November 07, 2019

Learning from Kentucky

The victory of Andy Beshear over Matt Bevin in the Kentucky governor's race has gotten nationwide attention. For good reasons. There are two key factors that seemed to tip the balance--and two kinds of constituencies that, if united in solidarity, could kick up all kinds of dust.

First, it almost never pays to antagonize public school teachers and support workers, as this Huffington Post item reminds us. I'm proud of the West Virginia education workers who helped inspire their Kentucky colleagues. I still love that picture of someone in Kentucky holding a sign that said, "Don't make us go West Virginia on you."

I hope West Virginia school workers in turn follow their example in showing up and voting next year.

But it wasn't just the teachers in Kentucky that made a difference. The other major factor was Medicaid expansion. Andy Beshear's father Steve expanded the program to low income working adults when he was governor. That decision brought coverage to 400,000 adult Kentuckians.
It also opened up the way to addiction treatment, as I mentioned in this 2017 post, which refers to
a 740 percent increase in substance abuse services since the expansion.

In addition to dissing teachers, Bevin also proposed draconian reporting requirements (disguised as work requirements) that would have cut off health care for tens of thousands of Kentuckians who gained from the expansion and taken millions of dollars out of the states economy.

As this article in The Hill notes, Andy Beshear specifically campaigned on defending the expansion and rescinding Bevin's attack on the program.

I don't think either the teachers and school support workers or the people who wanted to defend Medicaid could have done it alone. I'm not sure how consciously it happened, but together they did.

That kind of bridging solidarity takes some work. I've heard poor peoples' advocates say disparaging things about teachers and vice versa. It can amount to divide and rule from below, a luxury we can't afford now and one that never did us any good.

I think it comes down to this: over the last few decades wealth and power have been concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. We're not just talking about the richest one percent. It's more like the richest one-tenth of a percent.

The majority of the population, therefore, does not greatly benefit by the existing division of wealth and power and thus at least potentially could benefit from and support a more equitable arrangement, whatever differences there are between us.

Imagine what might be possible if we got really good at consciously reaching out in solidarity, joining forces and showing up for each other.

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