Kansas House candidates on the issues: Working across party lines

Photo credit Drew Tarvin. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item #3:

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.

Kansas House District 14

Charlotte Esau (incumbent Republican)

Many years ago I was fortunate to volunteer with an organization that provided training in listening and communication. I worked with mothers from very diverse backgrounds, family situations, education, and life experiences. As an organization we provided factual information in a way that each mother could both learn and also share their experiences to help one another. As leaders we had to direct the conversations in such a way as to ensure everyone left with facts, not just personal experiences of others. As a legislator we often face challenges in understanding what the concerns of constituents are and then turning those concerns into action that is helpful, whether it’s new legislation, dealing with an agency, or simply helping them connect with resources in the community. I have lost track of how many constituents I have assisted with unemployment application issues this year; helping them navigate a very overwhelmed system in a time of high stress has been both rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding in that helping is great and frustrating that I can’t quickly resolve it myself, I have to give them the tools they need and try to help them connect with those who can resolve their problem. It doesn’t matter if I agree with how the department of labor is being managed or if a constituent might vote for me or not, helping them is the only thing that matters. Whether it is a constituent issue with an agency that needs resolution or legislation that needs to be written and passed to improve how state government works, the solution I’m looking for isn’t partisan or ideologically driven, it is what’s the best way to get this done and who can help me make it happen.

Angela Schweller (Democrat)

I started in real estate back in 2006, right before the housing bubble burst. The atmosphere and attitude of Realtors back then was more of a “me” or “I” attitude, and a little bit more combative. When we went through the housing crash things had to change. Realtors needed good partnerships and ideas from each other to get through it. We were all in the same business and we needed it to succeed. I saw a shift in the way business was done. It became more of a team effort and less competition between agents. When agents worked together, deals went smoother and clients were happier. I still operate my business this way, even though the market has dramatically shifted again. I think of the other side and what they would want from the deal. I use that to guide my clients so they also can get what they want. It presents a win-win atmosphere, and I believe this approach should work in the government as well.

Kansas House District 16

Linda Featherston (Democrat)

I truly believe Kansans are more united than we are divided and I think the legislature can do a better job reflecting this. Legislators must be brave and vote for what is right for their constituents instead of being swayed by extremism. As someone who is not going to Topeka in order to create a political career, I am truly free to represent my constituents. I would never want to return to my home after a day in Topeka and have my neighbors standing in my driveway asking why I’d sold them out to further my political career. My career is as a piano teacher. My community service is running for office and hopefully earning the honor of representing District 16.

My family is a good example of my getting along with those of opposing views. My dad is a lifelong Republican and my mom is generally unaffiliated. My husband and I were of different political parties for the vast majority of our marriage. Our votes definitely cancelled each other out for years. Yet, we managed to raise two children in an environment of respect and civility. Our children definitely knew that we had different political parties, but when questioned about this, I would simply reply that my top priorities aligned more with one party while my husband’s aligned with another, and that was all ok. When one of my girls was doing a happy dance through the house when my husband’s candidate won, it was he who told he she needed to settle down out of respect for my feelings.

On the professional front, I’ve sat on the boards of the Kansas Music Teachers Association and Kansas City Music Teachers Association for decades. These boards are comprised on independent music teachers who all run their own businesses and are used to doing things this way. On the state level especially, you will see very diverse ways of looking at things. However, we always find a way to meet in the middle for the benefit of our organizations and our students.

I pride myself on being someone who sees both sides on an issue. My first reaction when I hear something is to try to see how the other side might have seen it. I believe with more balance in the Kansas legislature, we will be able to meet in the middle on far more occasions.

Rashard Young (Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 17

Kristine Sapp (Republican)

I have lived in District 17 for nearly 35 years. I grew up here, I attended public schools here, I am raising my three children here, I worship here, I volunteer here and I make a living here. I love my district and everything it represents. I have been a Realtor and business owner since 2003. During this time, I have served thousands of individuals from all walks of life; all races, religious preferences, income brackets, and political parties. As a Realtor, I am a negotiator, I find common ground in nearly all situations and bring people to agreements. However, as Realtors we’re involved in authentic relationships and discussions about our communities. Finding a home is about “life” and all topics are involved. We discuss schools, businesses, jobs, growth, restrictions, property taxes, income taxes, faith and more. I have an understanding and appreciation about Kansas from a variety of viewpoints. Not only am I directly involved in the community through my profession but also by volunteering. I have chaired two events during heated times, successfully bringing a polarized community back together. I’m innovative in finding ways to raise funds for those in need. I have supported several organizations in the community including Sunflower House, Advice and Aid, Victory Project and more. I volunteer with Bridging the Gap and other nonprofits. I also value and love discussions and debates. Some of my greatest friends have opposite views, yet we can have long spirited and respectful discussions. I have a proven track record of getting things done both professionally and personally. I’m an independent leader in my industry and community because of my ability to connect with people, to listen, to find answers and solutions. I never shy away from a challenge and I find great motivation when I do things for others instead of myself. I have never answered to a party or political figure and I never will. For me, my only agenda is serving the people, not politics.

