Corbin attorney Stefanie Ebbens Kingsley hasn’t focused too much on party politics as a candidate for 82nd District State Representative. Instead, she’s taken a very practical approach in order to sway voters in November — focusing on bread-and-butter issues that are a concern to all working families.
“The left has gone too far left, and the right as gone too far right. About 40 percent of the country is smashed in the middle and has nobody to speak for them,” said Kingsley, a Democrat running for office in a Republican stronghold.
“If you like what I stand for, what’s it matter the letter behind my name?”
Kingsley seems squarely focused on economic issues and fair treatment of workers, which she said is often in short supply. Her background shows a commitment to the cause.
Born in Wisconsin, Kingsley attended the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee as an undergraduate, and completed law school at Marquette University. Immediately, she said she began to put her law degree to use to help the poor and disadvantaged.
Kingsley served as a clerk for AppalReD Legal Aid; an organization that provides free civil defense for “the poor and vulnerable in eastern and south central Kentucky.” The organization covers 37 of the state’s easternmost counties. Eventually, at just 25-years-old, she was given the task of managing the group’s Prestonsburg office.
After working for AppalReD for a decade, she worked for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway for a year in the Office of Rate Intervention — a watchdog for consumers in matters relating to health insurance and utilities.
“I learned so much in those years,” Kingsley said.
“I am very frustrated with the fact that government seems to forget its job is to make people’s lives easier … Having been a poverty advocate for a decade, I see lots of ways we can improve everyday lives without making it harder.”
If elected, Kingsley said her first priority would be to limit the extent to which employers could use agencies to hire temporary workers, and put a tighter cap on the length of time companies can keep workers as temporary employees.
“You’ve got some industries that keep them on temporary wage for a year, two years, three years … you’ve got folks that don’t feel like they are being treated fairly because they are getting a different rate of pay than what they were told,” Kingsley said.
“The idea that we are just going to pay workers as little as we can, I think that is immoral. I think you should pay people fair wages for the work they do.”
Kingsley also said tax reform in the state is important, but should be done in a way that eases the burden on middle-class individuals, and closes loopholes that benefit the wealthy.
“The middle class pays the largest percentage of income taxes and service taxes. We give away more taxes than we bring in, and the middle class pays more than their fair share,” Kingsley said. “Right now, we are giving away $500,000 million to the richest Kentuckians. That’s just not fair.”
The 2018 session of the General Assembly was a particularly nasty and contentious affair mainly due to some changes in the pension system for state employees. Kentucky’s public employee pension system is the worst funded in America.
Kingsley said she felt like public school teachers, in particular, were devalued by some of the nasty rhetoric during the debate, and the way the legislative changes were handled.
“You have folks who plan their whole financial lives around that. When you go changing the game on them, it’s not fair. It’s not a position we should be advocating for,” she said.
“I felt like the current [state] Board of Education and governor disrespected teachers.”
Similarly, she said changes in Worker’s Compensation benefits, new hurdles to benefits for miners with Black Lung, and other legislative changes have negatively impacted workers.
“People feel like it’s a respect issue. What they’ve worked hard for is being changed before their eyes.”
Kingsley moved to Corbin after getting married in 2012. Her husband is a native of the area. The two live on a farm in Whitley County.
She said many things attracted her to Corbin: it’s vibrant downtown, excellent school system and positive, progressive local culture.
Kingsley was deeply critical of legislation introduced and passed on four occasions by Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), whose Senate District includes the city, that changed a law that would have allowed Corbin taxpayers to claim a credit against occupational taxes paid to Knox County.
“At a certain point, somebody has to stand up to Robert Stivers and say you cannot continue to steal our money,” Kingsley said.
“Can you imagine what Corbin could do with a million dollars? Somebody has to stand up and say this isn’t fair. This singles out one municipality. At some point, the backroom deals and good old boy network has to end.”
Kingsley said she’s not blind to the fact that winning in a district where Republicans are heavily favored is an uphill battle, but said she’s trying to focus on issues over political allegiances, and said she’s willing to vote against the party line if it benefits the 82nd District.
“Party is a big part of what is wrong with politics right now,” Kingsley said. “We need to get back to the hard work of governing.”