Your Kansas Senate candidates primer

Advance voting in person began Saturday, Oct. 17 in Johnson County and Election Day is Tuesday, Nov 3.

As residents start heading to the polls to cast their ballots for Kansas Senate candidates we’re putting together our election primers to give people an easy way to find out where the Shawnee Mission area candidates stand on the issues. If you don’t know what Senate district you live in, you can look up your voter record and see a sample ballot via the Johnson County Election Office’s tool here.

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Who’s on the ballot

The candidates running in the contested races in districts that include at least parts of northern Johnson County are listed below. We’ve linked to campaign websites when possible.

District 6 (Parts of Merriam and Overland Park — see map)
District 7 (Northeast Johnson County— see map)
District 8 (Part of Overland Park along the I-435 Corridor— see map)
District 10 (Parts of Overland Park and Shawnee along the I-435 Corridor — see map)
District 11 (Parts of Leawood and Overland Park — see map)
District 21 (Parts of Lenexa, Shawnee and Overland Park — see map)

Candidate Questionnaires

Earlier this month, we published the candidates’ responses to the questionnaires we developed with input from our readers. You can find each of the five questionnaire items linked below:

Question 1 — Pandemic response

  • 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? Read the responses here.

Question 2 — Expanding Medicaid

  • 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? Read the responses here.

Question 3 — Political polarization

  • 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. Read the responses here.

Question 4 — Racial justice and law enforcement 

  • 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? Read the responses here.

Question 5 — Climate change

  • 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? Read the responses here.

Candidate forums

Earlier this month, we hosted in-person, socially-distanced forums for the candidates running for Kansas Senate seats. You can watch the video of the forums below. Topics covered during the forum are noted with time codes below.

District 6

The event featured two-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Pat Pettey and her Republican challenger, Diana Whittington.

  1. Given that national issues currently monopolize the public agenda, can you list the state-level issues that you see as priorities? [5:15]
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its seventh month. And much of the debate over the state’s response to the pandemic has been the steps Governor Kelly’s administration has taken to try to combat the spread of the disease. A reader wants to know: how will you work to develop an intelligent, workable bill to lay out the Governor’s authority during emergency conditions like the current pandemic? [6:45]

    Incumbent Democrat Sen. Pat Pettey.
  3. Another aspect of the pandemic is the economic impacts as well. In the week ending Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Labor said that more than 17,900 initial jobless claims were filed in the state of Kansas, and according to the Kansas Department of Labor, more than 103,000 Kansans of working age still remained without a job. The state’s unemployment rate currently at 6.9%. If elected, what policies will you support as a state senator to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? [11:10]
  4. This is a key question driving many races … both local and federal … this year, in Kansas because it’s been a major topic of debate in Topeka for years: do you support Medicaid expansion, why or why not? [13:11]
  5. Both of you mentioned transportation as a priority in your opening statements. So, what do you think are the biggest transportation needs in the 6th District and how would you go about advocating for those? [16:30]
  6. A reader question: the next state legislature will be charged with drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries following the 2020 Census. Governor Laura Kelly has already said she will veto any redistricting plan that she thinks gerrymanders districts. What is your opinion about how Kansas should prepare for and approach the challenge of redistricting in 2021? [19:15]
  7. A measure to put a proposed Constitutional amendment related to abortion failed to pass the Kansas House last session after being approved by the Senate. The measure sought to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion that was enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. If you are elected, it’s possible — some might even say probable — that you’ll be faced with a vote in a similar measure next year or in the coming year. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a Constitutional right to abortion, and what, if any, limits on abortion do you support? [21:31]
  8. Another reader question from Leslie Mark: Even before the pandemic forced the Legislature to leave mid-session, the process for crafting legislation was broken. Committee Chairs and Senate and House leadership often have simply refused to move bills forward in committee or bring them up for a vote. This has impacted Medicaid expansion most dramatically. Have you thought about how you could help bring about change in the legislature to reverse this trend? [24:30]

    Republican challenger Diana Whittington.
  9. Another reader question, this one from Jim Breneman: do you support raising income taxes to boost state revenue? [27:32]
  10. All major cities in Johnson County and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County now have explicit legal anti-discrimination protections on their books for LGBTQ residents when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodation. There is no such protection at the state level, and some opponents of these ordinances say they could infringe on religious freedoms. Where do you stand on having statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Kansans? [29:14]
  11. Given that American politics is extremely polarized right now, both at the local and at the national level, what experiences or relationships can you point to that demonstrate that you have the ability to reach out and work with those who might not always agree with you? Please give specific examples. [31:31]

District 7

The event featured Democrat Ethan Corson and Republican Laura McConwell.

