Candidates with strong ties to education face off for open House seat months after teacher protests in Frankfort

A pension rally in Frankfort earlier this year.
A pension rally in Frankfort earlier this year.(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Nov. 5, 2018 at 6:57 PM EST
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Teachers upset with a Republican effort to turn a sewer bill into a pension bill in just hours marched on the state capitol last spring vowing to change it.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Teachers upset with a Republican effort to turn a sewer bill into a pension bill in just hours marched on the state capitol last spring vowing to change it at the polls.

Election Day is Tuesday and some are expecting educators to show up in full force.

In the race for the open House District 35 seat, two candidates with strong ties to education are running, and they said teachers want their voices to be heard.

The call was- “we’ll remember in November” when teachers protested in Frankfort in response to the last legislative session.

Now, a wave of educators are hoping to nab a seat inside.

The Kentucky Education Association said 51 active and retired educators are running for the General Assembly this year.

“We’ve seen a much bigger increase in educators running for office this election cycle than in the past," KEA President Stephanie Winkler said. "The number is even more impressive when you count those educators who ran in primaries and are running for other local offices."

Donna Lawlor is on pension, a member of the KEA- and the Republican for House District 35.

"I receive a pension," Lawlor said. "I have a dog in the fight. I wan't to see some common sense in government."

Lawlor said she doesn't want to see the state pension go away, but said she thinks that departing from current pension proposals may not be the wisest idea.

"We want to keep our promises, but we can't promise what is not existent either," Lawlor said.

Lawlor said she's worked for Bullitt County Schools and other schools surrounding the metro area.

Her opponent, Democrat Lisa Willner, is a psychologist elected to the Jefferson County School Board in 2014, and she disagrees.

"We really need to change the culture in Frankfort," Willner said. "Folks are tired of the toxic environment."

Willner’s website states she strongly opposes Governor Bevin’s pension plan and Senate Bill 1.

Willner said her record as a school board member shows her strong commitment to public education.

“I believe that commitment, that stance, has resonated with the voters of the district,” Willner said.

As the Kentucky Supreme Court makes a decision over the semantics of whether SB 151 was read enough times, under the proper headings and passed constitutionally, Lawlor said her ESL and ASL teacher background could be valuable as a lawmaker.

"Because I'm a linguistic specialist, I can look at the language in the bills and see what its saying," Lawlor said.

Regardless, both can agree, even if for different reasons, teachers will be at the polls.

"They will be a force in this election," Willner said.

Lawlor said being a teacher she believes that first hand.

"They are that riled up," Lawlor said. "I'm wearing my red because I'm red for education. I am an educator."

House District 35 was held by Representative Jim Wayne for decades. Wayne was one of the most outspoken critics of SB 151.

Willner states she opposes charter schools and a state takeover of JCPS.

On other issues, Lawlor said she wants more to be done to help the deaf community, adding she is supported by anti-abortion groups and the NRA.

Willner said, specifically, she isn't seeking an NRA endorsement and that guns don't have a place in schools.

She also supports universal single-payer healthcare at the federal level.

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