Gov. Bevin appears to blame shooting on teacher sickout

By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s Republican governor on Thursday connected a young girl’s shooting with a school closing caused by teachers who called in sick to rally at the state Capitol, ramping up his feud with some education groups as he runs for reelection.

Teachers using sick days to mobilize at the statehouse — forcing some school districts to close — have become a frequent target of Gov. Matt Bevin. Last year, he asserted without evidence that a child who had been left home alone had been sexually assaulted on a day of mass school closings in Kentucky as teachers rallied. He later apologized.

On Thursday, in remarks to the Louisville Rotary Club, he appeared to double down on such connections.

Kentucky teachers rallied last year to oppose pension changes and to demand generous state funding for schools. Protests continued this year against some education measures. The demonstrations were part of a wave of teacher activism across the country that began last year in West Virginia and quickly spread to other states, including Oklahoma and Arizona.

Bevin’s comments connecting the 7-year-old girl’s shooting to a sickout by teachers came as he answered a question about how to reduce gun violence. He told a luncheon crowd that more needs to be done to promote gun safety.

“One thing you didn’t hear almost anything about is while we had people pretending to be sick when they weren’t sick, and leaving kids unattended to or in situations that they should not have been in, a little girl was shot … by another kid because they were somewhere that they weren’t intended to be because the parent didn’t have any option,” Bevin said.

The children were left “in a compromised situation where they encountered a gun and there was not enough awareness,” the governor said.

His remarks appeared to refer to a March shooting in a Louisville, Kentucky, suburb. The girl and her 11-year-old brother were in their home alone, while their uncle was outside, the Courier Journal reported. Police have said the girl’s brother found the gun after she was shot, but have not released further details about how the shooting happened, the newspaper reported.

Public schools in that county were closed on the day of the shooting due to a sickout as many teachers rallied at the Capitol in Frankfort.

Bevin’s comments — during a lengthy appearance in which he fielded questions about public pensions, health care, economic development and other issues — drew rapid-fire criticism from Democrats and a prominent education group.

“To politicize the tragic shooting of a child is beneath the dignity of the office Matt Bevin has rarely acted as if he holds,” the Kentucky Education Association, representing more than 40,000 active and retired educators statewide, tweeted.

Three Democrats running for governor this year quickly joined in.

Attorney General Andy Beshear said on Twitter that Bevin’s comments were “despicable” and that Bevin is “unfit to govern.” Former state auditor Adam Edelen tweeted: “There’s plainly something wrong with Matt Bevin. You don’t politicize the shooting of a child.” State House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins condemned Bevin for insulting and belittling teachers and vowed, if elected, to “return dignity and respect” to the governor’s office.

Bevin rebuked reporters for singling out the comments from his lengthy appearance in which he talked about many of the state’s pressing issues — including education, health care and funding woes for public pension.

“This is why our state is struggling is the fact that we’re not focusing on things that are important,” the governor said at the start of a question-and-answer session with reporters after his appearance.

Bevin’s approval ratings sank last year after he criticized teachers and other public employees who opposed his proposed changes to the public pension system. Kentucky’s public retirement plans are among the worst funded in the country, and teachers railed against changes he wanted to make to future benefits.

Some Republican strategists question whether Bevin’s criticism of teacher sickouts will hurt his reelection chances.

“There are scores of people out there who don’t get guaranteed pensions and are mightily inconvenienced when schools are closed abruptly,” GOP strategist Scott Jennings said recently. “They don’t have the luxury of calling in sick when they aren’t and would probably be fired for doing so.”

Bevin on Thursday defended his efforts to shore up public pension plans for teachers and other public employees. He noted that his grandmother was a public school teacher who relied on her pension in retirement.

“She would have been up a creek in every sense of that word … had it not been for this pension check that she got,” Bevin told the luncheon crowd. “It’s why I’m as passionate as I am” about the pension issue.

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