Economy, property taxes and more were among the topics discussed at the candidate forum Tuesday evening sponsored by Leadership Butler.
Those opposed candidates had the opportunity to make opening and closing statements as well as answer questions from the audience, while those unopposed had the opportunity to make a three-minute statement.
Kansas State Senate District 14
The first candidates to be heard from were those for Kansas state Senate District 14, Eden Fuson and Forrest Knox, beginning with Fuson.
“I’m glad to see so many involved,” Fuson said.
She said it was good to be back at Butler Community College, where the forum was held, telling about her time getting her journalism degree from Butler.
She went on to talk about her activities and involvements in the community.
“I have been very active from an early age,” she said. “I got started in politics at age 16 when I started reporting on the Towanda City Council.”
She said people would ask her how they could change things, but of course, she wasn’t even old enough to vote.
“I want to give you that voice back and let you make the decisions,” she said.
She encouraged people to call or e-mail her any time.
She also talked about the unions and KNEA which have endorsed her as a candidate, as well as other groups.
“This has been a great county to live,” Fuson said. “I have given a lot back to it and I want to give more back.”
Knox also talked to the group, beginning by explaining the area the 14th district encompasses, a large rural area.
Knox served in the House for eight years and lives in Wilson County.
“We chose to live in rural Kansas because it’s a good place to live,” he said. “I’ve given rural representation to a rural House district. It’s never been a goal to be in the state legislature.”
He said he was 48 years old when he got involved in government.
“We’ve taken our job very seriously,” Knox said.
He said he is for limited government, free enterprise and traditional families.
The candidates were then presented with questions, beginning with Fuson.
The first question was with education going through many cuts what they would do.
Fuson said she was proud she graduated from public schools.
“I believe funding public schools is a primary concern,” she said. “We need to make sure teachers get the pay and recognition they deserve.”
Page 2 of 9 - She also said they are teaching to the test and need to look at changing the guidelines to put the focus back on student-centered teaching.
Knox also said there was not much more important than education.
He pointed out the last two years of cuts to education were several years ago and were only about 1 1/2 percent.
“The problem here is in declining enrollment, so districts see cuts in funding,” he said.
He thought they should change the focus and start educating students.
“We’ve lowered our standards so the numbers say it is the same, but it has declined,” he said of student achievement.
He wanted to allow local control and didn’t think the state should dictate to schools on programs such as bullying.
The next question was on how the tax base is split between residential and commercial property owners.
“We need some balance,” Fuson said.
She wanted to look at lowering property taxes throughout and was not in favor of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan.
“We need to focus on getting property tax relief,” she said. “We have to focus on small business.”
Knox said he thought they needed some pretty strong tax reform.
“Consumers pay all of the taxes whether directly or through things they buy,” he said. “We need to pass a lot of services down to local government and allow more taxing authority to local government.”
The final question was if the Senate supports the governor’s budget goals.
Fuson thought they did, but said, “When elected I will not support and and will look at an immediate overhaul.”
Knox also thought the Senate supported it.
“The tax bill was not the governor’s bill,” he said. “It was much more extreme. The bill that passed is the current Senate leadership tax bill.”
In closing, Fuson encouraged the voters to be informed and see who the donors are to the campaigns.
“The main organization that donated to my campaign is the KNEA,” she said. “His main reason for running is to oppose same sex marriage. He hasn’t done anything for rural development. He has suppressed women’s rights.”
She said she has been supported by several union groups, as well as Planned Parenthood and others.
“As a newcomer to politics, a lot of support is behind me,” she said.
Page 3 of 9 - She also thought Knox’s e-mail he is using with senate in it was confusing to voters and misleading.
In closing, Knox said choices in elections are what make the system this country has.
He said he spent time in El Dorado today and leading up to the election.
“Compared to the rest of my district, El Dorado seems pretty prosperous,” he said.
He mentioned the college, the stadium and new business.
