At Johnson County town hall, potential candidate for governor Ed O’Malley gets feedback on state’s most vexing issues

Former Roeland Park legislator Ed O'Malley was in Johnson County as part of a series of town halls across the state.
Former Roeland Park legislator Ed O’Malley was in Johnson County as part of a series of town halls across the state.

Former Roeland Park legislator Ed O’Malley was back in Johnson County Monday as part of his statewide town hall tour, gathering input from Kansans as he weighs a possible run for the governorship in 2018.

O’Malley, a Republican, served in the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2006 before resigning his seat to become the founding CEO and President of the Kansas Leadership Center. Based in Wichita, that organization offers trainings designed to improve leadership skills.

Before a crowd of nearly 100 at the Johnson County Library’s Central Branch in Overland Park, O’Malley pitched a series of questions to gauge attendees’ perceptions of the biggest challenges facing the state as well as possible strategies for addressing them. Among the issues attendees cited as most troubling were the contentious political atmosphere, long-term budget instability, environmental degradation and a sense that Kansas is no longer an attractive place to settle for people who grew up here. One woman said her high school senior is looking “almost¬†everywhere else” for college.

O’Malley said that concern has come up in rural areas as well, with a town hall attendee in Hill City fretting that the local economy wasn’t doing well enough to provide jobs for young workers.

“He said, ‘We’re finally able to get some of our young people to come back,'” O’Malley recounted. “‘But I’m worried we’re not going to be able to keep them.’ There is a rural recession going on in Kansas that I don’t think we’re quite feeling in places like Wichita and Johnson County.”

On the budget, O’Malley noted that projected expenditures and revenues had to match.

“If it doesn’t, it doesn’t make sense. And right now it’s completely out of whack,” he said.

Discussing the current revenue shortfalls, O’Malley was careful not to cast direct blame on anyone for the passage of the 2012 income tax cuts. He noted that the bill ultimately signed by Gov. Sam Brownback was considerably more severe than the original proposal Brownback floated in January 2012.

“The tax bill that was proposed was not nearly as expensive,” he said. “And I think…you could make the argument in 2012 that there was room to adjust taxation, and that maybe it was a strategy that should be tried to stimulate some economic growth.”

Still, he said that rigid adherence to a strategy in the face of evidence that it has failed was a bad approach to reach a goal. If the goal of the tax cuts was a vibrant economy, he said, the state should be prepared to try other strategies to reach that objective as well.

“The idea of being willing to admit you’ve made a mistake? I teach my kids that,” he said. “The sooner you admit you haven’t done something that’s perfect…the better off you’re gonna be.”

O’Malley has 13 more town hall meetings scheduled through mid-May.