FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Democrats seized on a social media attack on teachers by the Kentucky Republican Party that they say unmasks persistent GOP hostility toward educators.
The Kentucky Republican Party posted the social media attack Tuesday accusing teachers' unions of promoting “anti-American Greatness" in classrooms by wanting to keep schools closed because of the coronavirus.
The twitter post was soon deleted, but the state Democratic Party preserved it and said the tweet signaled that GOP attitudes toward public school teachers are more than just a “Bevin problem.”
The subject was fertile ground for Kentucky Democrats last year, when they criticized former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin for feuding with teachers over mass rallies they held for pension and public school funding that caused some schools to cancel classes. Bevin went on to lose the gubernatorial election to Democrat Andy Beshear, who built his campaign around support for public workers, especially public school teachers.
The state Republican Party posted the tweet Tuesday at a time when many Kentuckians are requesting absentee ballots for the November election because of the risks associated with public gatherings. The tweet blasted “radical teachers unions who promote anti-American Greatness in our classrooms and want to keep our schools shut."
The tweet said the unions have Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath and the national Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in “their back pocket."
McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, is challenging Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a big-spending showdown in November.
The Republican tweet added that students “MUST return to the classrooms safely!" It showed pictures of Biden, Harris and McGrath and said they “cower behind" the teachers' union.
State Democratic spokeswoman Marisa McNee said the tweet showed that Bevin “wasn’t an outlier, but rather a reflection of how Kentucky Republicans feel about our teachers and educators."
“While teachers are adapting their lessons on the fly, working to keep students fed and families safe, Kentucky Republicans are attacking them," she said in a statement.
In her response, McGrath said: “As a 20-year Marine and combat veteran, I know something about ’American greatness.”
Beshear said the attack stoked divisiveness during a public health crisis and came as teachers are busy providing distance learning to their students until schools reopen.
“Don’t attack our educators," Beshear said Tuesday. “And to try to make them sound like union thugs, first of all it’s wrong. Unions are made up of hard-working individuals, all of them out there.”
Teachers, he said, “are all-American, not anti-American."
A state GOP spokesman didn't respond to emails seeking comment.
Kentuckians will make their choices for president, Congress and the legislature in this year's election.
Beshear has urged Kentucky's schools districts to wait until Sept. 28 to resume in-person classes. Beshear, the father of two children, has called it a tough but necessary step to give the state more time to get the coronavirus under control.
McConnell has supported getting students back in the classrooms but in recent weeks has stressed that it's a decision local school boards should make.
“I don’t think our job in Washington is to tell schools whether to go back in person or operate remotely if they have that ability," McConnell said during one recent appearance in Kentucky.
McConnell has proposed allocating $105 billion nationally for education — K-12 schools and higher education — in the latest coronavirus-relief package proposed by GOP senators. Negotiations are stalemated between House Democrats and Senate Republicans on another round of aid.
So far, Kentucky has received more than $406 million for education from previous federal virus-related aid legislation that McConnell helped craft.
Teachers have become more vocal in flexing their collective political muscle in recent years.
Bevin’s approval ratings as governor sank 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 what they saw as limits being imposed on the benefits of future hires.
Teachers using sick days to mobilize at the statehouse — forcing some school districts to close — became his frequent target. At one point, he asserted without evidence that a child who had been left home alone had been sexually assaulted on a day when teachers' rallies prompted widespread school closings. He later apologized.