Jo Ella Hoye (Democrat)

I listened to a 911 call in November 2015 when a woman warned Colorado Springs dispatchers of a man carrying a rifle, handgun, and a can of gas. She called back a few minutes later…the armed man shot and killed three people before having a shootout with police. It was the final straw. I had a sense that my background in public administration would be beneficial to a growing gun violence prevention movement; so I joined Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America that night. It changed the course of my life.

When Kansas Moms entered the scene, it seemed unlikely that our small, scrappy group of advocates would be able to rise to the challenge. We decided to try anyway. With guns on campus ready to take effect in 2017, the Kansas Moms organized and maintained a presence at the Capitol in Topeka. We built bipartisan coalitions and moved the needle. A permanent exemption for public hospitals, mental health centers, and nursing homes was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature and was allowed to go into law by Gov. Brownback. The Kansas team surprised and inspired people across the nation. We weren’t successful in stopping guns on campus, but we celebrated the first win for gun safety in Kansas in well over a decade.

We phone banked, held events, and kept growing our numbers to return to the Statehouse in 2018 on another mission. PASS a domestic violence bill and STOP a dangerous bill that would lower the age to conceal carry from 21 to 18. That year, I made more than 22 trips to Topeka during the 90 day session including a 17 hour day. I was rarely there alone. The Domestic Violence bill overwhelmingly PASSED and was signed into law by Gov. Colyer. Lawmakers gaveled out that year without weakening gun laws any further. Under my leadership, local groups of Moms Demand Action popped up across the state. Volunteers and survivors helped pass TWO gun safety bills, and the legislature hasn’t passed a bill to weaken our gun laws in Kansas for the past FOUR legislative sessions.

Michael Kerner (Libertarian)

Without a doubt, the two older parties have been fighting for control of our lives for a long time. It has become an extremely competitive team sport. Each election we are offered two candidates for an office and are forced to choose the lesser evil time and time again. Neither party cares very much for your personal freedom. They care for their power. To me, it looks very much like two criminal gangs fighting for dominance over our lives.

That is why I became a Libertarian several decades ago. Individual liberty is my first and highest value and I do not compromise with that. People have found lots of ways to define Libertarianism, but my favorite is simply the pledge party members take to join the national party: I certify that I do not believe in the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals..

When describing our differences from the two older parties, I usually point out that when there is a boot on your neck, it makes no difference whether it is a right boot or a left boot.

Kansas House District 18

Cathy Gordon (Republican)

Over 20 years ago I realized that our county has more people who are underserved in health care than any other county in Kansas. Early in my career I worked in an Emergency Department (ED) in our area. I witnessed first-hand how many people used the ED for basic health care needs. I decided to take a step in faith and start a clinic for those people, who could not afford the high cost of health care. At that time, no other nurse practitioner at the time has done this. I was told the clinic idea, would not survive in a medically saturated area. I was also given a note from an ED physician that read “don’t be a fool”. I stood strong, rallied the support of many health care providers to aide in starting this clinic here in Shawnee. It still exists today, successful, sustainable and serving our community. In addition, I started a free-standing birth center which now has grown and replicated. Offering low cost affordable prenatal, birth and newborn care. I have bridged the gap of high costs health care to affordable accessible health care in our community.

Cindy Neighbor (incumbent Democrat)

A couple of years ago, there was a group of women who came together to address a tax issue. It was comprised of all ideologies to come up with the best plan. At first leadership did not want to talk with us, but when they realized they did not have the votes to pass their plan which was politically motivated, they opened the door for discussion and our plan was passed. If more of these discussions would take place, our legislature would be much stronger.

Kansas House District 20

Mari-Lynn Poskin (Democrat)

I am a middle child and grew up to be a mom and step mom of seven children, I feel like that is a comprehensive answer to this question! However, I do have extensive experience in this area outside of my personal family relationships.

On a professional level, I advise families who are working through the college admissions process with the goal of helping students reach a “best fit” decision for their higher education pursuits. Parents, students, and their counselors have many competing and vastly different views on what that means. I have successfully pulled these disparate parties together, reaching consensus on decision making, planning strategies, resource allocation and accountability. I always know I have my work cut out for me when a parent has a “House Divided” license plate! I see many parallels in the work I do professionally with the legislative work I will be doing.

