PRATT - Mary Jo Taylor, Stafford, and Matt Bristow, Ellinwood, both candidates for Kansas Senate Dist. 33, were invited to debate at the Pratt Town Hall held at Liberty Middle School Wednesday night. They are running to fill a vacancy left by Kansas Sen. Mitch Holmes, Republican, who opted not to file for another term.
During opening comments, Taylor stated she is running because of the budget crisis, and Bristow said he is running as part of the Take Back Kansas movement, referring to the ousting of several moderate senate and house representatives who opposed Governor Sam Brownback in 2012.
They were joined by five candidates for Pratt City Commission and two for the Pratt County Commission Dist. 2. The moderator for the debate informed candidates they would each receive two minutes to respond to questions submitted by the Pratt Chamber of Commerce, with a goal of wrapping up in an hour, in time for the third presidential debate scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. Central Time.
Both candidates responded to a question directed towards local candidates concerning what they would do to bring jobs to their communities. Taylor, the Republican candidate, stated she feels it is important to encourage entrepreneurship and to help existing businesses make incremental changes to expand and grow their businesses. Bristow promised to listen and bring local concerns to those at a state level that could help attract new markets to Pratt.
The moderator then asked the candidates what the single most important issue facing voters at the state level was. For Bristow, that was defending the state constitution and the separation of powers, specifically noting his opposition of a movement to oust Kansas Supreme Court Justices. Taylor replied the state budget running at a deficit, which is unconstitutional, was the most pressing issue, and expressed concern for how long the state would be able to afford to operate when the next session convenes.
There was time to take a few questions from the audience. One Pratt business owner asked Bristow his opinion of mental health parity. As a lawyer who works closely with patients and proposed patients at Larned State Hospital, he replied it was simply a matter of “sweeping these people under the rug and not taking care of them.” He blamed rising crime on the fact that resources are severely lacking to take care of mental health patients properly. They either go to the state hospital, or they go to jail. He added that this only makes the problem worse, and that more must be done to help these people. Taylor noted that in her efforts to understand the problem, she is of the opinion that mental health parity is a travesty, and is the result of ongoing stigma around mental health problems. Those without the means for private care depend on state hospitals and without those resources, we will all suffer she said.
Another Pratt resident who identified herself as a counselor with the local Parents as Teachers asked what the candidates thought of PAT funding coming from Temporary Aid to Needy Families rather than the Children’s Initiative Fund, as it has since the 1980s. Both agreed that the funding should come from CIF, rather than the federal TANF program.
During final comments, Taylor noted that both she and Bristow agree fundamentally on many issues concerning the current leadership of the state, and the importance of supporting education and rural health care. She sought to define their differences. She noted her experience with school district budgeting and her long history living and serving in Central and Western Kansas. Bristow promised to bring transparency to the working in Topeka.