by Daniel Lowry
When workers packed the rotunda and halls of the capitol on Saturday, Jan. 7, the noise reverberated through both the Senate and House chambers. It was clear they were upset. Right to work and the repeal of prevailing wage were threatening their livelihoods, and they wanted to make their voices heard.
The Republican majority members and Gov. Matt Bevin were so anxious to pass these bills, they had declared them an “emergency” and were ready to spend about $70,000 in taxpayer dollars just to have an extra legislative day on the weekend to get the bills passed by Gov. Bevin’s birthday on Monday. Republican lawmakers limited debate and fast-tracked the bills so much that legislators didn’t have time to read all the details.
Working people had been locked out of committee hearings on the anti-worker legislation, with the seats taken by members of Americans for Prosperity, a GOP special interest group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers from Kansas. State Police blocked workers from getting too close to the chambers, forming a line on the steps from the rotunda.
But, by all accounts, despite their noise, the protesters were peaceful and respectful. The same was true for the workers in the gallery of the House of Representatives, who applauded and booed at times, but remained seated and orderly.
Just before noon, Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, spoke on the floor about the anti-worker legislation. “I stand in support of those voices that you hear out there,” he said with his voice booming in the chamber. “I will never cast a vote that I know will drive down wages of the hard-working middle class.” When he finished, the workers in the gallery burst into thunderous applause.
Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, hammered the gavel. After the applause had ended and Hoover recognized fellow Republican Stan Lee, a woman’s single, clear voice shot through the chamber: “The GOP hates labor!”
Speaker Hoover slammed down the gavel a couple of times and thrust his other hand in the air once, sticking out his index finger in a gesture to the Kentucky State Police to eject the person who had made the comment. He had made no warning to gallery members before that point.
State troopers came to Nema Brewer and told her she had to leave.
It wasn’t over. Rep. Stan Lee refused to let it go. He claimed that the lady was wrong, and the GOP doesn’t hate labor. “I want to dispel what the lady in the gallery said. That’s just not true.” Then the gallery members booed and yelled, “Liar!” Hoover hit the gavel a few more times and Lee continued.
When Rep. Lee finished, there were more boos from the working people in the gallery. At that point, Speaker Hoover warned the gallery that anyone speaking loudly would be removed. “Otherwise,” said Speaker Hoover, “We welcome you and appreciate you being here.”
Nema Brewer and her father had been escorted out. Brewer said she didn’t mind getting thrown out for standing up against anti-worker legislation. “I’d do it again tomorrow,” she said. “I did that for my dad, who was with me. He was a coal miner, and literally broke his back in the mines. The whole time I listened to what was happening I was getting madder. I wanted to rise up and say what I felt.”
The state trooper who escorted her out apologized, but told her if she didn’t go quietly she could be arrested for disorderly conduct.
Nema Brewer and her dad both left the chamber. She wasn’t upset. “You can’t do to me worse than you’ve done to labor.”
But Nema Brewer isn’t giving up. “I’ll be back,” she says. “I live in Lexington now, but I’m from Letcher County. We don’t back down. I am a working mom. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.”
The Republicans may have thrown Nema Brewer out of the “People’s House” – they may have taken action to pick her pocket with lower wages, they may have bowed to the Koch brothers and corporate greed, but Nema Brewer will not go silently into that good night.
No, she will rise up. She will make her voice be heard, and the GOP better get used to it. The workers of Kentucky are with her, and they are not happy.