Showing much agreement on the issues, 25th District candidates diverge on approach to making progress

Incumbent Melissa Rooker, standing, and challenger Jennifer Robinson spoke before a crowd of approximately 40 at the Cedar Roe Library Thursday.
Incumbent Melissa Rooker, standing, and challenger Jennifer Robinson spoke before a crowd of approximately 40 at the Cedar Roe Library Thursday.

The Republican and Democrat running for District 25 State Representative showed consensus on a number of the top priorities frequently cited by their northeast Johnson County constituents at a community forum Thursday — but disagreed on how the area’s representative could be most effective in seeing those priorities realized.

At a forum at Cedar Roe Library sponsored by the League of Women Voters, incumbent Melissa Rooker and her Democratic challenger Jennifer Robinson tackled a wide slate of issues, from education and Medicaid expansion to women’s rights and energy policy.

On education funding, which both agreed was among the most important issues for voters in the district, Rooker and Robinson both said they would be vocal advocates for better funding. Rooker, who has built a name for herself as an expert on the topic among her colleagues in the House, noted that she had played a pivotal role in blocking charter and voucher legislation that conservatives had attempted to pass.

The two also agreed that there was no sensible way to make further cuts to state government to address the growing budget shortfall in the wake of the large tax cuts that began in 2012.

“We’re not going to cut our way out of this mess, folks,” Rooker said. “The tax plan is clearly not working. We need to go back and we need to be prepared to make some really tough decisions. Anything we choose to do will be met with a lot of angst and drama and unhappiness, because you’re talking about either enhancements to revenue or budget cuts.”

Robinson struck a populist tone at points, charging that state government under the Brownback administration had “bullied women, gay people, the disabled, minorities, teachers, the poor, the uninsured and even our children.” Robinson conceded in remarks throughout the evening that on matters of substance concerning education and Medicaid expansion, there was little difference between herself and Rooker. Her most pointed attack against Rooker came in her closing remarks, when she said she had been disappointed by the fact that Rooker had not joined a group of 500 current and former Republicans to publicly endorse Gov. Sam Brownback’s challenger, Rep. Paul Davis.

“It disappoints me greatly that in Johnson County, not one single elected Republican legislator has signed their name to [that effort],” she said. “And that includes you. And I am very disappointed about that.”

Rooker countered that taking sides in the divisive battle over who will be governor wasn’t a productive approach.

“It’s my job to work with whomever is elected governor,” she said, “and in order to do that, I have been focused on the race for the 25th district.”

You can listen the forum discussion in its entirety below: