Kansas House candidates on the issues: What issue are you most passionate about?

We’re finishing up today with the statehouse candidates’ responses to our questionnaire:

Here’s question number five:

What’s the issue facing the state that you’re most passionate about, and what do you plan to do on that front if elected to office in this election?

District 14

Angela Justus Schweller (Democrat)

One of the issues I find facing our state is that constituents are not feeling heard or well represented. I was sparked to run by that feeling of being dismissed by my representative. If we are a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then the “people” need to be heard, and I plan to listen.

Charlotte Esau (Republican)

Did not respond.

District 16

Cindy Holscher (Democrat)

Ensuring the children in Kansas have access to a strong education. Three years ago my oldest daughter (who was 12 at the time) looked at me and said “Go fix this.” She was referring to the effects of severe under-funding of our public schools at the time including: extremely large class sizes, loss of paras and janitors, lack of materials, and the loss of some of our best teachers. But I think the issue that hit her the most was seeing her teachers working at Target and Great Clips on the weekend to supplement their income. She couldn’t believe that her teachers – who were so dedicated to students, working long hours already – were not able to make a living by teaching. During the course of the Brownback years, many of our educators never got a pay raise; at the same time their benefits package was reduced. So, in essence, they were going backwards. We need to treat our teachers as the professionals they are and compensate them accordingly. This past session we added $500M to our public schools; it is a move in the right direction but even the most conservative estimates show we should be investing closer to $650M. I will continue working to ensure our education system is fully funded and that are teachers are respected and compensated fairly. Because in the end, our public schools are the backbone of our economy; ensuring our kids have access to a strong education isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing.

Sue Huff (Republican)

I believe the current challenge we face is regarding our taxes. We need to challenge the government to find ways to reduce spending. I believe we can pool resources to find savings in purchases made for the State, and the people who buy from the state contracts. We also need to find ways to lower our taxes to help those people on fixed incomes that were hurt when the legislators voted on the largest tax increase in Kansas history in 2017. I believe we can lower our income tax, sales tax, and property taxes to help keep money in the citizen’s pockets to spend how they see fit.

District 17

Tom Cox (incumbent Republican)

There are two issues for this answer:

  • Working to get the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled (I/DD) community carved back out of KanCare for their provider services. We used to have the model system that other states looked to copy. It brought families to live in Kansas just to be in the program and now we have a system people can run away from fast enough. Services, hours, reimbursement rates all get cut every single year and the ones suffering from it is the I/DD community. Our literal most vulnerable population. I have been honored to work with Rep. Nancy Lusk who has been leading this fight in the House for years as we formed a bi-partisan group to try and tackle this issue.
  • A Foster Care Bill of Rights. After the Adoption Bill I sat down with constituents, with foster care/adoption specialists, with members of the LGBT community and I listened. A constituent, friend and member of the LGBT community said something to me that hit me so hard it felt like I was punched in the gut. They said, “Yes, the majority of agencies have to foster or adopt to us, but that doesn’t mean they and DCF have to make it easy, sometimes they make it very difficult.”

The first question I asked was. “How can we fix that?” and the answer was a Foster Care Bill of Rights. This will impact all Foster Care parents, giving them specific rights and protections. Giving them a formal path for grievances when they are being treated unfairly or being singled out. We will include specific protections and language for LGBT parents. Currently, I am working with experts in the field to craft the bill and then will bring it to a small roundtable of different stakeholders to discuss and potentially revise as needed.

Michael Kerner (Libertarian)

It is hard to pick just one. There are several serious problems to solve. I have spoken on the school finance issue in question 1, so I will use this space to talk about marijuana. There is no reason to keep marijuana illegal and there never was. It was pure propaganda from the initial law in 1937. It is critical for some people with medical issues and I know several families who have moved to Colorado just to be able to treat their sick child. It has really worked in stopping seizures for kids that had multiple seizures per day. It should not be necessary to relocate to another state to have a supply of a useful medicine without risking arrest. It would be nice to start with medical Marijuana and, after 2 or 3 years, when the sky does not fall, go the rest of the way to recreational. The federal government has made that process unwise. In states that issue medical marijuana cards, they use the list generated from that process to deny gun purchases in the current background check system. A person should not have to give up the right of self defense to get a medicine. We must be sure that no such list of medical users exists.

