Medicaid expansion, climate change and LGBTQ adoptions: District 29 candidates speak on the issues

District 29 candidates James Todd (center) and Brett Parker (right) participated in our forum Tuesday.

Our candidate forum recaps continue with District 29. We hosted a forum for the two District 29 candidates to speak on issues such as Medicaid expansion, LGBTQ adoption, climate change and the school funding formula. Participating in our forum Tuesday, Oct. 23, were Democratic incumbent Brett Parker and Republican challenger James Todd, who held the seat prior to the 2016 election.

Here are the questions and the candidates’ responses:

The announced closure of the hospital in Fort Scott has renewed debate about Medicaid expansion in Kansas. Should Kansas expand Medicaid? Why or why not?

Rep. Brett Parker is seeking a second term in office.

Brett Parker: He thinks Kansas should “absolutely expand Medicaid,” citing almost $3 billion that the state essentially gave away that would have come back to Kansas to close the coverage gap and cover those who are uninsured. “And it would incentivize people who just barely qualify for Medicaid now to work and make more income than they do now without fear of losing their insurance,” he said, adding that he voted for Medicaid expansion in 2017 and the veto override as well. “There are 150,000 people who are supposed to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act who have been denied that for multiple years now in Kansas, and the longer we take to do this, the more money we give up and the more lives that are at stake,” Parker said.

James Todd: He is also in favor of expanding Medicaid. He sees Medicaid as a program that was set up to help low-income individuals and help out seniors and disabled residents. However, he doesn’t agree with expanding Medicaid to cover able-bodied, working-age individuals. “We’ve got to approach it in a different way,” he said, adding that he wants to see what other states are doing as far as Medicaid expansion. “The expansion that was voted on in the past has just been a blanket expansion of Medicaid as is; I don’t think that’s the right approach for Kansas,” he said.

Gov. Colyer this month issued a statement declaring Kansas in a better fiscal state, and noting that “our total revenue numbers give us plenty of room to both adequately fund schools and cut taxes.” Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

Republican James Todd held the seat prior to the 2016 election.

James Todd: He agrees that Kansas is in a better fiscal state, adding that changes in the state’s tax policy as well as the state’s better way of projecting revenue are both factors that have put the state in a better fiscal position. “Yes, we are going to have a lot of money coming in; there’s a lot of money, over a billion dollars,” he said, “so as we go forward, it’s important that we be fiscally responsible so that that money is not only passed, but it goes into place, that there’s going to be a series of payments over the next couple of years.” Todd said Kansas is in a similar tax environment as it was in 2012, prior to Brownback’s tax cuts. He thinks the state should be able to “get everything to work with the amount of revenue that we have right now.”

Brett Parker: He agrees with Gov. Colyer that Kansas is a better fiscal state than it was before. However, if the state looks at the direction the Republican Party wants to go, they are opposed to the new tax system “that has created this better foundation,” he said, adding that he thinks there’s enough state money to fully fund schools to “finally close out the current lawsuit and hopefully lock in constitutional levels of school funding.” He said the money “was already in” when the House voted on education funding at the end of the last legislative session, which is why he and other Johnson County area representatives “put an amendment to the floor that would put us at the levels that the court has asked for as well as fully funding special education.” He said Kansas should investigate whether there’s enough money to make tax cuts, “but we have to be prudent about” it. He thinks the state should address its “sky-high” sales tax, especially on food, and also restore deductions and childcare tax credits.

Do you believe Kansas K-12 schools are making efficient use of the financial resources they get from Kansas taxpayers? If so, why? If not, how could they be using the funds more efficiently?

Brett Parker: Yes, he thinks the state is being efficient, citing a recent study that indicated Kansas is one of the most efficient states on how it spends education funding. He said much of the efficiency should be credited to school boards, “because while we allocate the funds, we aren’t necessarily cherry-picking every program that they’re going to spend them on, or make the staffing choices that the school districts do.” He says the results of efficient spending have been positive outcomes on students as well as a growing economy in the state. “We can either move in the direction of being a low-tax, low-service state like Mississippi, or we can be continually investing in our future, continually supporting our public education, rebuilding the brand of Kansas and our schools that have brought so many businesses and families to Johnson County specifically.”

James Todd: Yes, he thinks the schools, especially in Johnson County are “very efficient,” citing $1 billion that have been put into Kansas education over the past four years. Funds have supported all-day kindergarten, special education, ACT testing, more counselors and psychologists on staff to address suicide, and pay increases for faculty and staff. “I think our schools are fantastic; I think our schools make efficient use of the money,” he said. “I think our schools are high-quality, and it’s kind of frustrating to see attacks from different individuals that say they’re not constitutionally funded.” He said he understands what the courts are saying, but “we’re at the point where we’re trying to figure out just how to calculate inflation.” He said he has “a lot of faith” that as more resources come to Kansas schools, outcomes will improve.

Let’s say that in March 2019 the state finds itself with $250 million more in funds to budget than it had expected. Where would you direct that money and why?

James Todd: He said the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision is the first budget issue to be prioritized, adding that the first cut needs to address the roughly $90 million a year more for inflation adjustment. He said the state needs to settle its lawsuit and “move forward and let our schools focus on how they can use that money.” He also wants to let people itemize their deductions in Kansas again, adding that Brett Parker voted against allowing this. “I don’t think letting Kansans do what they’ve done every year previously is an expenditure,” he said. “I just think that’s a matter of fairness and it needs to be done.” He also thinks Kansas should address transportation funding as well.

