Shawnee legislative candidates share views in forums
Some incumbents decline to participate
Community candidate forums in the past week gave residents a chance to learn more about local state legislative candidates.
On July 16, local elementary PTAs arranged a forum at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School for candidates of seats that serve the Northwest area. On Thursday, the Shawnee and Lenexa chambers of commerce put together a forum for the two area races that will require a primary, House Districts 17 and 39.
Shawnee candidates attending the July 16 event were Vicki Hiatt, Democrat, Senate District 10 covering all of Shawnee; Tom Cox, Republican, and Helen Stohl, Democrat, House District 17, covering central Shawnee; Eric Jenkins, Republican, and Cindy Neighbor, Democrat, House District 18, covering northeast Shawnee; and Linda Gallagher, Republican, and Amber Versola, Democrat, House District 23, covering southeast Shawnee.
Mary Pilcher-Cook, Republican incumbent, Senate District 10, and Brett Hildabrand, Republican incumbent, House District 17, did not attend the event.
House District 17 candidates again participated in Thursday’s event, which Hildabrand also did not attend. The event also welcomed the three Republican candidates for House District 39, which covers western Shawnee: Shelee Brim, incumbent Charles Macheers and Owen Donohoe. Video of Thursday’s event should be available Monday at www.VoteJoCo.com under “Candidate Events.”
At both events, candidates were asked several questions, but both events also asked the candidates what separated them from their opponents.
At both events, Cox noted that what set him apart from the incumbent was that Hildabrand wasn’t present at the forums. Cox said that while he was a nearly lifelong Shawnee resident, Hildabrand moved into the district very shortly before running for the seat and wasn’t involved with the community.
“The best part of this is being a representative, not a legislator — that’s the part when you hit your head against the wall and say ‘Why did I do this again?’” Cox joked at the July 16 event. “The part where you’re a representative is when you engage in the community, you get to work with people, you get to find out what (constituents’) voice is and take that to Topeka, not your own (voice) — that’s the part that I’m excited about.”
Stohl said if Hildabrand is her opponent, his record stands by itself, calling him “a consistent ‘yes man’ for Governor Brownback.” She said if Cox moves on to the general election, she knows they agree on several topics and can run a clean race.
“I think the difference there is I can be a more affective legislator,” she said, explaining that Cox’s fellow Republicans might skip over him, as a moderate, to serve on important committees. “So long as there is conservative control in Topeka, they control who sits on committees … the Democrats a guaranteed a seat on every committee, so on the important committees, we will be there representing you.”
At Thursday’s event, Brim said what set her apart is her lack of political experience, which she sees as a positive.
“I think what we need are more people like you and I in there,” she said. “People that want their voice heard and a representative that will listen to you, to all the constituents … to know what their needs are, what their wants are, and take that and go to Topeka and vote that way.”
She said she also will work to find solutions; she said she always told her students not to be a problem, but be a problem solver, and that’s what she intends to do.
Donohoe said as a candidate, he sticks to his word. He said his decision to run was in large part based on the actions of Macheers, who he said supported cutting taxes in the current tax policy but then voted for the biggest tax increase in state history. He said he would work for a compromise for a better education system without raising taxes.
"I'm going to tell you where I stand, this is what I believe, this is what I will vote on, you know exactly where I'm at," he said. "At the end of my term or session, you're not going to be able to come back and say 'Gee, I didn't know you felt that way.'"
Macheers said he thought that it was important that he is an attorney, because there will be only few attorneys in the House and only one potentially re-elected to the Senate.
“Writing law and crafting statutes is a very labor-intensive thing, and you really do need attorneys and lay people to help draft those,” he said.
Secondly, he said his experience and his demonstrated leadership set him apart, saying he has been able to craft coalitions together to pass “really good policy.”
Hiatt said what distinguishes her from Pilcher-Cook is the incumbent’s record — Hiatt said it shows Pilcher-Cook doesn’t support public education and supports interfering with the lives of Kansans in terms of restricting rights and restricting access to things like Medicare.
“I want to make the quality of life for all Kansans much better,” Hiatt said. “I want to look at the laws that we have and see how they are enhancing the lives of Kansans rather than looking at taking away things, limiting and restricting the rights and responsibilities of Kansans.”
Jenkins said the biggest difference between himself and Neighbor was because of Neighbor’s experience on the school board and six years in the legislature, she was too ingrained in the political process.
“I think I can think outside of the box; I haven’t been just a part of the system, part and parcel, forever,” he said. “ ... I have a very, very wide variety of backgrounds and abilities that I bring with me.”
Neighbor said she can work with transparency and work collaboratively to address problems. She said another difference is Jenkins was hand-picked to run by the current seat holder, John Rubin, who she noted is a “Brownback ‘yes man.’”
She closed by saying that she, too, can think outside the box.
“Being on the Shawnee Mission school board for 30 years, we’ve had to be innovative, we’ve had to be creative, because funding has dropped,” she said. “We’ve had to find ways to educate all students in a global world without any idea of funding.”
Gallagher said what sets her apart is her connection to the community — she has lived in the district for 34 years, while Versola moved to the district just before running for the seat the first time. She said her children attended schools in the district and she volunteered at those schools.
“Amber and I prided ourselves on having a clean, friendly campaign two years ago, and I look forward to having the same this fall,” she said.
Versola, Democrat running for the 23rd district, said she and Gallagher get along and agree on many issues, but she felt it was time for change in the capital.
“I’m asking for your vote today because of what she can’t accomplish in Topeka,” Versola said, noting that Gallagher had commented during the campaign two years ago that voters should send a businesswoman to Topeka, not an activist like Versola. “Well, it’s been business as usual in Topeka since then. I’m sick of the status quo, and I hope you guys are, too.”