Gov. Matt Bevin

Just a day after apologizing to an audience of teachers in Murray, Ky., over his recent rhetoric criticizing them, Gov. Matt Bevin said in a radio interview Tuesday that teachers aggressively protesting his pension reform bill had a “thug mentality.”

Last week, Bevin faced a deluge of criticism on social media from teachers over a radio interview in which he called those protesting the pension bill “remarkably selfish and shortsighted,” comparing their opposition to unpatriotic Americans hoarding rationed goods during World War II. The governor accused these teachers of “throwing a temper tantrum” and added that “you can’t win an argument with an ignorant person.”

Republican legislators openly criticized Bevin’s stance toward teachers, with several saying that it crippled the chances of the stalled pension bill passing during the current session of the General Assembly, which ends later this month.

Bevin attempted to mend fences and plead his case for the pension bill in a Facebook video last weekend, which still drew more criticism, and then was confronted by frustrated teachers at the event in Murray on Monday.

According to WKMS, elementary school teacher Gina Crider asked Bevin to make a pledge to “clean up” his rhetoric about teachers, with the governor saying that he was “truly sorry” for any unintentional hurt caused by his statements, calling it a “misunderstanding.” Bevin then asked teachers to take a similar pledge to clean up their rhetoric on social media.

But just a day later, in an interview on WKCT in Bowling Green, Bevin once again entered the fray with provocative criticisms.

Referring to teachers in the Senate gallery who booed Sen. Joe Bowen, the Republican sponsor of the pension bill, and those who he said had picketed the business of Bowen, Bevin said, “That’s the kind of thug mentality that’s being dealt with.”

Asserting that protesting teachers don’t give him credit for being the first governor in over a decade to fully fund pension plans, Bevin asked, “How do you possibly make progress with people who either don’t understand what’s being said to them, or don’t care?”

Bevin then aimed his focus on the Kentucky Education Association — the largest teachers’ union in the state — saying that pension reform is a threat to their power and money, as they’ve invested in candidates who have ignored the pension crisis. He added that “maybe it’s a union tactic to make the teachers dependent on them, and not on their own savings.”

Asked about the wave of criticism and the political hit he’s taken over the pension bill, Bevin said that is what happens when you take on large problems like the state’s pension system that have been long neglected, adding that, “I don’t care about the political ramifications of it at all.”

Bevin said that politicians who stand up and make the tough choices usually increase their chances of being reelected, “because 90 percent of people may be quiet in times like this, but they still vote, and they want to see progress made, they want to see things being done. I don’t worry about it at all, and other people shouldn’t either. The best thing you can do is just stay off social media and ignore the crazies.”

The governor also targeted school systems that have chosen to close schools on certain days so teachers can come to Frankfort and protest, saying that parents of those schools should be angry at their “hypocrisy.”

A spokesman for the KEA said that the teachers’ union would have no comment about Bevin’s latest comments.

At the event in Murray on Tuesday, WKMS also reported that Bevin stood by his statement from last week that “teachers are the only people to get raises after they retire” by receiving cost-of-living adjustments, even though the teachers present pointed out that anyone on Social Security — which teachers in Kentucky are not eligible for — gets the same adjustments. Bevin also continued his rejection of calls for more revenue to be created for the pension system by expanding casino gaming and legalizing marijuana.

Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, told Insider Louisville in a statement that “the Governor’s attitude displays a deep disrespect for teachers and other education employees when he clearly views anyone with a different opinion from his as being ‘ignorant’ or ‘crazy.’

McKim added that in Bevin’s two recent radio interviews, “it was the Governor himself who demonstrated a lack of understanding of the issues,” including his claims that no one except for teachers gets cost-of-living increases after retirement and that teachers’ salaries in Kentucky are higher than all of its surrounding states.

This story has been updated with reaction from the KEA and JCTA.

 

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]


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