As a moderate Republican for 35 years, the 2016 election left me feeling that my calling was to amplify and strengthen the centrist positions I have always held and believe represent the majority of where most Americans live their daily lives. The Kansas GOP, both through its platforms and relentless pursuit of rooting out centrists, left me feeling unrepresented there. In 2018, I changed affiliation to the Democratic party so that I could continue advocating for public education, healthy communities and economic development for Kansas without ideological conformity. I have no allegiance to extremist positions on the right or the left, nor to any party.

I was inspired to run by the work that the Women’s Caucus did to repeal the failed Brownback Tax Experiment. I was also encouraged by the bipartisan work done by Gov Kelly and Jim Denning and was disappointed to see it wasted by extremist leadership. We do our best work for the people of Kansas when we come together, earnestly, seeking common sense bipartisan solutions.

Jane Dirks (Republican)

This is a great question, and I share the frustration of many that politics is becoming too polarized, and civility seems to be lost. Everyone has a right to their point of view and philosophy, but we need to learn to listen and understand where others are coming from. As I’ve talked with voters all summer and fall, I actually am optimistic we’ll get through this as I’ve enjoyed hearing from those all across the political spectrum. In addition, I have been in a number of settings – including my various leadership roles at a school and in my HOA – where I have had to work towards solutions where different people have strong opinions on what should be done. That will be my approach in Topeka, as well.

Kansas House District 21

Jerry Stogsdill (incumbent Democrat)

I have gone out of my way to get to know and become friends with most of the Republicans in Topeka. I believe that legislation developed through a bipartisan effort is the best way to produce good legislation. During my first session in Topeka in 2017, freshman moderate Republicans and Democrats formed a caucus to make sure we got to know each other and to try and work on legislation collectively. It worked and together we were able to get rid of Gov. Brownback’s disastrous “tax experiment” and even overrode Brownback’s veto of the legislation that did away with his tax plan. Unfortunately, in the last session Republican leadership made it clear to their moderates that this type of caucus was unacceptable. They have also made sure that the vast majority of Republican moderates have been removed from the Legislature in 2018 and 2020 Republican primaries.

Along with the cooperative effort in getting rid of the Brownback “tax experiment” I have worked successfully with Republican colleagues to get military nurses and doctors licensed in Kansas so they could work in Kansas communities during their time off. I have worked with Republicans on a bill that would return due process rights to every teacher in Kansas and that bill has passed the House on two occasions only to be killed in the Republican Senate. I am presently working with a Republican representative to gain licensure acceptance in Kansas for Art Therapists. I hope there are more opportunities to work across the aisle when we return to Topeka in January.

Bob Reese (Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 23

Matthew Clark (Libertarian)

Volunteering as the Hotel Committee Chairman for my former employer’s pilot union was probably the most applicable to politics. At the regional airline, we often spent more nights in hotels than at home and crews had very strong opinions on where we stayed. I held this role for three years, the first half of that time as a committee of one. I worked to find the best possible solutions balancing the needs of the company to control costs, the third party vendor who sourced hotels, and the flight crews who presented a diverse set of desires. New pilots and flight attendants made very little money, brought their own meals on trips which required rooms with a fridge and microwave. Senior crewmembers could afford to get out a bit and preferred downtown locations which are often more expensive. We succeeded in finding solutions to all these needs and increased downtown locations, often with appliances, to 26 from only four when I started. This balance was not always found, but I earned my peers respect by listening to their needs and explaining why we reached the decisions we did. I learned about soliciting opinions, not giving too much weight to the loudest voices just for being loud, finding win-win scenarios for the company and crews, when to take a stand and when to negotiate.

Susan Ruiz (incumbent Democrat)

In 2018 when Rep. Brandon Woodard and I tried to pass the amendment to the anti-discrimination act, we had the largest bipartisan sponsorship for that bill than any other bill that year. It took reaching out to representatives in both parties and having honest conversations about discriminations against the LGBT community. Many of the representatives didn’t realize that I could be fired from a job simply because of my sexual orientation. Being able to share our stories with each other helped to bridge relationships.
I have established relationships with representatives from across the aisle in all three of my assigned committees. It took reaching out and having casual conversations or text messages about everyday matters, not just legislative. It also means sitting together over a meal or snack. There is a way to be respectful during difficult conversations and walk away in disagreement. It also means being honest about where we disagree and take a stand on certain issues, even if the conversation is with the majority or minority leadership.

