Bollier, England spar over approach to addressing Kansas’s most pressing issues at forum

Senate candidates Barbara Bollier (left) and Megan England at the candidate forum Saturday.
Senate candidates Barbara Bollier (left) and Megan England at the candidate forum Saturday.

A legislative forum at Colonial Church in Prairie Village Saturday saw the candidates for Senate District 7 battle more over style and approach than their positions on the most pressing issues facing the state, where they found much agreement.

Barbara Bollier, the Republican District 21 Representative running to replace retiring Kay Wolf in the state Senate, told the crowd that she had never stood with Gov. Sam Brownback, and that she wanted to move to the upper chamber to help elect new legislative leadership that would allow bills favored by moderates to come to the floor for debate.

Megan England, her Democratic challenger, suggested constituents would be better served by someone outside the Republican majority who could be a “champion of change.” England, a former member of the Roeland Park City Council, pointed to her record spearheading initiatives like the creation of “R” Park and the controversial anti-discrimination ordinance as evidence that she is able to get results. England suggested Bollier had little to show for her work after seven years in Topeka as a state representative.

Bollier countered that not only were she and other moderate Republicans hampered by conservative House leadership that prevented the legislation they had proposed from getting to the floor, but that she abided by the legislative philosophy recommended to her by mentor Bob Bethell before he died in a car crash after the 2012 session: never put your name on a bill. The reason, Bollier said, is that her work is about representing the interests of her constituents, not her personal legislative legacy.

“It’s not about ‘I’ or ‘me,'” she said. “It’s about ‘we.'”

Both Bollier and England said they were strongly in favor of Medicaid expansion, and both largely agreed on the need for better gun control legislation in the state. England also said she supported the idea of decriminalizing marijuana as part of an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

The forum also featured Vicki Hiatt, the Democrat running for the District 10 Senate seat occupied by Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook, who declined the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerece’s invitation to participate.

Hiatt said one of the biggest differences between her and Pilcher-Cook was accessibility. A retired teacher who said maintaining excellent public schools was among her top priorities, Hiatt said she had been disappointed by Pilcher-Cook’s low profile in the district.

“I became aware that my opponent is not very accessible,” she said.

Democratic District 10 candidate Vicki Hiatt.
Democratic District 10 candidate Vicki Hiatt.