Kentucky Math Teacher Upsets State House Majority Leader in Primary

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He spoke to his wife, Judy, and their two children, Ashley and Benjamin, who all expressed support for his political ambitions. On January 17, he filed as a Republican in District 71, which includes parts of Madison County and all of Garrard and Rockcastle counties. He announced his candidacy on Facebook, and received little attention beyond his campaign page.

The odds were stacked against him. Leading up to Tuesday’s primary, Mr. Shell had a huge financial advantage. His campaign had raised $131,200, while Mr. Brenda had $16,100, according to state records.

At 30, Mr. Shell, a farmer, was among the youngest members of the Kentucky General Assembly and had strong support among his peers, who named him the House majority leader in 2017. Last year, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, called him “one of the most important Republicans in Kentucky.”

Then, as Mr. Brenda puts it, there was an awakening.

Teachers in Kentucky had watched as their peers in other states, upset about years of budget cuts, stormed out of classrooms and into the rotundas and grounds of State Capitols.

On March 29, Mr. Shell gave Kentucky teachers reason to pay attention. He helped write legislation to rework the state’s struggling pension system, which would affect educators and other public employees. It was introduced and approved in the State House on the same day — leaving no time for a public reading or to receive public input.

For current teachers, the pension bill placed a limit on the number of sick days that could be saved and used to increase retirement benefits. The most significant changes affect future teachers, whose pensions would be part of a new retirement plan and require them to work longer before receiving payments. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed it into law on April 10.

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