Democratic Kansas statehouse candidates on the issues: State government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly's stay-at-home orders drew criticism from some Republican legislators who said she was overstepping the authority of the office. File photo credit Jim McLean/Kansas News Service.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of this summer’s primary elections. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for Democratic candidates running for seats in the Kansas House.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we have the candidates’ responses to item three:

The governor’s stay-at-home orders during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Kansas sparked a debate about the role of government in working to ensure the public’s health. Were the state government’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 justified? What role do you believe the state should be taking in addressing the pandemic?

Kansas House District 22

Randen Smith

I believe the state governments were completely caught off guard with the discovery COVID-19 spreading throughout the US and for good reason. Starting in 2009, the federal government through a program called Predict played an active role throughout the world to collect and analyze intelligence to identify threats in regards to any health crisis in the world. The US state governments relied on this protection. As it turns out, the Trump Administration quietly cut funding and dismissed the Federal Pandemic Prevention Department three months before the outbreak in China with Covid-19.

The rapid spread of COVID-19 jumped from China to Europe quickly with Italy confirming a few cases March 1, 2020 to 63,927 cases by March 23, 2020. This spike majorly overwhelmed hospitals and medical staff with leaving many dead from the virus. From this, I believe our state governments with Kansas being one of them shutting down and enacting a stay at home order was most appropriate to saving lives. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s quick and decisive actions were pivotal to preventing a scenario like Italy faced from the virus.

At this point, with the Presidential Administrations ideologies changing with every new administration and Congress inability to cooperate for passage of good legislation, US states need to take an active role in preventing a future crisis. Some first steps that states should take is developing their own play books for the next pandemic or crisis that may arise. By mapping out plans early, states should be prepared at best case management and minimizing any suffering.

Today, scientists are working as quickly as possible for a vaccination. And research shows COVID-19 is spread airborne from small droplets when speaking or breathing. Kansas and other states should enforce wearing masks in places of work, stores, schools or other gatherings until the disease is contained or a vaccine is developed.

Lindsay Vaughn

The government has an important role to play in protecting the lives of citizens, especially in a public health crisis when it is imperative that we limit the spread of disease in order to save lives and protect ourselves, our families, and our communities. I believe our government’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been necessary and effective. During the stay-at-home order, cases remained low in Kansas, our healthcare system wasn’t overwhelmed, and we were lauded as a national example of success. At that time, the maximum number of positive cases reported in a single day in Johnson County was 29.

Now, Kansas is in the top 14 states for the most rapid COVID-19 spread and the top 14 states for having the least restrictions on activities. The maximum number of positive cases reported in a single day in Johnson County was 175 on July 3, and as of today, 93 people have died. Even when considering increased availability of testing, this difference is stark.

So what happened? Far-right Republicans arm-wrestled Gov. Kelly into giving up important executive powers in their “compromise” emergency declaration extension during the special session. We should be making it easier for Governor Kelly to do her job and to follow the recommendations of public health experts and medical professionals, but instead, extremist legislators have just made it more difficult.

Most Kansans have a shared goal of living in a healthy and thriving community, but so much of the decision-making around COVID has been politicized to all our detriment. The recent mask mandate is a good step forward. Science shows that this is an effective way to protect each other and ourselves. We must all do our part, though, in order to slow the spread of COVID and flatten the curve. This social responsibility is critical for saving lives and working toward our collective goals of reviving the economy and reopenings schools.

Kansas House District 39

Les Lampe

A fundamental question during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the role of the Federal, State, and local governments to implement measures designed to prevent the spread of the disease. I agree with public health experts that we are all individually and collectively responsible for frequent hand washing, wearing masks, and maintaining social distances. The challenge is to balance individual freedoms while protecting the general welfare and to recognize the economic impacts of the measures designed to mitigate the spread of disease.

In March, in response to the pandemic Governor Kelly declared a state of emergency under the provisions of the Kansas Emergency Management Act. Provisions included closing schools for the remainder of the year and prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people. The Legislature has since moved forward to restrict some of the Governor’s emergency powers and passed HB 2016 in June. The major element of this bill was to provide legislative oversight to the pandemic response. Governor Kelly’s Executive Order 20-52 on July 2nd requires individuals to wear masks when in public settings and requires businesses and other organizations to mandate the wearing of masks on their premises. These provisions were subject to adoption by local counties and cities, and the Johnson County Commissioners voted to support the mask requirement.

I believe the state government’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were justified. Governor Kelly’s executive order in March was appropriate at the time, and probably prevented many thousands of cases of the disease. I also generally support the provisions of HB 2016 and the vote of the Johnson County Commission to support the wearing of masks. Some people fail to recognize that by not following the basic guidelines, they are endangering the health of themselves and others. Regardless, the role of state and county governments is to provide leadership that gives guidance to protect the health and safety of the people of Kansas. I look forward to state guidance for reopening schools, places of worship, and businesses as well as providing resources for ongoing access to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing so that we can conquer this pandemic and move on to economic recovery.

Michael Bolton

All Americans have heard mixed messages. What we know factually is that this virus has not yet been cured. Social distancing and wearing masks are a way for each of us to help manage its spread while we wait for science to provide treatments, prevention, and solutions. This is new ground and the state functioned properly in issuing the order. There was no simple answer and there is not one now. People matter most so wearing a mask and respecting distance is a public display of our concern and commitment for one another.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item four:

What’s your view on the state of racial equality in relation to policing practices and the criminal justice system in Kansas? What changes would you support?