Two candidates are running for the 5th State Senate District, which includes the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing, and western Wyandotte County.
Two candidates are running for the 5th State Senate District, which includes the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing, and western Wyandotte County. Republican Steve Fitzgerald is challenging Democratic incumbent Kelly Kultala. The candidates gave the following responses to questions from the Leavenworth Times.
1. There seems to be a lot of contrast on the issues between you and your opponent in this election. How would you characterize the biggest philosophical difference between you two?
Fitzgerald: Individual rights and dignity are the most important factors. Government should respect and defend those rights. The state must protect the life, liberty, and property of all. In practical terms that equates to low, fair taxes; the equal enforcement of the law; and frugal, efficient government spending with full accountability and transparency. Individual dignity is enhanced through jobs – not handouts.
Kultala: Unlike my opponent, I believe we are better when we work together. For the last four years, I've work with a moderate coalition of Democrat and Republican legislators on issues important to this community. If elected, I will continue working in the best interest of the 5th district – not my party.
2. Tax reform continues to be a major topic of interest for Kansas voters. In general, what tax changes or reforms would you support or think should be brought forward?
Fitzgerald: Low, evenly applied taxes encourage business and do not punish property owners – especially those on fixed incomes. Removing disincentives for business will help to restore prosperity and more good paying jobs. A stronger economy will reduce the overall tax burden.
Kultala: The Governor's tax plan is reckless and irresponsible. And although Kansans already pay more in property taxes than 40 other states, because Governor Brownback's plan eliminates income taxes for nearly all non-wage earners, property taxes will have to rise even further to make up the difference. It's what has happened in other no-income tax states and it will happen in Kansas. I will support legislation that reduces property taxes.
3. Do lower taxes equal more jobs?
Fitzgerald: Not necessarily, businesses will come and stay where there is good public safety, education, transportation, and other amenities. Leavenworth County has these factors. When those are comparable between competing business locations lower taxes become a determining factor. Lower taxes can mean more jobs; but, the other factors must also be in place.
Kultala: Bond credit rating organization Moody's recently predicted no improvement in economic growth as a result of the tax cuts. Education and quality of life issues are key to creating and attracting new jobs. Forbes Magazine identified expanding an educated workforce as the common theme among the states it ranked highest for locating a business.
4. Do Kansas public schools get just the right amount of funding now, not enough, or too much, and what do you want to see happen to education funding in the next two years?
Fitzgerald: Emphasis must be on education rather than just on funding. Our students must have the best possible education – including technical training as well as college preparation. Funding must be adequate to achieve these goals. I am not convinced that increased funding has led to better educational outcomes. We must focus on having the best teachers and the best principals.
Kultala: Drastic cuts to public education have forced our school districts to layoff beloved teachers, increase class sizes and increase school fees. Now that the economy is starting to rebound and as positive cash balances occur in the state budget, I would like to see that funding is restored to the levels spelled out in the Montoy vs. Kansas court case. By fully-funding our schools, we can ensure that our children receive the best education possible.
5. If spending needs to be cut in the state budget over the next couple of years, what areas would you advocate the most funding cuts?
Fitzgerald: Any cuts must be guided by careful reviews, including assessments of the effects of proposed cuts. Across the board cuts must be avoided. Medicaid has been identified as one area where significant possible fraud should be pursued. Other programs, such as welfare, should also be investigated to insure that taxpayers' money is being used properly.
Kultala: The Kansas Legislature approved an irresponsible tax plan during the 2012 legislative session, which will completely eliminate our state surplus and leave our state in debt. As a result, nearly half of our state budget may be cut. That means eliminating jobs, programs and services that have supported our businesses, children and most vulnerable Kansans, e.g. the Kansas Main Street Program. Instead of focusing on further reductions, the Kansas Legislature should focus on ways to support these vital programs in future years.
6. Do you support open carry gun laws in Kansas?
Fitzgerald: Yes. However, I believe concealed carry is more effective in deterring crime.
Kultala: I support current laws.
7. Should lawmakers legislate on moral issues, and if so, which ones in particular?
Fitzgerald: Is it moral to beat an animal? throw trash in the street? leave a child in a parked car unattended? not use a seatbelt? The question is should our laws be moral and the answer is yes. Again, laws should defend and protect the rights and dignity of all.
Kultala: The Kansas Legislature should focus its time and attention on issues that will make Kansas the best place in the nation to live and raise a family – that includes a fair and balanced tax plan, good paying jobs, economic development and excellent public schools.
8. Should we turn over the appointing of state judges to Gov. Brownback, and if so, why?
Fitzgerald: Appointment of judges with legislative approval is a widely accepted practice. It is what we do at the federal level and in many states. It has the advantage of placing the responsibility in the hands of those elected by and answerable to the people.
Kultala: No. The current process allows for the best and the brightest to be selected by a judicial nominating committee made up of lawyers and lay-people. We don't need the selection process to become political.
9. If you had to name only one issue that you would most would like to be identified with and motivated by, what would it be?
Fitzgerald: The situation today demands that we revive the economy and reduce government spending. If the economy continues to slide we will continue to lose population – that must be turned around and very soon or other issues will be moot. Respecting the rights and dignity of all is essential to building a just society that will regain prosperity.
Kultala: Job creation. During the last four years I have worked with state and local leaders to create more than 8,000 jobs in the 5th district, including the CPAC call center. If re-elected, I will continue working to create jobs and grow our local economy.
10. As a voice in the statehouse for the Leavenworth/Lansing community, what will you for work in Topeka to specifically benefit this area?
Fitzgerald: We need roads that will help build the economy. We need lower taxes and more efficient government that will spur growth and add jobs. We need schools where the teachers are treated as professionals and not the lowest level of a vast bureaucracy and parents are more involved in their children's education. We need to capitalize on increasing local businesses supporting the military.
Kultala: I will continue to work on job creation, funding for our public schools and fair pay for our correctional officers. I have a long history with this community and it has been my honor and privilege to represent it. Leavenworth is my birthplace and my heritage.
– Dale Brendel