Jeff Shull (Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 29

Brett Parker (incumbent Democrat)

I have worked closely with friends across the aisle to repeal the failed Brownback tax experiment, finally pass Constitutionally adequate public school funding, and pass Gov. Kelly’s new transportation plan for Kansas. In committee, I have worked with moderate Republicans to advance measures to make voting more accessible and more secure. I am also a founding member of the Future Caucus, which brings younger legislators from both sides of the aisle together to find common ground and advance legislation we can all agree on. While it is always important to find common ground where we can, it was discouraging to see so many Republicans that were willing to work across the aisle be targeted and defeated by their own party. The Kansas legislature will be a poorer place without Republicans like Rep. Jan Kessinger and Sen. John Skubal in Topeka next year.

Jerry Clinton (Republican)

Did not respond.

Kansas House District 30

Laura Williams (Republican)

In such a polarizing time when it comes to politics, I believe it is very important for an elected official to communicate and have relationships with people across the aisle.

As I have gone door-to-door throughout the community, I’ve talked to both sides hearing issues that sway their vote one way or another. Though we may disagree, each opinion is rooted in something that person cares deeply about.

Recently, I began working with a group of individuals to protect our children from sexual predators and grooming behaviors that are happening in our schools. This problem is not a partisan issue. This is something that I have already had the opportunity to meet with people on both sides of the aisle in the midst of when it seems neither side can work together, especially during an election year. But it should be a top priority for us to create legislation to protect our children in places they consider a safe haven. My hope, along with people on the other side, is that we will be able to quickly and effectively come to solutions, setting our differences and pride aside.

Brandon Woodard (incumbent Democrat)

From my time as a student leader at KU to my work in the Kansas Legislature, my approach to solving problems has always been to find common ground, even with those who do not always agree with you. In my first two years in Topeka, I’ve worked to proactively build relationships with my colleagues in my caucus, as well as across the aisle, to identify reasonable, common-sense solutions to the issues Kansans face across the state. As a representative, I was proud to collaborate with our bipartisan governing coalition to craft and pass a plan to fully fund our public schools, pass a statewide transportation plan to create jobs and rebuild our roads, and to prevent disastrous tax policies that would’ve sent us back to the era of the failed Brownback tax cuts. In 2018, District 30 elected a consensus-builder that will work with anyone to solve problems for our neighbors in Lenexa and Olathe. That’s what you’ll continue to get if you send me back to Topeka in 2020.

Kansas House District 39

Owen Donohoe (incumbent Republican)

I have always made it a point to be cordial to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I can have policy disagreements, but still work with those who disagree with me. One example would the Social Services Budget committee of which I am a member, and have worked together in a bipartisan manner with both my Republican and Democrat colleagues. I have voted for an increase in the budget for those who are needing services, especially those on the waiting list, any time it was proposed whether it be by a Republican or Democrat colleague. I supported other measures introduced by colleagues from the opposite party, when it was a good policy that had clear benefits for those who fell under the committee’s purview. I have always felt that if it was good policy, then I would vote for it regardless of who introduced the measure. Even when I may disagree on policy, whether it be with my own party or the opposite party, I will always be respectful of others opinions and ideas. Having a difference of opinion and philosophy does not have to be contentious, it can be done with respectful acknowledgment of the other person’s opinion that does not create animosity.

Les Lampe (Democrat)

During my professional career as an engineer, I worked with many city councils, county commissions, and other governing bodies that had diverse perspectives on how to address infrastructure needs. The most notable example of achieving consensus was serving as a project manager to address water supply issues for the Colorado River which serves 40 million people in seven states in the Southwestern U.S. Conflicts over water availability from the Colorado River have been prominent for over 100 years and are probably the most intractable in the U.S. I was involved with extensive public outreach and meetings with leaders in all seven states. As a result, consensus was reached on several measures that could be implemented to improve water supplies. A report summarizing these consensus measures was issued and many of the measures have already been implemented.

One recent example of working with diverse interests to accomplish a goal was the adoption of the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance by the City of Shawnee. I was one of the leaders who worked with people in the community to move this forward. I participated in the lengthy hearings that finally resulted in expansion to cover sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in the areas of employment, housing, and public services. The City Council approved the ordinance by a vote of 5-2, and Shawnee become the first large city in Johnson County to adopt such an ordinance.

I’ve served on the board of Kansas Interfaith Action for several years. It’s an organization that brings people of different faith traditions together to advocate for social justice and moral issues in the Kansas Legislature. Our varied backgrounds and ways of worship are respected when we find common ground on issues that we care about.

I value interaction and the understanding that happens when people come together for a common cause. I look forward to working with fellow legislators to make Kansas a place where our next generation wants to work and raise families.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item #4:

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?