Brett Parker: He said the first thing to be done is put money in Kansas schools. He said inflationary money for schools is “not a small figure,” adding that he voted to restore money to Shawnee Mission schools that would have been left out in the initial version of the K-12 bill. The final version of the bill that passed added about $100 million a year. The number needed to meet inflation is another $90 million, “so if you’re leaving off that, you’ve basically passed half of what you need,” he said, adding that the state is constitutionally obligated to fund schools, especially because “it’s the right thing to do.” He said he would also be fine with returning money to taxpayers through the itemization of taxes. The last time legislators considered a bill for this, it provided “corporate tax giveaway,” he added. “I think the sense of most of us who voted against it, including every moderate Republican from Johnson County, was that it would be bad to rush that,” he said, adding that restoring itemization should be done responsibly and not at the last minute. “It’s not that we don’t want to see restoration of that itemization; in fact, most of us fought for that in the Brownback tax repeal.”

The legislature last session approved a bill that allows faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funding to refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples. Do you support that bill? Why or why not?

Brett Parker: He said he does not support that bill, alongside almost every moderate Republican and Democrat in the state. “Taxpayer money should not be used to fund discrimination,” he said. “Beyond that, faith-based adoption agencies ought to be able to embody what their faith is, but they don’t need to take taxpayer money to do that.” He said this is a “sacred principle” which Kansas violated when the bill passed. He said he’d be “eager” to repeal it and establish a statewide non-discrimination policy.

James Todd: He said he “is probably in agreement” with Brett Parker’s stance. His approach, however, is the children as the main priority. He thinks children finding homes with same-sex families is “a better situation” than in the foster care system or in the state system. He said he wants both groups — faith-based agencies and individuals wanting to adopt — to participate in the adoption process. “So I want to do is try to get dialogue between those two groups,” he said. “How can we still have, whether it be Catholic adoption agencies or whatever adoption agencies out there, involved in the process and make sure that individuals that are same-sex couples can be given equal footing and a fair opportunity to find a loving home for children.” He wants as many options as possible for children to get adopted in Kansas.

Would you support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational uses in Kansas?

James Todd: He said he would support legalizing medical marijuana for pharmaceutical uses. In the past, he voted to support legalizing CBD oil, he added. He said he doesn’t have “strong faith” in medical marijuana but wants to leave that to the medical community and the Food and Drug Administration. He also thinks the country is moving in the direction of legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana as a whole, adding that he’s spoken with law enforcement officers who don’t want to spend their time enforcing marijuana laws. He said he wants to focus on getting people out of addictive problems, which he doesn’t see as an issue regarding marijuana.

Brett Parker: He said he also supports legalizing medicinal marijuana, adding that the state hasn’t been able to move forward because of conservative leadership in the Kansas House, including the chair of the health committee who refused to conduct hearings on the issue. Regarding recreational marijuana, he thinks the country is also moving in the direction of legalization. He said law enforcement officers should instead be focusing on the jobs they do best: “catching violent criminals.” Additionally, there’s “a backlog” of sex-related crimes with evidence to back those cases, but they aren’t being prosecuted because there’s not enough resources. “We want to make sure that we are bringing justice to people who are victims,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are catching people who are committing violent crimes and that they are being dealt with, not chasing tourists from Colorado as they cross the border back into Kansas.”

Agriculture remains central to the Kansas economy – and it’s an industry greatly affected by weather and climate. Do you believe climate change poses a threat to Kansas farmers? If so, what could the state be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change?

Brett Parker: He said he “absolutely” believes that climate change is real and is “largely created by the actions of people.” The best thing Kansas can do is implement the water plan Gov. Brownback helped develop. “This is one of the rare areas of agreement that I have with Gov. Brownback, but his administration brought forward a pretty comprehensive plan on making sure that we are not as affected by drought moving forward, that we are being responsible with the aquifer that provides the water for so much of our agricultural land in Kansas.” He said this budget priority has kept being “pushed to the back corner.” He thinks it’s a critical challenge, especially in light of a recent report that said humans have about a decade to turn back the effects of climate change. He is “glad” that Kansas is taking advantage of the wind industry, and he wants the state to be a hub for wind energy. A far-right leadership will prevent the legislature from implementing change and protecting long-term agriculture in the state, he added.

James Todd: He said he also believes that climate change is occurring. He thinks education and agricultural best practices for sustainable farming is the “best thing” Kansas can do, but the state’s water plan is also an important aspect as well in dealing with droughts. One example of best practices, which he learned meeting with Kansas farmers, is no-till farming, which doesn’t release carbon into the atmosphere. “They think that it’s a practice that is both more sustainable to the soil, because you’re not releasing the nutrients, and it is environmentally more friendly because you’re not releasing that carbon as well,” he said. A barrier with no-till farming is that farmers can’t do organic farming, he said, adding that this leads to a debate on genetically modified food. “We’ve got to change how our thoughts are and how we approach these different issues,” he said, adding that the state and farmers should continue to invest in wind power.