Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about Thursday’s candidates’ forum, and features comments by candidates for the Legislature. Part II will appear in Sunday’s Great Bend Tribune and will include remarks from candidates for Barton County sheriff, county treasurer and county commissioner.
Around 200 Barton County residents attended a candidates’ forum Thursday evening at the Crest Theater, hearing from Republican primary candidates and from the Republican and Democrat candidates for the 112th District of the Kansas House of Representatives.
The forum was moderated by the local League of Women Voters. League President Mary Lou Warren noted the group is nonpartisan. “We provide information on candidates and issues,” Warren said, adding, LWV is open to men and women.
Rose Kelly, voter services chairman for the League, said national LWV procedures were followed in setting the format of the forum. Each candidate made an introduction, drew one or two questions submitted by the league and answered the question(s), then made final remarks. During each phase of the forum, each candidate had 90 seconds to speak.
Candidates for judge, along with unopposed candidates, were introduced but did not speak.
First up were Ruth Teichman, Stafford, and Mitch Holmes, St. John. Teichman is the 33rd Senate District’s incumbent and Holmes served the House’s 114th District district until redistricting.
“I do have a lot of training and experience that took me to the Legislature,” Teichman said, citing previous experience on the Stafford school board and as director of the Farmers National Bank. In the Senate, she said she has been active in making sure rural areas and small businesses have strong representation. She recently worked on water conservation and on the Rural Opportunity Zone. “I’m a big champion for education,” she said.
Holmes cited his own experience in the House, noting his most recent assignment was to chair the Committee on Pensions and Benefits, which dealt with changes to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. “I’m particularly proud the Speaker of the House trusted me to take on the problem of KPERS,” he said. “I went in there with the idea as a team we can solve this problem. ... I worked with moderates and conservatives.”
Holmes drew a question on whether he would support school vouchers, an issue he said doesn’t seem to make much sense for rural communities. “If someone would convince me it was a good deal, I would consider it,” he said.
Teichman was asked to explain her views on Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax reduction plan. “We need to look at all of our taxes,” she said. Left unchanged, the budget will put the state $4.5 billion in the hole by 2018, she said. As a result, public safety, education and corrections services would have to be cut. “There is a plan in the senate that would keep us whole,” she said. “We cannot live and support what we have now.”
Holmes was next asked, “Do you favor a defined benefit plan to replace the KPERS plan? Why or why not?”
“The KPERS question doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We’ve already fixed KPERS; it’s a moot point.”
The second question for Teichman was, “Would you be willing to support legislation to form a non-partisan redistricting commission for 2020 to avoid the chaos that occurred this year?”
Teichman said she served on the redistricting committee in 2002 and in 2012. “We did a pitiful job this year,” she said. “If this is what the Legislature has now come to, in 10 years we need to have some different system.”
In her wrap-up, Teichman told the audience, “I wasn’t elected to the senate to be a rubber stamp for anybody. I put my district first and I always will. ... Special interest groups are trying to take over the state. I believe we need to have representation that is for everybody.”
For his final remarks, Holmes noted, “When the courts redrew this district, they drew a very conservative district. If you look at my opponent’s record, her record is more in line with Democrats than Republicans in western Kansas. Do we want a Republican or someone who votes like a Lawrence Democrat?” Holmes said that wasn’t meant as an insult to University of Kansas fans, but a statement about political leanings. “Lawrence is frequently called the San Francisco of Kansas. Is that what you want?”
Republican John Edmonds, Great Bend, a Barton County Commissioner as well as a Certified Public Accountant, is seeking to return to state office as Representative of the 112th District. In 2007 he retired from the House after 12 years of service. “I’ve not been in this spot for four years,” he said. Edmonds spoke of his previous experience in the Legislature and his accounting practice in Great Bend of more than 20 years.
“I know from previous experience that the most challenging thing the Legislature does each year is produce a budget,” Edmonds said. That affects all of the other issues, and is something he has done. He’s willing to do it again, he said.
Steve Muehleisen, Great Bend, was the only Democrat at the forum and presented himself as “a new face ... to hopefully bring a new way of looking at our various issues.” He was also the only candidate who did not submit a brief biography to the LVW in time for it to be included in the handouts provided Thursday evening. He said he is a graduate of Ellsworth High School and served in the U.S. Army before coming home to Kansas and earning a physics degree from Kansas State University in 1991. He later lived in Knoxville, Tenn., but has been in Kansas since 2008.
“I’m running because I’m angry,” Muehleisen said. “I’m angry and I wonder why you all aren’t either. Our Legislature has turned into a clown house.” He cited the courts having to step in and do the legislators' jobs in areas such as redistricting and school finance. “The governor is using the state as a test, as an experiment,” he added. “It is an experiment I believe is going to fail and it’s going to cost us a lot. ... Common-sense things need to be done, and I want to do it.”
Edmonds was also asked if he’d be willing to support legislation to form a non-partisan redistricting commission for 2020 “to avoid the chaos that occurred this year.” “It may be that ‘chaos’ is too weak a word,” he said, calling the latest redistricting efforts “a debacle.” But, he said this was not a typical year. Redistricting went more smoothly in 2002. “I would certainly consider it, but I would not make a commitment.”
Muehleisen was asked if he favors a defined benefit plan to replace the KPERS plan. “This question came to me somewhat out of the blue,” he said. Not sure of the issues, he concluded, “Buzz words are cheap but they won’t get you a cup of coffee and they won’t solve this problem.”