The candidates vying for the Republican nomination to replace Rep. Barbara Bollier in the District 21 House seat on Monday gave voters a clear picture of the different approaches they would take to a host of issues facing the state of Kansas.
At a forum co-sponsored by the Overland Park, Northeast Johnson County and Leawood Chambers of Commerce, Dorothy Hughes and Neil Melton covered a range of issues, from the controversial 2012 tax cuts to how Supreme Court justices are selected.
Hughes, a former legislative aide to then-Rep. Jerry Moran in Washington, D.C., said she feels strongly that the state is not on the right path and that she wants to undo many of the policies that have been enacted under Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration.
“I want to diverge significantly from the path that we have been on,” she said. “I disagree with the governor’s tax policies. I think that we are not headed in the right direction. And what has been going on in Topeka is not the kind of fiscal responsibility…that I was raised to believe as a lifelong Republican.”
Melton, a former Iraq veteran who is now a mortgage loan officer, painted himself as someone who would be focused on finding common-ground among the divergent ideological camps in the capitol.
“I want to go to Topeka to posture in a way that [shows] I’m willing to work with others,” he said. “We have too many ideological corners in our statehouse right now. And the same group is not getting it done. So we need to send people there that are problem solvers, that are solution oriented. Again, we’re going to take the greater good in mind, but we have to be honest with ourselves about some of these imbalances in our state.”
Here’s how the two came out on a few of the topics posed by moderator Brian Brown:
Melton said that while he did not support rolling back the 2012 tax cuts, he believed the loophole that allows more than 300,000 business owners to pay no income tax in the state needed to be closed.
“Our bucket of revenue has a hole at the bottom of it because people are restructuring their businesses to take advantage of paying no taxes,” he said.
But he also said he was comfortable with the state in certain situations sweeping funds from agencies like the Kansas Department of Transportation to make ends meet.
Hughes said she believes the current tax structure was unfair and that the state needed to roll back the 2012 tax cuts in some fashion. But she said the state also needs to take a close look at its spending.
“We need to have fairness on both sides,” she said. “And we don’t have fairness right now. We’ve got some people paying nothing and others paying a lot. We’re all feeling the pain of high property and sales taxes.”
School funding and school choice
Hughes said she does not support voucher and scholarship programs that divert tax dollars away from public K-12 institutions. She said that as a product of central Kansas public schools, she hopes she can be a “bridge” between the western parts of the state and Johnson County in creating a school funding formula that keeps local school strong and gives Johnson County districts more flexibility to fund themselves as they would like.
Melton said he does support voucher programs and that he feels they do not pose any significant threat to the strength of public schools. Since the Kansas scholarship program went into effect, he said, less than 100 students have used it. Melton said he supported the idea of consolidating school districts as a way to cut down on administrator payroll expenses. He also characterized Johnson County as subsidizing smaller western districts and said he would lobby against Johnson County education dollars flowing to other areas.
Melton said he does not believe that the current members of the state Supreme Court are impartial and that the current nominating commission structure was not accountable to voters. Moreover, he said, voters are not informed about the justices when their names appear on the ballot in retention elections.
“We’ve retained a dead justice in our state,” Melton said. “Nobody knows who these people are.”
Hughes said she believes the current nominating commission structure, in which a panel of attorneys vote on a handful of nominees to send to the governor for review, provided “professional vetting” that ensured politics stayed out of the judiciary.
“My understanding is that the system was put in place by Kansans because they saw corruption in the system,” she said. “That’s what I want to avoid us getting back to.”
You can find Hughes’s and Melton’s opening statements, which summarized their campaign priorities, embedded below:
Hughes Opening Statement:
Melton Opening Statement: