Farmer, working-class defender outraises incumbent
As the former general counsel for the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, Suetholz went to both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Kentucky Supreme Court winning major advances for workers’ rights.
In nearly every union hall in Kentucky, you’ll find someone who tells you a story about how Suetholz saved their job, won back their wages or helped them resist a large corporation who was mistreating them.
On his Facebook page, people ask when he’s running for president.
Suetholz isn’t running for president. He’s running for the state’s 20th Senate District encompassing all of Shelby, Henry, Carroll, Trimble counties and part of Jefferson County.
“We are a caring community. The mentality of caring about your neighbor as a brother or sister — that we are all in this together — is something most of us get every Sunday at church.
“So why wouldn’t we carry that forward from Monday to Saturday in our workplaces, our politics and our economics?”
He’s raised over $70,000 in his challenge against Republican incumbent Sen. Paul Hornback. Suetholz has raised more money than the incumbent 14 to 1 from January to May. His posts on his Facebook page regularly get hundreds of shares. More than 100 people turned out for his campaign kickoff event in Shelbyville.
Here’s the secret, Dave is 40, drives a Ford Explorer and wears dad jeans. He talks like Pa Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie.”
Small actions turn into big lessons about community, values, and how he thinks the state ought to run. When asked about his district, Suetholz told me a story about when he first settled in on his farm in Eminence as a bachelor farmer.
“I’d find eggs and bread on my doorstep. I think people were worried that I couldn’t feed myself. Those are the people who live in the 20th District. They care about each other.” Suetholz said.“We are a caring community. The mentality of caring about your neighbor as a brother or sister — that we are all in this together — is something most of us get every Sunday at church.
“So why wouldn’t we carry that forward from Monday to Saturday in our workplaces, our politics and our economics? Our district deserves to have its elected state senator reflect the concern for one’s neighbor in our legislature.”
The Pa Ingalls analogy isn’t far from the truth.
Suetholz is a labor lawyer, representing working people across the commonwealth. But he’s also a farmer. Suetholz runs cattle on his farm in Eminence where he and his wife Ellen are raising their twin daughters.
Ellen Suetholz is a superstar attorney in her own right.
The Bevin administration has sued her after refusing to release public documents she requested showing the fiscal impact of his pension bill — potentially costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
She’s currently embroiled in a legal battle with Gov. Bevin for transparency and fairness affecting thousands of Kentuckians.
Outside the courtroom, Suetholz also takes his farm seriously.
When asked about what the state can do for farmers, Suetholz speaks about his own community.
“Sadly, in the last couple of weeks, our community was stunned by the notices from Dean’s milk. It was obvious the chairman of the Agriculture Committee —our senator —was caught flat-footed,” Suetholz said. “When the 30 families in our community received 90-day notices that Dean’s milk was no longer going to pick up and buy their milk there was no public response from our senator.
“The crisis was caused by Walmart basically creating their own factory farm in Indiana and nary a word from the Republican majority or from our senator. In my daily life, I face down the largest corporations. If elected, I would never by silent if members of our community were attacked that way.”
Suetholz couches this approach to politics in local history.
Suetholz hopes to follow former Henry Countian Sen. John Berry’s legacy. John Berry and the Berry family have been representatives of the people for generations. And Dave is close to that legacy. Carol Berry, Sen. Barry’s widow, is his campaign treasurer. In regards to the attack on dairy farmers, Suetholz also acknowledged John’s brother — the writer, poet, environmental activist and farmer Wendell Berry.
“Wendell pointed out that there is a fundamental problem of overproduction and that plays into big corporations’ hands. I believe as a state senator, I can help start those discussions with our small farmers to talk about how we organize collectively to push back and protect ourselves, just like the Berry’s helped organize tobacco farmers in the past.” Suetholz said.
“It’s a disgrace really, that there are no community forums organized by the senator. This is an issue we need to be talking about. Certainly, Walmart and representatives of Dean’s milk in Louisville should’ve been called to Frankfort. There should’ve been committee meetings on this in Frankfort. I’m unaware of any open meeting with affected families. These are people that have had farms for generations. This is literally tearing the fabric of our community.”
It’s clear the entities or people that have the ear of the current senator are people of means, Suetholz said. Monied interests don’t impress him in the least. He would much rather hang out at the union hall than he would the country club.
“Our current senator has been known in the Ag community as Mr. Ag, but there’s a big difference in the Ag community between the large-scale players and everybody else,” Suetholz said.
It those difference that led him to run. He and his wife could imagine letting that sort of politics get a free pass in their community.
“I believe in the power of working people. Any of us by ourselves, are kind of insignificant when you are faced by yourself with the big money on the other side. But when we ban together as families and as communities, we have strength,” Suetholz said.
“There is a collective power that can face down even the strongest, most well-financed adversary. I love reminding people in my professional life — reminding union members — the power that they are a part of collectively. And now, I get to spread that message on a wider level. Standing together we are strong.”
Suetholz will translate that philosophy for the betterment of residents in his district.
While many counties in his district have their own challenges, one fundamental issue is plaguing them all: The degradation and repeated attacks on working families and wage earners.
“We’ve seen for the past decades flat wages for working people, rising costs in health insurance and reduced benefits,” Suetholz said.
“This year has exposed yet another attack on working people and their retirement security. I look around our district and see lots of new Dollar Generals going up, big box employers where there used to be a lot of small employers, locally owned businesses that provided much of the same services. These are primarily low wage jobs. This a problem. We need to be strategizing how people can earn good wages, good benefits and have the stability their families deserve.”
Having already secured the endorsements of both national organizations like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and over a dozen union locals, Kentuckians have good reason to hope Suetholz will be fighting on their side the next time the legislature convenes.