“These are pretty exceptional things going on in this town,” Knox said. “When industries thrive, including Koch Industries (which has supported his campaign), there are jobs. Government creates zero jobs; government creates zero wealth. I’m running for office because I believe in you. My opponent, just like President Obama, believes in big government. We need to start reducing the size of government. Government needs to get out of the way and let people work.”
Kansas State Representative District 12
The next candidates were Tina Baumgarner and Virgil Peck for House District 12.
Baumgarner began by telling she grew up on the family farm in eastern Cowley County and got her teaching degree from Kansas State University, later earning her master’s.
“I entered the race because I feel priorities are taking a back seat to party ideology,” she said.
Peck said he has children, grandchildren and his parents who live in this district so he has an interest in issues affecting all age groups.
He was elected to his fourth term in the legislature in January 2011 and has served on the Appropriations Committee. He said last year they passed a budget that funded all services and balanced the budget and this year for the first time in many years they will have the requited 7 1/2 percent ending balance.
He also said they have put $65 million into education.
Peck saw the major tax reform legislation passed as an exciting bill.
“I was willing and pleased to support the tax cut legislation,” he said.
They went on to answer questions.
They were asked what was the biggest issue in their district.
Baumgarner said education.
“In my district and even in the school district in which I work, we are consolidated,” she said.
She explained that affected the relationship between schools and small business, hurting businesses when a school goes away.
Peck thought the biggest issue was job creation.
“I want to make sure there are good paying jobs for citizens and make sure people appreciate them,” he said, explaining in some of his communities he represents there are good jobs available but no one applying for them because of the problems with drugs in those areas in southeast Kansas. Because of that he also wants to make sure funding for drug prosecution remains in place.
Page 4 of 9 - Another issue Peck thought was important was property tax, which he said was out of control.
“It is increasing at an alarming rate,” he said.
He has sponsored legislation that would cap property tax and freeze property tax for senior citizens.
The next question was if they thought the House supported the governor’s budget goals.
“Yes,” Baumgarner said, “but I am concerned with some of the cuts. These programs are getting cut, especially when talking about programs that help people stay in their homes longer.”
She also was concerned about cuts to mental health services, making only extreme cases addressed now.
They also were asked what role they will play in Butler County.
Baumgarner wants to become more familiar with the area and said she has been attending city council meetings in the towns in her district to see what is going on.
Peck said when looking at the population base in their district, the portion of Butler County it includes is second only to Montgomery County.
“You have six different House members representing a portion of the county,” he said. “Every single representative is important. They will be your voice. I like this rural county.”
The final question was on the role between property tax and income tax.
“The feedback I have been getting is everyone is glad to see tax reduction with income tax,” Baumgarner said, “but more are concerned with property taxes.”
Peck said when they cut income tax that does spur the economy.
“Now that they have passed the reduction bill it is time to step into reducing property tax,” he said.
He said Brownback is now pushing Peck’s bill to reduce property tax.
“The state doesn’t control property tax,” he added, explaining it is from local government and education.
In closing, Baumgarner said she would listen to the voters no matter their party affiliation.
Peck wrapped up by talking a little about himself, telling about his family and education.
He went on to say, “Never in the history of the state of Kansas has public education funding been higher.”
He also said he is the only candidate who is pro-life and said he understands rural America.
“I will always protect the right to keep and bear arms,” he said.
He also is pro-business and disagreed with the projected shortfalls of the tax cut legislation.
Page 5 of 9 - “I am for the little guy,” he said, “small government and low taxes.”
Kansas State Representative District 75
Will Carpenter and Suzanne Scribner are running for the 75th District.
Carpenter opened their portion of the debate. He has lived in Butler County since 1980 and operated a couple of small grocery stores and small businesses.
“I know the rewards of being part of a community,” Carpenter said. “I want to do what is best for families.
“I believe education is key to children and our future,” he said. “What I don’t know is how much should be spent on education.”
He wants to look into that and make sure more is spent in the classroom.
Carpenter also wants less government regulation.
Scribner said she was a fifth generation Butler Countian.
“I have four siblings who teach so I hear a lot about education,” she said.
She said her interest in running for office goes back to when she was 15 years old and she got to experience how government works.
