Here are the questions SM Post readers have for candidates heading into November

The SM Post is hosting a series of virtual candidate forums in September and October, leading up to the Nov. 3 general election. File photo.

Last month, the Post asked our readers to tell us the topics they want candidates in local political races to be addressing heading into November’s general election.

We received dozens of responses, covering a wide range of issues. While questions naturally varied from race to race, and between county, state and federal contests, some common themes emerged.

Post readers, by and large, want candidates talking about:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • The economy
  • The Black Lives Matter movement
  • Health care
  • Climate change

The questions below — broken out by contest — are based on the responses Post readers sent us. We will be sending these questions out to candidates shortly, in preparation for a series of upcoming virtual forums.

On Wednesday, we will publish the forum schedule. The SM Post plans to livestream the forums on our Facebook page in the coming weeks, to give you a chance to tune in from a safe social distance and hear what the candidates have to say in response to readers’ priorities.

How to cast your ballot

Read The SM Post’s guide to casting your ballot in Johnson County this election season.

Questions for U.S. Senate and U.S. House candidates

  • Protests over police treatment of Black Americans have roiled the country since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. What changes to law enforcement policy would you support to ensure that Black Americans do not face increased risk of harm or harassment at the hands of police?
  • By the end of this year, the federal debt will be nearly equal to the size of the entire United States economy. The deficit has been exacerbated in recent years by the 2017 tax cuts and the stimulus package enacted at the start of the pandemic. How big a priority to you is lowering the federal debt? What specific steps would you support to reduce it?
  • The number of deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 people in the United States is considerably higher than many developed Western countries (like Canada, France and Germany) — though slightly below others (like the UK and Spain). Are you satisfied with the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? What could the government have done differently to improve outcomes here in the United States?
  • The United States currently spends more per capita on healthcare costs than any developed country — yet our citizens’ health outcomes continue to lag, with rates of obesity and chronic disease much higher than our peers. What does the U.S. need to do to lower its healthcare spending and improve healthcare outcomes for its residents? Should universal health insurance be a priority and, if so, what form should that take?
  • Climate change continues to be a major concern for Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps should the federal government be taking now to address the impact of the changing climate in the coming decades? How would you work to see those steps enacted?

Questions for Kansas Senate and House candidates

  • Gov. Laura Kelly enacted a series of executive orders this spring to stem the spread of COVID-19. What’s your assessment of the state government’s response to the pandemic? Did the state do enough? Too much? What, if anything, would you have liked to see done differently?
  • Would you vote for a bill to expand Medicaid? If not, how do you justify that choice in regard to loss of Federal funds, loss of medical facilities especially in rural areas and increasing numbers of Kansans without health insurance? If yes, how do you respond to critics who say it will cost too much?
  • Politics seems more polarized than ever, with activists in both parties seeking ideological conformity on many issues. What experience or relationships can you point to that show you have an ability to reach out and work with those who might not always agree with you? Please give specific examples.
  • Is action needed in the Legislature to ensure that all Kansans are treated fairly at the hands of police and government institutions in the wake of the racial justice movement? Do you believe Kansas records and meetings laws guarantee sufficient transparency?
  • Climate change continues to be a major concern for Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps should the state government be taking now to address the impact of the changing climate in the coming decades? How would you work to see those steps enacted?

Questions for Johnson County District Attorney candidates

  • After teenager John Albers was shot and killed by Overland Park police officer Clayton Jennison in 2018, Jennison was cleared of wrongdoing and received a severance package from the city of Overland Park. However, the city later settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Albers’ family for $2.3 million. This has attracted intense scrutiny of the process for investigating officer-involved shootings. What do Johnson County and law-enforcement agencies here need to do to ensure the public trusts investigations of police shootings?
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has focused on the actions of police departments and their relationships with minority communities. What is the appropriate role for the District Attorney’s office to guarantee equitable justice in Johnson County?
  • How would/does your office ensure that victims, their families or others affected by the justice system are fully informed of the actions that are being taken in their case? What role do you allow them to play?
  • Do Kansas open records and open meetings laws give the public adequate access to the investigatory actions and decision-making procedures of law enforcement, the district attorney and the courts? Please explain your response.
  • Describe what you believe to be the proper role and parameters of the District Attorney’s office to communicate to the public regarding criminal investigations and charging decisions.

Questions for State Board of Education candidates

  • The debate over whether and how to allow in-person learning during the pandemic has dominated discussions ahead of the start of this school year. What factors should school district administrators be prioritizing when making decisions about bringing students back to the classroom?
  • Describe the proper role of the state board of education in setting curriculum standards for the state’s schools. Is there a need for the curriculum to be more reflective and inclusive of groups that have been marginalized in the past?
  • The state board of education has in the past debated whether it’s appropriate to teach the concept of intelligent design along with theory of evolution. What are your views on what should and should not be taught to Kansas students in this regard?
  • The world that Kansas public school students will graduate into in the coming decades is likely to be very different than the world today. What skills and experiences should Kansas K-12 education be providing students to prepare them for an uncertain future?
  • Johnson County has seen the number of economically disadvantaged students enrolled in public schools significantly increase over the past 20 years. What can the state do to support districts that are seeing their demographics shift in such a way?

Questions for Johnson County Board of County Commissioners candidates

  • Property values have increased substantially in many parts of the county over the past decade, but the property tax rate has held largely steady. This means many homeowners have seen their annual property tax bills increase faster than the rate of inflation. Are you comfortable with this trend? If so, why? If not, how should the county address it?
  • Mental health issues are a continuing concern in Johnson County, as evidenced by teen suicide rates and calls for police service. What can the county do to improve residents’ access to mental health services and ensure that mental health calls don’t divert police resources from crime prevention?
  • Unlike the majority of the state, Johnson County continues to add population. What kinds of planning for public transportation should be taking place right now to ensure that we can accommodate the needs of residents 20 years from now?
  • Are there any areas of public service where you believe the county is currently not investing enough, or is at risk of underinvesting for the future?
  • Johnson County Government has the authority to veto applications for tax-increment financing (TIF) districts developers submit to cities — but has not exercised that power in recent years. Critics of TIF suggest it diverts tax dollars that governments could use on services to private entities. Proponents say TIF is a net benefit to communities by increasing tax revenues in the long run. Do you think the board of county commissioners should consider using its TIF veto power more frequently? Why or why not?