Brent McKim continue to protect Democratic house leaders who declare shine-the-light bills dead on arrival?

Don’t enquiring union-members’ minds also want to know – as Senate Bill 2 requires be divulged – how fees for investing and managing their retirement funds, which can approach $100 million during some years, are spent, including how the asset managers – recipients of those fees – are selected?

They do, but it doesn’t seem to matter when the antiquated House Democratic leadership digs in against any form of transparency.

Political antique Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, refuses to allow pension-transparency bills to even get a hearing in the House State Government Committee he chairs and to which such legislation is assigned.

“Any bill that passes 38-0 out of the Senate needs to be heard in committee,” said Chris Tobe, public-pension consultant and former Kentucky Retirement Systems trustee. “Vote against the bill if you want to, but it needs to be heard in committee and you need to be on the record about it.”

It’s also peculiar that Yonts opposes such an approach when it’s so strongly supported even by fellow Democratic Rep. Jim Wayne, arguably the House’s most liberal member and biggest government sympathizer.

Add to the growing list of strange happenings inside Kentucky these days the fact that a recent JCTA flyer expressed support for hedge-fund managers, who also don’t want investment fee information made public.

A teachers’ union joining forces with Wall Street to oppose transparency legislation approved unanimously by Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate and vigorously supported by the most liberal member of their own House?

The only way things could possibly get more bizarre is if Trump hired Bernie Sanders and put him in charge of shrinking the size, spending and scope of the U.S. government.

About the author: Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at [email protected] Read previously published columns at