She has worked for 10 years at the El Dorado Correctional Facility and before that worked in banking for 10 years.
They went on to answer questions from the audience.
The first question was what they would do to have the most impact.
Carpenter said he has been in business 25 years.
“If there is economic development, good jobs, good economy, everything else will follow that,” he said. “There is always room for economic development.”
Scribner said she will be out and about and let people know they can talk to her. She also will follow a moderate line.
“I will make decisions based on what’s best for this county,” she said. “I want to know what is going on in all of the communities.”
The next question was on property and income tax.
Carpenter said the state government gets money from sales, income and property taxes.
He said serving as a county commissioner for eight years, he got his ears burned all the time on property tax.
“When people are making money they don’t mind sharing some with the government,” he said.
But they always have property taxes, which is one of his primary issues.
Scribner believes property taxes are ridiculously high, going up 65 percent in the last 10 years.
“They also are disproportionate because they only affect those who own property,” she said.
Page 6 of 9 - She wants to start at the state level and redo Brownback’s tax plan.
She said Brownback had asked departments to plan for a 10 percent cut even though he didn’t think that would be necessary. She said he wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t possible.
“We need to take care of things now,” she said. “We need to come up with a sensible program to fund programs. We are in trouble with the tax plan now.”
In closing, Carpenter said he was fiscally conservative and believes government should live within its means.
He said he has no agenda except to do the best job he can.
“I hope to bring the voice of people in this area to Topeka,” he said.
Scribner closed by saying voters needed someone who was a fighter.
“If elected, I am out of a job,” she said, explaining how serious she is about this. “If you elect me, you will have someone who comes from a strong family base. When you talk to me I think you will be surprised how much we have in common.”
Kansas State Representative District 77
David Crum is running unopposed for his House seat.
“It has been a pleasure to represent the 77th District for the past six years,” he said.
During that time he has been on the Appropriations Committee, where they were able to meet the 7 1/2 percent statutory ending balance this year.
“I spent quite a bit of time overseeing the Medicaid budget as social services chair,” he continued. “Medicaid has expanded significantly. I support Medicaid reform and feel something needs to be done.”
He said the Affordable Healthcare Act, or Obamacare, would require states to expand Medicaid with the option of opting out, something he would support Kansas doing.
“It is not the time to encourage more residents to become dependent on government,” he concluded.
Kansas State Representative District 85
Barry Stanley is running for this office and his opponent Steve Brunk was not at the forum.
With the questions on property tax, he said he was going to throw out his speech and talk about that.
“My whole campaign has been based on property tax,” he said. “You don’t just cut it without a way to fund programs. The current plan is a disaster.
“If you put a lid on property tax without some other means to fund programs what will you do? There are little other revenues available.”
Page 7 of 9 - He explained how this could affect residents in Butler County. He said the county has a bond and payment of that is based on projections for property tax over the life of the bond. If those taxes aren’t there, that money will have to come from somewhere else or they will default on the bond.
“When you talk about property tax, you have to talk about other types of revenue,” he concluded.
Kansas State Board of Education District 10
Jim McNiece is running for the State BOE. He is a retired high school principal, coming to Kansas from New York.
“I found Kansas a great place to live,” he said.
His wife also is an educator and his daughter is a teacher.
“I am running for the Board because David Dennis goes to the same church as I do,” he said, explaining Dennis kept asking him to run. “I finally relented and decided to run.”
He has been in education since 1971 and said there will be a lot of tough issues on which they will be voting.
“I think I have the practical experience that gives me the skills and toolset I will need to see those through,” he said. “I hope I can represent District 10 well and make a difference for students.”
Butler County Commission District 3
Ed Myers is running unopposed for County Commission.
He gave a talk on leadership and the entitlement mentality.
“Public leaders often see themselves as designers of the public good,” he said.
He said they want as much money as they need to give you “their great programs.”
“In business, overhead is essential, but a good businessman keeps overhead small. Government is society’s overhead. Now it threatens our future.
“Is the answer to socialism more socialism?”