Laura Smith-Everett (Democrat)

There are many ways our state policies impact children and families. Children have been my focus as a career educator. They will continue to be my focus in the statehouse. Whether it be properly caring for our children in the DSF system or expanding Medicaid so that families don’t have to live without healthcare-I will continue to advocate for the most vulnerable among us. Additionally once our basic school funding measures are covered we need to focus on populations in our schools who could use more support. From our earliest learners-our Pre-K children, to children with Dyslexia or Special Education needs we owe it to them to be aggressive with policies that support them.

Finally-we need to think about the whole child and ensure that every Kansas school can have counselors or social workers in every building. So that tragedies like the suicides our highschool SMNW experienced never happens again and students get the support and intervention they need to be the most successful Kansans they can be.

District 18

Eric Jenkins (Republican)

I believe that we need more attention directed at mental health, both at the state and federal level. While it may seem like an isolated issue on the surface, I believe it has a wide impact – and is connected to societal problems such as the drug and opium crisis, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, domestic abuse, as well as crime on a broader scale. Many of those in incarceration are there due to struggles stemming from mental health. Currently, we put people in jail, treat them briefly at DETOX and rehab centers, or isolate them. It is arguable that continuously putting persons with poor mental health through a revolving door where the cycle repeats itself endlessly and without resolution is in the end more expensive and damaging to society than addressing the problem up front, returning people to society as contributing members. Perhaps we in Kansas could be the state to bring this problem to the national stage and move forward with addressing this societal shortcoming.

Cindy Neighbor (incumbent Democrat)

I believe the biggest issue facing our state is having a stable revenue system. I say this because it is the only way we can address all of our needs across the State of Kansas. We have a broken technology system in Topeka that does not allow for communication to pass freely within agencies. It does not allow for transparency. We must fund our schools, now and in the future, so school districts can plan their budgets in a timely fashion. Our prisons are over- crowded and unsafe. We have huge debts to repay our transportation and KPERs agencies that have been bonded. Our foster care program is in dire need of more staff and foster homes, and mental illness is a major concern for our state. We have too many individuals on waiting lists for services in our disabled population.

It would be my hope that we could continue addressing these issues during the next session with common sense approaches. If we do not, we will not have to worry about people and businesses coming to Kansas.

District 19

Stephanie Clayton (incumbent Republican)

The issue about which I am most passionate is tax policy. We often hear about how the budget is the bill which best indicates the morality of the governing body, but second only to that is a government’s tax plan. The sales tax burden is much too high for citizens in the 19th district, and it hurts retail businesses in our area, because consumers have the option of traveling across State Line to take advantage of a lower sales tax rate. For many years, I have been a proponent of not only lowering the sales tax on groceries, but also on human dignity products, such as feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, bathroom tissue, and soap. We all have to eat, and we all have to adhere to acceptable levels of hygiene in order to function in the workplace, and Kansas citizens shouldn’t be taxed for that. I also look forward to pursuing other forms of tax relief for renters,homeowners, prescription drugs, and child care. Many legislators across the ideological spectrum share my views, so there is a strong possibility that such tax relief could come to fruition. It will be chief among the many pieces of legislation that I will pursue, should I be fortunate enough to have your vote.

Thank you so much to the citizens of the 19th District for allowing me to serve. It has been a wonderful opportunity.

Stephen Wyatt (Democrat)

I am passionate about the expansion on Medicaid. I have worked in the healthcare industry for the last 15 years. I have worked with patients before the ACA and after the ACA and those states that have expanded Medicaid. States that have expanded Medicaid have a more healthy populace. Individuals are able to receive the medical assistance and medications they need. Expanding Medicaid helps our families, friends, and neighbors. Every person has a right to medical help and medications without the threat of bankruptcy. Most of the people that would benefit from the expansion of Medicaid are the working poor.

District 21

Jan Kessinger (Republican Incumbent)

Education is my top priority. I will continue to seek to fully fund schools, plus invest in early childhood education and higher education, including community colleges and vo-tech schools. We must find a way to make higher education affordable for all, while also creating education opportunities in the trades.

Becky Barber (Democrat)

Did not respond.

District 23

Linda Gallagher (incumbent Republican)

I have made social services and children’s and seniors’ issues my niche within the legislature, serving on both the Social Services Budget and Children and Seniors Committees. I am concerned that the Kansas social services safety net programs have been undermined and underfunded. One of the most important things the state must do is to take care of its most vulnerable citizens. We have failed in that measure, regarding our children, the elderly, the poor, the mentally ill and the disabled.