  1. We have been starting all our forums off with a version of this question: with politics at the national level monopolizing much of voters’ attention, what do you think are Kansas’ biggest state-level priorities that need to be addressed? [5:10]
  2. Democrat candidate Ethan Corson.

    The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its seventh month. In Johnson County, new cases continue to rise and the percent-positive rate also suggests that community spread is still occurring. How would you assess the state’s response to the pandemic so far? Has the state not done enough or too much? [9:25]

  3. Another pandemic related question more about economics, according to the state Department of Labor more than 103,000 Kansans remain without a job making the state unemployment rate slightly less than 7%. What policies will you support as a state house representative to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? [14:31]
  4. Another aspect of the pandemic and the response has been education regarding Shawnee Mission schools gradually reopen during the pandemic, this question first to Laura McConwell. Will the pandemic in your opinion change the way the state funds and/or regulates public schools going forward? [19:23]
  5. A question from a reader: The next state legislature in Topeka will be charged with drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries following the 2020 census. Gov. Laura Kelly has already said she would veto any redistricting plans that she thinks gerrymanders districts, we should also say the state supreme court would have to sign off on any redistricting plan sent in by the legislature. But, it’s going to be an issue in the 2021 session. What is your opinion about how Kansas lawmakers should prepare for and approach the challenge of redistricting in 2021? [23:49]
  6. Republican candidate Laura McConwell.

    This next question is a key one for many races both locally and on the federal level here in Kansas especially, because it’s a major topic of debate in Topeka. Do you support Medicaid expansion, why or why not? [26:37]

  7. This one has come up in other forums: abortion. A measure to put a proposed constitutional amendment related to abortion did fail to pass the Kansas House last session after being approved by the Kansas Senate. The measure sought to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion that was enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. We should be clear it did not pass the house to be put before voters. If you are elected, it’s possible that you’ll be faced with a vote on a similar measure or at least aborition will come up. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a constitutional right to abortion? And what, if any limits, on abortion do you support? [30:37]
  8. Any limits on abortion you would support or any more information about that position? [32:53]
  9. The next question is a reader question, this comes from reader Jim Redmond. Do you support raising income taxes in order to move state revenue and explain your decision on why or why not? [33:45]
  10. Is there any role for the legislature in responding to the issues that are being raised by the ongoing protest and social justice movement? Things like police accountability and transparency and broader reckoning with racism in this country. Does the legislature have a role in responding to those issues? [36:50]

District 8

The two candidates, Democratic Rep. Cindy Holscher, who currently represents the 16th House District, and Republican James Todd are vying for the seat being vacated by current Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning.

We have been starting all our forums off with a version of this question: with politics at the national level monopolizing much of voters’ attention, what do you think are Kansas’ biggest state-level priorities that need to be addressed? [6:00]

The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its seventh month. In Johnson County, new cases continue to rise and the percent-positive rate also suggests that community spread is still occurring. How would you assess the state’s response so far? [10:40]

Another pandemic-related question more about economics, according to the state Department of Labor more than 103,000 Kansans remain without a job making the state unemployment rate slightly less than 7%. What policies will you support as a state senator to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? [15:00]

Republican James Todd.

Amid COVID-19 and the potential increase in learning pods, private schooling and at-home schooling, has the pandemic in any way affected how you view the Legislature’s role in public school funding and policy? [20:05]

A question from a reader: The next state legislature in Topeka will be charged with drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries following the 2020 census. Gov. Laura Kelly has already said she would veto any redistricting plans that she thinks gerrymanders districts, we should also say the state supreme court would have to sign off on any redistricting plan sent in by the legislature. But, it’s going to be an issue in the 2021 session. What is your opinion about how Kansas lawmakers should prepare for and approach the challenge of redistricting in 2021? [24:30]

Democrat Cindy Holscher.