Butler County Attorney
Darrin Devinney is running for county attorney. He has worked with the county attorney’s office since March 2000 after getting out of law school in December 1999 and taking the bar in 2000. He began as an assistant county attorney and filled the last two years of the term of county attorney when the previous county attorney was elected as judge.
“I have set up a life here in Butler County and my focus was prosecuting people who victimize children,” he said of his time as assistant county attorney.
“What I really am winning is the opportunity to serve you as an elected official,” he said. “I love doing that, it’s where my heart is. I have based my entire career in prosecution of criminals. The last 12 years I have provided the best public service I can.”
Page 8 of 9 - Butler County Sheriff
Kelly Herzet is running for election as sheriff.
“Serving residents is not just a job, it’s my passion,” he said. “One of the things I am most proud of is the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office.”
He talked about their new programs, including LandTracker, a field training program, the new Web site and Facebook pages, and the reinstatement of D.A.R.E. in the schools.
He said he used to oversee the jail, which has housed 10,282 prisoners. So far this year, the jail has earned $2.4 million.
“I do take pride in the job we’ve done but I’ll be the first to tell you I haven’t done it by myself,” he said. “There is no greater honor than serving as chief law enforcement officer in the greatest county in Kansas.”
Butler County Register of Deeds
Marcia McCoy is running for re-election as register of deeds. She said she is an active member of the community, being involved in such things as the Lions Club, Adopt-A-Class, Salvation Army, American Heart Association and United Way.
In 1991 she was appointed to serve as register of deeds.
“I have not ever taken this for granted,” she said.
In 1993, she became a certified register of deeds, something she has maintained ever since.
She said there are more than 800 types of documents in their computer.
“Statute governs how we run our office,” she said. “Last year we brought in over $1 million in revenue. It is my mission these records are preserved accurately and safely so people can access them.
“One of my favorite parts is serving the citizens of Butler County and the users,” she concluded.
Chuck Hart is running for re-election as judge. He said he was going to give those attending the forum a three-minute civics lesson on courts.
“The vast majority of the ballot is judges you have never heard of,” he said.
There are seven supreme court justices. The Kansas Supreme Court sets policy for judiciary. He also said there are some changes coming up in court system.
Kansas State Senate District 16
Ty Masterson is seeking election to the Senate District 16 which comes into the western border of the county, including Andover, Benton, Whitewater and part of Augusta.
He said he was born and raised in Butler County.
“I love this county,” he said.
Page 9 of 9 - He talked a little about the process.
“The political system, we call it sausage making and it’s ugly, but I want you to appreciate that because in the end it allows bottom up government,” he said.
He concluded by saying he was proud to see the involvement in the political process.
U.S. Representative District 4
Thomas Jefferson was the only candidate to make it to the forum. Robert Tillman and Mike Pompeo were not there.
“I like Mike but I feel he is failing us in the lower house of Congress but so are all the other guys,” he said.
He said Pompeo was overqualified for the House.
He also pointed out Pompeo raised $1.8 million for his campaign with $1.1 coming from large private contributions. He said all of the money for his own campaign was his.
“When you go into the voting booth take two people with you, you and me,” Jefferson said. “I don’t have to answer to anyone.”
He went on to answer if he supported government’s funding of alternative energy, such as wind energy.
He said he did support the wind tax credit.
“We need to encourage coal as well,” he said.
He said they need to develop ways to store wind energy.
“Today wind technology is in its infancy,” he said.
Next, he answered what changes he would propose in healthcare.
“Throw it out,” he said. “Stop voting to repeal it and vote to replace it.”
He proposed putting $4,800 in a medical savings account for each person at the beginning of each year that they could use as they wanted. He also wanted to set up a cap for private insurance.
The final question was on the government’s role in helping the economy to rebound.
“We need to cut spending,” he said.
He said cities, counties and the state does a good job, but the federal government needed to cut spending.
In closing, he encouraged voters not to vote for the party but to vote for the person.
“Learn about your candidates,” he said. “Go vote for me, then send me an e-mail saying ‘I voted for you and you owe me.’”