Candidates for offices at all levels — federal, state and local — took the stage Wednesday for the last in a series of forums sponsored by the county’s League of Women Voters and the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce.
The first to answer questions was Tobias Schlingensiepen, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives’ 2nd District. That seat is now held by Schlingensiepen’s Republican opponent, Lynn Jenkins, who was not in attendance for the forum.
Schlingensiepen said he was primarily concerned with getting Kansans back to work. Jeknins has also made that a plank in her re-election campaign. But he said to do that will require someone who can break gridlock in Washington. Schlingensiepen accused Jenkins of being out of touch with her contstituents, pointing to her high-dollar fundraisers in Washington.
“My question is who does she represent, you or these wealthy corporations?” Schlingensiepen, a Topeka minister, asked.
Candidates for two state House races then took the stage. Democrat Harold Fevurly of Easton is running against incument Republican Connie O’Brien for the seat representing the 42nd District, which includes most of the rural portions of the county. Those in attendance also heard from Republican Willie Dove of Bonner Springs and Democrat Pete Henderson of Basehor, both running for an empty 38th House Distrct seat.
The candidates addressed issues on state tax policy, economic development and education funding. O’Brien said she planned to introduce legislation to give veterans in-state tuition and said she would advocate other reforms.
“I’d like to see more money spent on technical education,” she said.
O’Brien then said that while cuts had been made to education in 2009 and 2010 to balance the state’s budget, funding was still up from a historical standpoint. Fevurly said as a board member in the Easton School District, he knows firsthand what kind of position those funding cuts put schools in — choosing between paying bills or paying teachers.
Dove said he would not advocate for increasing education spending when districts still have funds in reserve. As a former teacher, Henderson said he thought education funding needed to be restored to at least the level mandated by a 2005 lawsuit against the state.
“I think it’s an investment — we pay it forward,” he said.
Henderson also said he was against the switch to KanCare, a managed-care system replacing state-administered Medicaid. He said that private health insurance companies who had been contracted to manage the care were driven by profit and that he could see the current care level, with individual case managers, falling by the wayside. Dove said he had worked with and was impressed by similar managed care systems before and said Henderson’s experience with the current system sounded familiar to him.
Page 2 of 2 - “That’s what KanCare will do, with more benefits and less money,” he said.
Henderson and Fevurly both also said they would not support the recent income tax resutructuring signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback. Henderson said the cuts would “blow a hole” in the state’s budget and effectively increase taxes on the lowest income Kansans by eliminating certain deductions and rebates. Fevurly said he worried that a reduction of revenues of that scale — some $2.5 billion over five years — could mean tough times for property owners.
“Those taxes have to be made up somewhere,” he said.
Both Dove and O’Brien, however, said they supported the plan. O’Brien said eliminating some deductions meant hard decisions for legislators but that the reduction in income taxes on small businesses and limited-liability corporations — also part of the plan — would spur job growth. Dove agreed, pointing to success stories on the economic development front in other states where the income tax was reduced or eliminated.
The three Lansing mayoral candidates — Billy Blackwell, Don Studnicka and Andi Pawlowski — then took the stage to tell voters why they should be elected to succeed the city’s top elected official for almost 30 years, Ken Bernard. All three are current members of the City Council and agreed on several issues. But they did differ somewhat on visions for the city.
Blackwell said his main priority would be getting the city on the road to completing its comprehensive plan.
“I think the comprehensive plan will go a long way to setting the future of the city,” he said.
Blackwell also said he would like to set up citizen committees in each ward to inform residents of ongoing developments.
Studnicka said he would like to eliminate the perception of Lansing as a “bedroom community” by bolstering economic development with a fair and equitable incentive package and not “give away the farm.” While he said the Kansas Highway 7 corridor study and the K-5 connection were both great projects that the city was pursuing in the near term, he had other
ideas for the long term.
“I’d like to see another bridge across the Missouri River,” he said.
Pawlowski said she felt the K-5 connection was “absolutely essential” to the future of the city. She said she opposed raising property taxes until the economy rebounds and said she thought the city needed to do more to draw in resident participation.
“It’s not the council’s city, it belongs to the people who live here,” she said.