The issue that I am most passionate about is the state of the child welfare system. Record numbers of children have been removed from their homes in recent years, putting tremendous pressure on the system at every point. We now have more than 7,000 children in foster care, and we need more foster homes. Several children have died due to abuse or neglect. Some kids have run away from foster care, and their locations are unknown. And, some kids are sleeping in child welfare offices because of a lack of beds for those with severe emotional and behavioral problems.

As vice chair of the Children and Seniors Committee, I helped to write and pass the legislation authorizing the task force to examine various problems in the child welfare system and make recommendations to address them. The task force and its three working groups have been meeting regularly for more than a year. I am vice chair of the Reintegration and Permanency Placement Working Group. The other two working groups focused on General Administration of Child Welfare and Foster Care, and Protective Services and Family Preservation.

After months of brainstorming and hearing testimony, the working groups formulated their recommendations and supporting strategies for improving the safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system as well as for changes to statute, rules and regulations and processes. The task force will review the working group reports in its two remaining meetings this year (Oct. 22 and Dec. 4) and determine what will go into the task force’s final report to the legislature in January.

That report will likely include recommendations for several pieces of legislation, and I plan to introduce and sponsor those bills. Most of them will likely be assigned to the Children and Seniors Committee, where I look forward to shepherding them through the legislative process. We owe it to the children of Kansas to correct the issues in the child welfare system.

Susan Ruiz (Democrat)

I have spoken about education and the importance of access to early childhood education. I also recognize that there are many issues that we as a state need to focus on beyond education, and as a legislator.

I will focus on Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion could add 150,000 more people to receive coverage. This means that more people will have access to mental health and substance abuse services/programs. It will also bring more healthcare dollars into the state economy and create more jobs around the health care industry. Medicaid expansion will help rural communities keep the doors open to their health clinics and hospitals. I look forward to helping to approve expansion during the next legislative session.

District 25

Melissa Rooker (incumbent Republican)

The issue I am most passionate about is public education, because it is the issue our community is so passionate about. The quality of our public schools drew my family back to Kansas in 2004. After moving back to Fairway, I quickly got involved with my children’s schools. PTA offered a wealth of volunteer opportunities that ultimately led to serving as PTA president at Indian Hills Middle School. It was that experience that lead me to involvement with the advocacy work being done on behalf of our public schools.

We have made tremendous progress with regard to K-12 funding in my tenure. We have re-invested $823 million dollars over six years. However, more work remains, including adjusting for the cost of inflation over that timeframe to ensure the dollars allocated retain their buying power.

I look forward to turning my energy to the strengthening the continuum from Early Childhood programs to post-secondary opportunities. Reinvesting in higher education will help make tuition more affordable for hard-working families. Career and Technical Education programs help create pathways for students seeking to pursue career goals and successfully enter the workforce more quickly. The Kansans Can School Redesign project is underway in Kansas and already providing exciting new opportunities for our students to personalize learning.

While education is a top priority for our community, I look forward to supporting other initiatives like access to healthcare, child welfare, comprehensive transportation planning, elections, gun safety and transparency (among many other worthy topics). And finally, I will protect the work done to reform our tax code and balance our state budget responsibly.

Rui Xu (Democrat)

We need to expand Medicaid to ensure that our citizens have access to affordable health care, especially in rural areas. With Ft. Scott hospital closing, it’s just another dire reminder that our rural communities, which are essential to our economy, are struggling to keep hospitals open and to keep schools open. They have every right to the same great schools and hospitals that we do, and we have to give them the funding and the tools to do so.

We also need to deprivatize Medicaid. Almost daily at the doors, I get a story from a constituent who has seen quality of care decrease under KanCare, and that’s unacceptable. Health care outcomes absolutely cannot be tied to profit motives, so we need to make sure that we’re giving the best quality of care possible to our citizens.

This is so intensely personal to me because my mother-in-law actually passed away, in part, because she could not get Medicaid early enough. Back in 2012, we moved her up to Kansas City to be closer to us and after finding her an apartment, and one of the first things we tried to do was get her health care. Like many of the rural poor, she had not seen a doctor in many years, so we thought it would a good idea to establish care. However, she fell into the coverage gap and was denied. When we looked at the marketplace prices without deductions available, there wasn’t any way that my wife and I could afford that on the salaries that we were earning when we were 23-years-old. A few years later, some health symptoms showed up, and at that point it was too little and too late. She passed away at 51 years old.

