OWENSBORO, Ky. — He's the man behind the notorious sewer bill that became a pension reform and the reason many say teachers have no trust in Frankfort. Now, former Kentucky Senator Joe Bowen says he would do it all again and he thinks the sick-outs set a dangerous precedent.
A year ago, Joe Bowen's SB 151 became "Exhibit A" in why some distrust how politics works. The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed, tossing the plan, but in the past two weeks teachers and lawmakers have sited the bill as a reason why protesters distrust legislators. It was almost as though a ghost haunted the General Assembly.
"I'm not a ghost," Joe Bowen said.
While he may not be a ghost, Bowen can no longer be found in Frankfort. Instead, Bowen is back home in Owensboro, behind the mic of the newly launched "Inside the Circus" podcast with former State Representative Jim Decesare.
Their podcast has four pillars: inform, educate, entertain and expose hypocrisy on a state and local level, and an episode released today takes on the teacher sick-outs.
"This wasn't about pensions or paychecks," Bowen said. “It was really about other education issues, yet the teachers marched on Frankfort. So I think that is setting pretty bad precedent.”
The Republican from Owensboro said he questions whether teachers will call for a sick-out any time an education bill is brought up at the Capitol.
"They stymied the process which, I think, is unfortunate but it was effective for them," Bowen said.
Still, Bowen said he thinks demonstrators may have won the battle but lost the war as the pension crisis continues. He insists that they'll have to reconsider SB 151 because it was necessary to get the state out of the hole it's in.
“It made the necessary structural changes and it provided for a funding plan to get us out of that pension debt," Bowen said.
When asked whether he realized that many look back at his move in 2018 as one of the dirtiest political tricks in Kentucky history, Bowen said people may want to look at how other bills are passed.
“Perhaps they do [believe it was dirty], but in doing that they've overlooked a way that a lot of other important bills have been passed," Bowen said.
Bowen said the bill did not ruin trust between teachers and legislators like some in Frankfort have said this legislative session, instead he said he was doing what had to be done.
“I didn't ruin the trust, no," Bowen said. "What I tried to do was solve a problem, plain and simple.”
Bowen insists that he would do it all over again.