It’s possible that Amy Guyton might be my new best friend and she should be yours too. Speaking with her about The Kentucky Initiative, Guyton is a beacon of hope in dark times, a staunch defender of the democratic shared voice that we all have. With no background in politics, but a fire in her stomach, Guyton helped form the Kentucky Initiative, a grassroots organization aimed at progressive reform in the state. Through their endeavors, Guyton and company hope to keep politicians honest and pressure people in authority to work in service to their constituents, and not just the people holding the purse strings. It’s an inspiring message and one that warms our hearts here, for certain.
We caught up with Guyton to get the details on The Kentucky Initiative, money in politics, and what a good candidate might look like!
Never Nervous: Before we get into the Kentucky Initiative, what can you tell us about yourself?
Amy Guyton: I have run a small business for 14 years. I prefer to keep that separate from my political work simply, because my office is a neutral zone. I have a background in exercise physiology and have combined that with orthopedic massage and corrective stretching/strengthening to help people with acute/chronic pain patterns. Outside of work, you can find me at the Parklands with binoculars. I am novice birder and a big nature lover. And to make life real interesting, Nov 1st of last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, it was caught relatively early and I will make a full recovery. It made me realize how much universal health care is a necessity. The diagnosis was a total life altering moment. No doubt.
NN: What’s your background?
AG: My background in politics? Absolutely no background in politics. This last year has been an accelerated version of a self-induced internship or radical immersion. I am a quick learner, thankfully. I was a life-long registered Independent. I changed my registration, so I could vote for Bernie in the primary in ‘16. My first primary, ever. I have been a Bernie fan for over a decade. His message has moved me for a long time and I was compelled to get involved because doing nothing was no longer an option.
NN: How did you get involved in the initiative? How did the Kentucky Initiative start?
AG: I started the Initiative after the 2 unnatural disasters: Bevin being elected then 45. The visceral gut punch both times was almost too much to bear. And I did a lot of digging into KY politics and the state of the Dem party. And well. There is a lot of work to be done. Representative Marzian and Senator McGarvey had an event on Jan 14, 2017. This is after the session had started with the fresh new super majority in Frankfort. They had already passed Right to Work and the ultrasound bill among other terrible legislation. Mary Lou gave an impassioned plea to get involved and said we had to get the House back. It moved me deeply. So, I started researching and found that in 2016 alone, 25 districts out of 100 did not even run Democrat. Many of these districts have not run a Dem in many cycles. And what really blew my mind is that 3 Jefferson Co districts didn’t run a Dem which I found totally unacceptable.
“I started the Initiative after the 2 unnatural disasters: Bevin being elected then 45. The visceral gut punch both times was almost too much to bear.”
NN: Is it at all tied to our current administration?
AG: Yes, it is tied to the Bevin circus. While everyone else rushed to do Indivisible to fight/resist 45 and DC, I thought to myself that we need to do that here locally. We have more power and the ability to change things locally. The more I do this work the more I absolutely believe that we can make powerful changes closer to home. Plus, what comes after all the resisting and marches? Electoral change. This is one of the goals. So, I have dedicated this last year to this mission. Channeling the resistance energy into electoral changed directly targeted at the KY House of Reps.
NN: For anyone that might not know, what is a PAC?
AG: In KY, a PAC is called a “permanent action committee”. We are only a KY PAC with no federal designation. The application requires a sponsor. Sponsors are usually titans of industry like coal or chamber of commerce types. Our sponsor? “concerned citizens”
NN: What does it do?
AG: We cannot coordinate with candidates. But, we can support candidates and platforms. We can also oppose candidates and platforms, with a vengeance. We will be doing both of these things. The most we can accept from any one donor is $2000 annually. And we do not accept anonymous donations or money from corporations. We have recently filed for a 527 status, which allows us to take larger donations.
We still have committed to not taking anonymous donations or corporate money. Our job is to basically saturate candidate’s districts on social media or on the ground. We are like ninjas doing the supporting and or opposition work silently via Facebook targeting, etc. Our mission is also to force the Republicans to bleed out money. They haven’t had to meaningfully spend money or canvas or connect in areas like NKY for the last decade. For every dollar, we spend we expect them to spend $3. Essentially, make them actually work for it instead of having the pleasure of just waltzing into office.
“We cannot coordinate with candidates. But, we can support candidates and platforms. We can also oppose candidates and platforms, with a vengeance. We will be doing both of these things.”
NN: What does the motto “people before politics” mean?
AG: So, we all know about the Koch Bros. at this point and the arm of the Kochtopus which is ALEC. ALEC pushes canned legislation; a perfect example is Right to Work. This legislation is simply putting corporate greed ahead of the betterment of working people. The Republicans toe party line and take their marching orders from ALEC. I find this fascinating because the party of less government seems to not be living up to their own rhetoric. Case and point – women’s repro rights (or lack thereof). It is hard to understand so much of the legislation being jammed through that is simply not good for most Kentuckians, especially the working class and working poor. The needs of the people should come before politics. So much of what Bevin is trying to do is simply not good for KY. The politics scorecard, the ultimate manipulation and thirst for power comes before the needs of constituents.
NN: What does it mean to be a good candidate?
AG: Passion. Level headed determination. A sense of humor. Good solid trusted people around you. A strong root system in your district. The willingness to learn and evolve. I think this question would be best answered by someone that has actually been a candidate, honestly. Rep. Joni Jenkins is a great example of a person with passion for what she does and she is willing to evolve on an issue. She has been very forthcoming about this. It is a learning curve and the ability to be open and willing to grow is ideal.