This next question is a key one for many races both locally and on the federal level here in Kansas especially, because it’s a major topic of debate in Topeka. Do you support Medicaid expansion, why or why not? [29:10]

The next question is a reader question, this comes from reader Jim Redmond. Do you support raising income taxes in order to move state revenue and explain your decision on why or why not? [33:30]

This one has come up in other forums: abortion. A measure to put a proposed constitutional amendment related to abortion did fail to pass the Kansas House last session after being approved by the Kansas Senate. The measure sought to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion that was enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. We should be clear it did not pass the house to be put before voters. If you are elected, it’s possible that you’ll be faced with a vote on a similar measure or at least abortion will come up. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a constitutional right to abortion? And what, if any limits, on abortion do you support? [38:35]

District 10 (Republican Mike Thompson did not participate)

Democratic candidate Lindsey Constance, a Shawnee councilmember and Shawnee Mission teacher, faces incumbent Republican Mike Thompson in the Kansas Senate District 10 race.

  1. Given that national issues currently monopolize the public agenda, can you list the state-level issues that you see as priorities? 4:00
  2. In this time, when access to healthcare is crucial, what will you do to ensure every person has access to high-quality affordable healthcare in Kansas, and that hospitals in rural parts of the state can remain open to provide care? 5:22
  3. The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its seventh month. In Johnson County, new cases continue to rise, and percent positive rates also suggest that community spread is still occurring (latest update here and county’s COVID-19 dashboard here). How would you assess the state’s response to the pandemic so far? Has the state not done enough or too much in trying to combat the disease’s spread? 6:33

    Democrat Lindsey Constance.
  4. Another aspect of the pandemic is the economic impacts as well. In the week ending Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Labor said that more than 17,900 initial jobless claims were filed in the state of Kansas, and according to the Kansas Department of Labor, more than 103,000 Kansans of working age still remained without a job. The state’s unemployment rate currently at 6.9%. If elected, what policies will you support as a state senator to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? 8:12
  5. A recent poll showed a majority of Kansans now accept the idea that human activity is causing climate change. How can Kansas lead in taking on the impacts of global warming, and how if at all would you plan on being a part of that in Topeka? 9:59
  6. Why is cannabis still illegal in Kansas? Do you support any measure of legalization for either medical or recreational marijuana? Why or why not? 12:27
  7. A measure to put a proposed Constitutional amendment related to abortion failed to pass the Kansas House last session after being approved by the Senate. The measure sought to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion that was enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. If you are elected, it’s possible — some might even say probable — that you’ll be faced with a vote in a similar measure next year or in the coming year. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a Constitutional right to abortion, and what, if any, limits on abortion do you support? 13:36
  8. All major cities in Johnson County, including Shawnee, now have explicit legal anti-discrimination protections on their books for LGBTQ residents when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodation. There is no such protection at the state level, and some opponents of these ordinances say they could infringe on religious freedoms. Where do you stand on having statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Kansans? 15:11
  9. Do the candidates’ children attend or have attended public or private schools? Do they favor increased funding for public schools in Kansas? How might that be affected in the statehouse? 16:16
  10. Given that American politics is extremely polarized right now, both at the local and at the national level, what experiences or relationships can you point to that demonstrate that you have the ability to reach out and work with those who might not always agree with you? Please give specific examples. 18:12

District 11 (Republican Kellie Warren did not participate)

Former Democratic state representative Joy Koesten is facing off against Republican Kellie Warren, who is currently a state rep in the 28th House District.

  1. We’ve been starting all of our forums with this question. Given that national issues monopolize much of the public attention and conversation, can you list some of the state issues you see as a priority going into the 2021 legislative session? [3:41]
  2. You mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic in your list of priorities, a few questions related to the pandemic. We’ll start with this one. Of course the pandemic is now in its seventh month and in Johnson County, new cases continue to rise and the percent-positive rate also suggests that community spread is still occurring in the area. Much of the debate over the state’s response has been focused on the steps the Kelly administration took to try to combat the spread of the disease. How would you assess the state’s response to the pandemic so far and how can the legislature be involved in 2021? [5:45]
  3. The economic impacts of the pandemic have also been severe. The Kansas Department of Labor says more than 103,000 Kansans remain without a job and giving the state an unemployment rate of slightly less than 7%. What policies would you support as a state senator if elected to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? [8:27]
  4. You mentioned schools, the pandemic has been challenging local public schools. Public school districts in Johnson County are currently in the middle of various stages of gradually trying to bring their students back for in-person learning. Many families have decided to forgo that and instead have their children learn remotely from home for this semester, and there’s also growing anecdotal evidence at least to suggest more families have chosen to pull their students out of public school entirely and either home school them or send them to private schools. Is the pandemic in any way affected how you view the legislature’s role in public school funding and public school policy?[10:26]
  5. Democrat Joy Koesten. Photo credit Lauren Koske.

