New faces are headed to Topeka, but will reform to state’s finances come with them? Local lawmakers weigh in

Pro-education funding reform protestors outside the capitol in June.
Pro-education funding reform protestors outside the capitol in June.

With several of the county’s most prominent conservative legislators defeated in Tuesday’s primaries, Topeka will have a number of fresh faces headed to the capitol this next legislative session. But the prospect of actually enacting the systemic reforms to the state’s tax structure and school funding mechanism are far from a sure thing. We asked northeast Johnson County’s elected representatives about their reaction to Tuesday’s results and what they think the new blood will mean for the way business gets done.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, District 19:

The people made a clear and decisive choice to change the trajectory of the state, and the feeling that that elicits is pure joy. I am cautiously optimistic that we will see a positive change in the way that business is done in your state. Regardless of who prevails in House and Senate leadership races, I will continue in my push for a more open and transparent government.

The people made it very clear that they do not support the current tax plan. It is incumbent upon the legislature to serve the will of the people, and to find viable solutions that will balance the budget, thus enabling us to fund a new school finance plan.

Clayton will face Democrat Elizabeth Meitl and Libertarian John Taube in the general election this fall.

Rep. Barbara Bollier, District 21:

The results confirmed what I have been hearing from most constituents the past two years: the state needs to change direction from the failed tax policies of the Brownback administration. The work of so many grassroots groups both in Johnson County and around the state to educate the voters on the truth clearly made a difference. A new day has dawned in Kansas. My mind is whirring with possibility!

The primary change that I anticipate with the new potential slate of legislators is a moderation of leadership selected by the Republican majority. Committees will be balanced and legislation will be moved through the process with full vetting. We also will have many more legislators who will base their voting decisions on data-driven facts, not ideology that is supported by manipulated “facts.” Transparency should be another significant change. And finally, the Governor, if he chooses to be consistent, will sign bills passed by this legislature because the people, as represented by the legislature, have spoken.

Real revenue reform must be a major focus of the next legislative session, along with a new funding formula. Those two issues are key and deeply related. It is going to take years to undo the impact of the fiscal policy that has been in place. Work is already being done around the state in private sectors to build a strong, fair school funding plan. What has changed is that those pushing for vouchers and other significant cuts to public education no longer have a stronghold on the legislature.

Bollier will be vacating her House seat to run for Senate District 7, where she will face Democrat Megan England in the general election this fall.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, District 24:

Districts deserve to be represented by people who reflect and support the values and goals of the constituents of the district. The past few years I think many of us have felt that there have been/are mismatches between some districts and their representatives. My initial reaction is that there is still work to be done, and I am happy to continue to do the work towards being the match for my district and constituents in November.

[The departure of many conservative incumbents] will allow the legislature to more readily block detrimental policy, but it is still vital to elect more Democrats. The balance in the legislature between the moderates and the conservatives is still skewed towards the conservatives. The seats won in November will assure our ability to address our budgetary concerns and prevent further damage to our schools, roads and economy.

Both our tax policy and school finance bill will be discussed next year. The full nature and productivity of that discussion will be determined after November 8.

Ousley will face Republican Rob Johnson in the general election this fall.

Rep. Melissa Rooker, District 25:

The results from Tuesday’s election represent just one step in the process of getting Kansas back on track for the long haul. The energy and commitment from the communities with contested primaries — the real grass roots — are a testament to the power of the people to stand up to outside special interest groups and their questionable mailers. Kansas has long been known for fiscal responsibility, excellent public schools, high quality roads and other metrics that add up to desirable quality of life measures. While we did see significant gains in Tuesday’s election, the obstacles ahead should not be understated. We have a terrific opportunity to make choices for leadership positions that will set the course for the session ahead and restore legitimacy to the process. My work on a new funding plan for our schools continues and I see no way to dodge the serious structural problems that exist in our state finances, therefore I look forward to a coalition of lawmakers ready to join me in crafting sustainable solutions to the serious challenges we face as a state.

Rooker will face Democrat Matt McCann in the general election this fall.