Editor’s note: With Mitch Holmes’ decision not to file for re election in 2016, the seat for Kansas District 33 opened and two newcomers threw their hats into the ring. As the November election draws near, the Great Bend Tribune met with both candidates to learn more about who they are, what issues they are passionate about, and what inspired them to aspire to the Senate seat. Yesterday, we provided a peek at what Matt Bristow, Ellinwood, the Democratic candidate hopes to bring to the seat. Today, we cast our spotlight on Mary Jo Taylor, Stafford, the Republican candidate.
STAFFORD - Mary Jo Taylor, Stafford, has been an educator for over 30 years. Most of that time, meetings with colleagues were filled with energy and ideas and sharing what worked and what didn’t in the classrooms of hers and neighboring districts. But three years ago, the tone of those meetings began to change as a direct result of policies of the Brownback administration. Negativity and doomsday sentiments now dominated. Finally, Taylor wasn’t content any longer to simply gripe and complain. She instead decided it was time to take action, and so began a journey that has taken her through the 12 counties in Dist. 33, knocking on doors and campaigning for the right to help make a difference in the state she’s lived in and loved her entire life.
Taylor started her career as a teacher in BelPlain, and in 2001 became the principal at Stafford High School and later the superintendent for USD 349. Budgeting and managing became more prominent aspects of her job at that time. Her school district, like most in western Kansas, is very dependent on the state for funding. It was very important to be able to communicate with elected officials and share the effects of different laws. Prior to 2012, while Representative Mitch Holmes was not responsive, Senator Ruth Teichman was.
But then, Teichman lost in 2012, and Holmes took her place. Kansas experienced a self-imposed recession when Governor Sam Brownback was elected and implemented his experiment eliminating income taxes for corporations and LLCs. It was the beginning of a bleak period for public schools, and, she soon learned, it was the same for agencies under the state government umbrella that her district worked with and beyond. They weren’t receiving state funds or services either.
In January, Taylor found it had gotten so negative, she had to do something. She began writing letters to the editor of her local newspaper and over spring break, she and husband, Todd, did some soul searching. She began asking around and learned there were no other candidates opposing Holmes, so she filed and began campaigning against him. And while he opted not to file for re election, this election year, there is no easy path to the Kansas senate.
Taylor feels she can be effective in ways that Holmes was not. She is a listener, and will gather the perspectives of her constituents to come up with solutions. Already, in her travels, she’s learned that water and energy are two issues important to her district that she needs to get up to speed on.
Taylor said her primary reason for getting involved in this race is so she can be part of turning around Kansas’ budget debacle. She is careful not to speak ill of Brownback, the person. But she doesn’t agree with his philosophies.
“There is nothing wrong with trying an experiment, but it takes courage to admit when it has failed,” she said.
People she has talked to have shared that, as owners of LLC’s they benefitted from the current tax policies, but not enough to hire another person and not enough to expand their business. Instead, they save or spend those dollars that would have gone towards taxes on something they need. The experiment simply hasn’t worked the way it was proposed and change needs to occur. Taylor is alarmed not only by the fact that, to keep the state afloat, money has been transferred from KDOT, rearranged from different funds, and the state has had to bond money out of KPERS. And that’s just for one year. Already, the state is beginning to slip in its rankings in education, and soon, it will not be able to boast it is among the top five in the nation for roads any longer.
Rural hospitals have suffered greatly in the past three years too, she adds. This could have been avoided if the state had expanded Medicare, she believes. Still, with “Obamacare” in the state it’s in, she doesn’t feel it is working either. Essentially, there is no long term plan for Kansas hospitals right now, but she feels they should be allowed to benefit from those federal dollars as other states have.
In 2012, moderate Republicans in many districts lost their seats, providing an opposition free legislature for Brownback. Still, Taylor believes she will be able to be effective, provided the incoming legislature is veto proof. That’s the only way, and it may or may not happen, she said.
She is hopeful and points to the fact that some more moderates came out of the primary despite a lot of negative campaigning, herself included.
“Getting through that was one step,” she said. “The election will really tell.”
Should she win and travel to Topeka in January as a freshman legislator, her first order of business is to discern who she can trust to work with, and she hopes that she would be assigned to committees that her expertise could be beneficial to. That would be her goal.
For the first time in many years, Dist. 33 has a Democrat on the ballot. But the tone of this general campaign has proven to be radically different than the primary campaign, and Taylor admits, it’s been a relief.
“I think Matt Bristow is an intelligent young man, and I’m glad he’s in Kansas,” she said. “I think that despite the fact that he is a Democrat and I’m a Republican, obviously one of us is older and one of us is younger, and that can color your decision either way depending on who you are.”
Taylor added that she has lived in Kansas her whole life.
“I graduated in Scott County, and I went to college in Hays,” she said. “Most of my life has been spent in this area experiencing life in rural Kansas. I would hope I have a good perspective of what is going on here and that I’ll be able to voice that.”