    What steps do you take in your own personal life and campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19? [13:08]

  6. The next state legislature in Topeka will be charged with drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries following the 2020 census. Gov. Laura Kelly has already said she would veto any redistricting plans that she thinks gerrymanders districts, and it should be said the state supreme court would have to sign off on any redistricting plan sent in by the legislature. What is your opinion about how Kansas lawmakers should prepare for and approach the challenge of redistricting in 2021? [14:51]
  7. This is another key question driving many races both locally and federally this year and it’s been a hot topic in Topeka for years now, that is Medicaid expansion. Where do you stand on Medicaid expansion? Do you support it, why or why not?[16:44]
  8. This is another question from a reader, Richard Pine, and he writes “how would you have the state raise revenue if more is needed next year following the economic devastation of the pandemic?” [18:51]
  9. A measure to put a proposed constitutional amendment related to abortion failed to pass the Kansas House last session, but it was approved by the Senate. This measure proposed putting before voters an amendment to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion which had been enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. If you are elected, it’s possible that you’ll be faced with a vote on a similar measure. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a constitutional right to abortion? And what, if any limits, on abortion do you support? [20:04]
  10. This question is one we’ve been ending many of our forums on. Given that American politics is extremely polarized right now, what experiences or relationships can you point to that show you are able to work with people who do not always agree with you? And if you could, please give specific examples.[23:10]

District 21

Democratic incumbent Sen. Dinah Sykes is facing Republican challenger Tom Bickimer.

  1. Given that national issues currently monopolize the public agenda, can you list the state issues you see as priorities? 6:00
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic is now entering its seventh month. In Johnson County, new cases continue to rise, and the percent positive test rate also suggests that community spread is still occurring, according to the county health department’s COVID-19 dashboard online. How would you assess the state’s response to the pandemic so far? Has the state not done enough. or too much. or somewhere in between?  7:53

    Republican Tom Bickimer.
  3. In the week ending Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Labor says more than 17,900 initial jobless claims were filed in the state of Kansas, and according to the Kansas Department of Labor, more than 103,000 Kansans of working age still remain without a job. The state’s unemployment rate currently sits at 6.9%. What policies will you support as a state senator to help businesses recover from the pandemic and get Kansans back to work? 10:48
  4. Would you vote for a bill to expand Medicaid? If not, how would you justify that choice in regard to loss of federal funds and loss of medical facilities, especially in rural areas? If yes, how do you respond to critics who say it will cost too much? 14:22
  5. Do you support a Constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature the exclusive authority to determine funding for schools, and beyond that, do you favor increasing funding for public schools? 16:51
  6. Democrat incumbent Sen. Dinah Sykes.

    A measure to put a proposed Constitutional amendment related to abortion failed to pass the Kansas House last session after being approved by the Senate. That measure sought to explicitly write out of the Kansas Constitution a right to abortion that had been enshrined by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling. If you’re elected or return to office, it’s possible, some might say probable, that you’ll be faced with a vote on a similar measure next year or in the year to come. Do you think Kansans should be afforded a Constitutional right to abortion, and what, if any, limits on abortion do you support? 19:42

  7. All major cities in Johnson County, including Shawnee, now have explicit legal anti-discrimination protections on the books for LGBTQ residents when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodation. But there is no such protection at the state level in Kansas. Some opponents of these ordinances say that they could infringe on religious freedoms. Where do you stand on having statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Kansans? 24:23
  8. List two measures you will initiate or support in order to reduce Kansas’s greenhouse gas emissions. 26:00
  9. Given that American politics is extremely polarized right now, both locally and nationally, what experience or relationships can you point to that show you have the ability to reach out and work with those who might not always agree with you? If you could, please give specific examples. 28:33