NN: What should someone know going into the process?
AG: You aren’t doing this to make a lot of money. This job doesn’t pay much and can take up a lot of time. So, one should be driven by the need to be a public servant. We would also like to see this job be considered a full-time position with a salary that is not laughable. This is why so many legislators are attorneys, real estate agents, insurance agents, etc. The pay is so low and the time commitment is so much that everyday folks literally cannot afford to do it. This should be considered civic duty and treated as such. Until this is addressed, it is hard for the face of the House to mirror everyday Kentuckians.
NN: How can someone balance their time in becoming a public servant and maintaining any privacy, or should they expect that?
AG: I think this question is best asked to someone that has actually been through it or is currently a Rep. Often when we talk to folks that have interest in running, we connect them with Reps so they can get a clear picture of what they are signing up for!
NN: Relative to that, what constitutes a bad candidate?
AG: We can use Jack Conway as an example. He was anointed. It was his turn. He jumped through all the solid political hoops, had millions and millions of dollars. He may be the nicest of guys, but as a candidate? Nope. Folks were not moved or inspired. Money alone will not win a race. The candidate must connect, have passion, stand for something and not just say how much the opponent sucks. And there are many within the party that also ghost recruit and use power as a tool to push their agenda through anointed candidates. It is a thing, for sure. It is unfortunate that some establishment staples in Frankfort continue to be toxic. I often wonder what the end game is with these folks, and have yet to figure it out. It is dumb.
NN: Is it just policy or are there other qualities that may turn a public off?
AG: Bevin was a bad candidate each time he ran for an office, because of his policies and personality. But, here we are.
NN: I realize the above question about PACs may field this, but how can anyone afford to go into politics?
AG: Federally? That is a whole separate beast. I am working on a congressional campaign now, too. I am learning how this is done as well. I can report back! Locally? It is still a challenge. I know to run this PAC, I could not have done it if I had a set 9-5 schedule at my “paying” job. The amount of time I have spent weekly equates to a full-time job, unpaid. I do not turn down the opportunity to learn how all of this works. So, the number of meetings I have had, the traveling I have done this last year alone was epic. I do all of this simply because I want to then turn it on its head. Let us not go into the world of “political consulting” — this is my current fascination. Along with several other women, we are going to launch a consulting firm in 2019. There is a serious lack of women and especially women of color in the world of KY politics. This is going to change.
NN: How would you like to see campaign financing reformed, if at all?
AG: Big money out of politics. Period. Dems and Repubs. They are both guilty as charged. At a certain level, the lines are blurred and it is just class distinction. Those with money get to make the decisions. Those with the most money get to run the organizations, because those large donations are never without strings. This becomes deeper than party affiliation. It is simply about those who have money or access to big money and the rest of us. It is exhausting and disappointing and frustrating.
“Big money out of politics. Period. Dems and Repubs. They are both guilty as charged. At a certain level, the lines are blurred and it is just class distinction. Those with money get to make the decisions.”
NN: For anyone interested, how can they become involved?
AG: We have a pretty heft monetary goal that is fueled by small donations. Our goal is 350k to effectively target 12 districts that we are committed to like NKY and 3 districts in Jefferson Co. Every dollar has a job: www.kyinitiative.org/donate
NN: Where can we learn more about potential candidates in upcoming races?
AG: We have targeted specific districts, so people can always go to our FB page to learn more. We not only share our targeted districts info we share all things KY politics including what is happening in the legislative session.
NN: What can we take away from our current state leadership on how to improve?
AG: Oh, we have no leadership in Frankfort currently. It is a dumpster fire.
NN: Same question, but what about federal government?
AG: Dumpster Fire.
NN: How can we effectively push for progressive values?
AG: We push for progressive values by getting off the sidelines. We push for progressive values by getting involved and by involved that does not include complaining on Facebook or starting a FB group to complain collectively. There is plenty to do. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and quickly figured out that those with “power” or “title” also have no idea what they are doing either. We get progressive values elevated by showing up and doing the unglamorous work.
The best thing about this unglamorous and unpaid work? I have met some truly amazing human beings that have changed thecourse of my life. What brought us together? Our commonality of work. Of humanity. Family. Love. Friendship. I have a solid tribe that I would have never met otherwise, and I don’t know what my life would be now without them in it.
“We have no leadership in Frankfort currently. It is a dumpster fire.”
NN: Tangential, but certainly related to this, how can anyone hope to impart progressive ideals under an administration, but at the state and federal
level, that so vehemently combats those concepts?
AG: Keep calling. Keep showing up. Keep demanding change. Every day. RUN FOR OFFICE. And simply, we are the party even outside of the establishment currently considered the party. We do not need to wait around for permission. We just dig in and keep pushing.
NN: What’s on the playlist for the folks at The Kentucky Initiative and why?
AG: Music gets me through. Sitting for hours returning emails, researching, tracking, archiving. Traveling back and forth from Frankfort. In heavy heavy rotation:
Sigur Ros ( ) and Takk
Black Sabbath – Paranoid and Master of Reality
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
Pixies – all of it especially Doolittle
Neurosis – Enemy of the Sun and Through Silver in Blood
Shellac – At Action Park
Jay-Z – the Black Album
A Tribe Called Quest – all of it
Outkast – Aquemini
Crain – Speed