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GOP candidate's wife portrays rival's proposed pay raise for school personnel as unfeasible

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Makenze Cameron, the wife of Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron, dismissed the Democratic governor's proposal for an 11% pay raise for public school personnel as unfeasible as she promoted her husband's education plan during a campaign appearance Thursday.

Speaking at a “Moms for Cameron” event in Kentucky's largest city, Makenze Cameron chatted about motherhood, her husband, her faith and the frenzy of the campaign. She also delved into issues — especially pertaining to education, having formerly taught school for seven years.

Gov. Andy Beshear and state Attorney General Daniel Cameron have presented competing education plans, staking out positions on an overarching campaign issue.

Cameron pledged to boost starting teacher pay, saying the ripple effect would lift salaries for other teachers as well. Beshear upped the ante by proposing an 11% pay raise for teachers and all public school personnel, including bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria staff. He said it would amount to the single largest raise for Kentucky public school educators in at least 40 years.

When mentioning Beshear's proposed 11% raise, Makenze Cameron heard chuckling and responded: “You can find that laughable because we in this room know that he does not have the power to do that himself.”

She said her husband consulted with leaders of the state's GOP-dominated legislature before presenting his education plan and got a favorable response. Republicans point to the Democratic governor's strained relationship with GOP lawmakers in saying that Cameron would have a much better chance of getting his proposals passed.

Picking up on that theme Thursday, Makenze Cameron said: “These 11 percent raises, I would imagine, that’s not feasible. And he does not have the power to do that.”

Daniel Cameron gave an introductory speech but quipped that his role was as the “warm-up act.” Asked afterward if he agreed an 11% pay raise isn't feasible, Cameron said his wife's point was that he had essentially gained buy-in from key GOP lawmakers for his plan while the governor had not.

“He cannot get it done because he does not have the relationships,” Cameron said.

Beshear campaign spokesperson Alex Floyd responded that the governor's proposed 11% raise is needed to recruit and retain the best educators for Kentucky's children.

Kentucky ranks 44th nationally in average teacher starting pay and 40th in average teacher pay, Beshear has said, citing statistics from the National Education Association. An 11% raise — a $1.1 billion expense over two years — would vault Kentucky to the middle of the pack.

“Daniel Cameron’s campaign may think an 11% raise is infeasible, but Andy Beshear knows that fairly compensating our hard-working teachers is no laughing matter,” Floyd said.

With a record budget surplus and strong economy, the governor’s proposals are affordable with “plenty of space” to meet other demands, State Budget Director John Hicks has said.

Beshear also has pledged to keep pushing for state-funded pre-K for all 4-year-olds if he wins a second term in November. The governor said his plan would fully fund student transportation.

Cameron’s plan would focus on overcoming pandemic learning setbacks by developing an optional, 16-week tutoring program for math and reading instruction. Students falling behind grade level would get first priority. The proposal mirrors initiatives started by some school districts. Cameron’s plan also aims to bolster classroom discipline and reduce bureaucratic paperwork for teachers. He has proposed setting the statewide base starting pay for new teachers at $41,500.

“My message to teachers would be, ’You will get a raise if Daniel Cameron is governor. That will happen,'" Makenze Cameron said Thursday.

Beshear has said the average teacher starting salary in Kentucky is $38,010, based on NEA statistics. He said his proposal would raise that to $42,191.

Cameron's wife has taken on an increasing role as a campaign surrogate with the “Moms for Cameron” events. She made a strong pitch for her husband's candidacy while criticizing Beshear on a range of issues.

“I hear over and over from people, and I know you hear it too, ‘Andy Beshear is not that bad,’" she said. "I just encourage you to truly, truly look at his record. Truly look at what he has done in his three and a half years as governor.”

The governor's wife, Britainy Beshear, has had a visible role at times during the campaign. As first lady, she has been a steadfast advocate for children, including those of military personnel.

When tornadoes hit western Kentucky before Christmas 2021, she organized a toy drive for children in the devastated areas. She did the same to help children in eastern Kentucky following massive flooding in 2022. In both instances, toys and donations poured in from around the country.

The first lady also has supported domestic violence victims through the annual Shop and Share program. It helps domestic violence shelters statewide to have the resources and supplies needed to help survivors and their children be safe and help them rebuild their lives.