We are the richest country in the world, and it is immoral and inhumane that we allow our citizens to die because politicians are playing a game of political capital and refusing to get people affordable access to health care. There are lots of additional economic reasons why expanding Medicaid makes sense, but to me, this is a moral issue. We need to do what’s right and what’s best, and expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do.

District 29

Brett Parker (incumbent Democrat)

Fully funding our schools and rebuilding the reputation of Kansas will always be top issues to me, but we’ve covered those topics in previous questions. Instead I’d like focus on the need to lower Kansas’s incredibly high tax on groceries. While most states either don’t tax groceries or tax them a significantly lower rate, Kansas charges our full sales tax rate. In Johnson County we pay about 10% in sales tax at the grocery store.

When my opponent was previously in the legislature, he cast a deciding vote to raise the sales tax in Kansas in a failed attempt to sustain the Brownback tax experiment. In 2017 I filed a bill that would have repealed the Brownback plan, left almost all Kansans paying less in income taxes than they did before Brownback, moved towards eliminating grocery sales tax, and provided the funds for core services. While we were successful in repealing Brownback’s failed experiment, we cannot ignore the burdensome grocery tax that remains.

James Todd (Republican)

The issue I think is most important is fiscal responsibility, the budget, because it affects everything the State does for the people of Kansas. Especially important is protecting our investments in education and transportation. When I previously served we dealt with both the 2012 tax cut, put into place before I came to office, and a rural recession in Kansas. I saw ending balances quickly vanish, revenue come in below projections, and dealt with legislative sessions that faced budget deficits of over $300 million. Yes, the tax issue has been addressed, but Kansas has also enjoyed a strong economy the last two years that has led to tax receipts exceeding projections leaving the State with a large balance to begin the next fiscal year with. We all know the economy will slow at some point before expanding again. We need responsible budgeting to make sure we can meet our commitments to education and transportation.

Democrats and Republicans, but not my opponent, joined together to vote for $825 million in new money for education that will be phased in over the next couple of years. With available funds and smart budgeting we can meet that obligation and improve educational opportunities for students in Kansas. I will work with both sides of the aisle to find ways to improve education.

We need to develop a new transportation plan to replace T-Works. A decade ago a comprehensive transportation plan, called T-Works, was put into place to maintain our highways and develop projects to improve them. We saw the fruits of this program in our area with the work done on 69 Hwy and the Gateway project that reworked the connections between I-435, I-35, and K-10. That plan is coming to an end in 2020 but anyone driving on 69 Hwy or I-35 knows that work needs to be done to widen these highways to reduce traffic and congestion. I will work to make sure we have a plan to keep our highways in great shape.

Robert Firestone (Libertarian)

Firestone has indicated to the Shawnee Mission Post that though his name will remain on the ballot, he will no longer be actively campaigning for the seat.

District 30

Brandon Woodard (Democrat)

The cuts to higher education over the past decade have shifted the cost of a four-year university, community college, or vocational/technical education on to the backs of working families. When elected, I want to focus on restoring funding for higher education to build the workforce of tomorrow. As a higher education fundraiser at KU Endowment Association, I work every day to make college affordable for Kansans. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to begin to re-invest in our higher education institutions with the ultimate goal of getting funding to pre-recession levels. Our four-year universities are economic engines for Kansas and are the place where research discoveries help to change the world, so we must invest in the faculty, staff, and students who power the return on every dollar the state spends.

Wendy Bingesser (Republican)

The issue that I am most passionate about is cancer research. My family has been touched by this disease several times in my lifetime and I want to be on the frontlines fighting for solutions and educating citizens. My brother-in-law passed from melanoma in 2010 and my father passed from prostate cancer in 2011. My sister-in-law started Outpacing Melanoma in my late brother-in-law’s honor in order to help bring awareness to melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

There needs to be a voice for this issue in the Republican majority that will be returning to Topeka after this election. I have a fire in my belly to be the public policy advocate for this community. I will be the voice fighting for innovations in cancer research and advocating for policies that increase research funding for our institutions of higher education. There should also be more state coordination with the private and non-profit sectors in order to bring awareness to the causes of cancer and how citizens can better prepare themselves psychological for the hardships of the disease. I would also work for the passage of a Kansas Joanna’s Law to help fund ovarian and cervical cancer awareness programming and research.

Kansas is uniquely situated to be a nationwide leader on this issue. We have impressive programs through the University of Kansas Medical School and Hospital and we have a strong grassroots network in our area fighting for change. Let’s utilize this grassroots energy to put the state of Kansas on the right public policy trajectory.

That’s it! Thanks to the candidates for participating.