Meet The Kentucky Math Teacher Who Just Toppled A Local Political Giant

"I don't see myself as a politician. I see myself as a servant."

High school math teacher Travis Brenda defeated Rep. Jonathan Shell last Tuesday in a primary election for the Kentucky House of Representatives's District 71.

Brenda has worked as a teacher for nearly 20 years in Kentucky's Rockcastle County. He said his decision to run for office was not based out of a love of politics but instead rooted in a prayer. 


"I really felt like it was a calling," Brenda told A Plus. "But this really all stemmed from a back to school prayer service in mid-August. A seed was planted and there was a specific prayer, prayed over me and then there was just a lot of confirmation." 

As Brenda continues to work full-time hours at his school, he said that he only had time to meet with voters in the evenings. But his message has clearly resonated.

"Luckily, I've had a lot of volunteers that have stepped up and knock on doors," he said. "Volunteers that have been willing to go out and help me."

Brenda was a prominent voice in advocating against a Kentucky pension reform bill in the state, which was passed by the state legislature in April. According to TIME, the bill was not made available to the public prior to its passage, and sparked a wave of teacher protests in Kentucky. Per a breakdown by The Lexington Herald-Leader, the bill's mandates include a delay on when Kentucky teachers become eligible for retirement benefits and a provision that lawmakers will be able to adjust their benefits as they see fit in the future.

Brenda told A Plus that the bill impacts everyone, from cafeteria workers to state employees. 

"I know there's been a lot of focus on teachers, but there's a lot a lot of people in the education profession besides teachers. Such as cafeteria staff, custodians, bus drivers, administration, office staff, and then all the other state employees as well. So I think we need to go back and look at that," Brenda said. 

It was the pension bill that made Kentucky education employees take to the streets — and encouraged Brenda to try and take Shell's seat. Shell is the majority leader of Kentucky's legislature, and was endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Brenda, who will face Democrat Mary Refro in November, says that he thinks that people from multiple background should be encouraged to run for office. 

"I think we've got too many career politicians that are looking to climb a political ladder. I'm not trying to climb the political ladder," he told A Plus. "I think that's how our forefathers wanted this country— that people from a wide variety of backgrounds would come together to decide on what's best."

Brenda has no personal political background. He's never run for office, but says he's voted every chance he had. Being a teacher has taught him to work with a variety of people, some of whom don't share his own opinions.

"Unfortunately across our country, not just in Kentucky, but across the country, we have too many people that are trying to hide behind a political label, but do not want to work with others that have different opinions," Brenda said. "The Bible says, 'come, let us reason together.' I think that's important that we can have different opinions, but still work together to reach a solution that is best for everyone."


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