Meet the Candidates: District 23
Election Day is only a few weeks away. As Nov. 6 draws closer, district candidates have been participating in forums and going door-to-door in hopes of securing votes.
There are four different state representative election races affecting the city of Shawnee.
On Oct. 11, candidates from each race participated in “Popcorn & Politics,” a forum held at the Shawnee Civic Centre.
It was hosted by the Shawnee, Lenexa and Overland Park chambers, in partnership with the Johnson County Public Policy Council.
It was moderated by Phil Hammond, the co-chair for the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee.
Candidates from Districts 17, 18, 23 and 39 participated in the forum.
This week, the Dispatch will take a closer look at the forum responses from candidates in Districts 18 and 23.
The responses from Districts 17 and 39 will be in next week’s issue of the Dispatch (and online).
Here is a look at District 23:
In District 23, two strong female candidates are vying to represent constituents in parts of Shawnee, Lenexa and Overland Park.
Incumbent and Republican Linda Gallagher is facing Democrat Susan Ruiz at the polls on election day.
Gallagher, who is running for her third term, has lived in the district for 36 years.
The state representative from Lenexa is the vice-chair for the Children and Seniors Committee. She also serves on the Child Welfare System Task Force and the Transportation; Government Technology and Security; and Social Services Budget committees.
The former journalist and business executive is married with two grown daughters.
Ruiz, a Texas native, moved to Kansas 25 years ago to serve some of the most vulnerable populations in the state as a social worker. She has lived in Shawnee for 22 years.
She is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant and a first-generation college graduate.
She currently works at the Behavioral Health Unit at Truman Medical Center.
Although both candidates have some ideals in common, they bring different perspectives on major issues facing the Kansas legislature:
Views on state tax policy
Gallagher pointed out she voted for the 2017 tax reform bill, which restored revenues and allowed the state to begin climbing out of its budget crisis.
She added that taxes should be fair and equitable for all taxpayers and are necessary to provide needed funds for essential state services.
She also has a few specific tax areas she wants to focus on, if re-elected.
“With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on internet sales taxes, I would support reasonable legislation to do that,” she said. “It would level the playing field for local stores and I would like to use the revenue from that to lower the sales tax on food. Kansas has the second highest food sales tax of all 50 states and my constituents frequently mention that as a concern.”
Ruiz believes the state needs to move towards the future.
“I will not support a tax structure that looks anything like the Brownback experiment,” she said. “We must support the middle class and not add any more tax burden to lower income families.”
Also, instead of lowering the food sales tax, she wants to take it one step further.
“I strongly support eliminating the food sales tax because we want to continue to attract new industries,” Ruiz said. “Having one of the highest food sales taxes in the country isn’t very welcoming.”
Growing the state’s workforce
Ruiz said she strongly believes the state must grow a diverse workforce, by providing equal access to quality education, and promoting community colleges and trade schools.
“Part of the struggle is in the area of skilled labor, such as plumbing or electrical or construction work,” she said. “We need to bring new workers into the state.”
Gallagher agreed encouraging students to learn skilled trade is important, since not everyone is cut out for a four-year education.
She also supports sound fiscal policies to continue the state’s economic recovery and creating, “a stable business environment for Kansas employers so they will be able to expand and create new jobs.”
Improving the state’s transportation
Gallagher, who sits on the Transportation Committee, said a transportation plan must meet needs across the entire state, and include provisions for funding.
“Several Kansas bridges are structurally deficient and functionally obsolete and some Kansas roads are in poor condition,” she said. “These must be addressed. It should also include provisions for upgrading mass transit, airport and railroads. Kansas is an important crossroads for transit and shipping of freight and we must maintain and modernize our infrastructure to support that.”
Ruiz agreed funding was the most important aspect.
“We must restore the funding that was taken from the transportation budget and put into the general fund,” she said. “Infrastructure took a step back during the Brownback administration. We must restore the funding.”
Funding K-12 education
Both District 23 candidates are advocates for public school funding.
Ruiz said she believes every child in the state of Kansas should have equal access to quality education and that is an issue she will pursue is elected to serve District 23.
“We must invest in our children and give them every opportunity to succeed,” she said. “It is time to...fully fund our schools. I would like to see more funding for early childhood education for children ages 3 to 5 and more funding for the Parents as Teachers program.”
Gallagher said she has been concerned for years that the legislature has not been adequately funding public education, and she hopes to continue addressing that issue if re-elected.
“I voted for school funding bills in both the 2017 and 2018 sessions,” she said.
“As a result of these bills, we are closer to adequately funding schools than we have been before the recession. I’m confident the legislature will be able to address the issues raised by the Kansas Supreme Court and appropriate from existing revenues the necessary extra funding they called for to cover the cost of inflation over the next several years.”
Drawing economic development to Kansas
Gallagher said she supports incentive programs, such as STAR bonds.
“Economic development incentives should be used to bring in new companies to the state, rather than lure companies across the state line,” she said.
Ruiz said improving the state as a whole will help boost economic development.
“Attracting businesses and investors requires many things–good schools, good infrastructure and a place that is welcoming to them as individuals,” she said. “If the state loses support in any of these areas, then we risk lowering our status as a target for investors and business development.”
A closer look
If elected, Ruiz said her top three priorities will be Medicaid expansion, voting rights and school funding.
“We have rural communities who are dying because hospitals are closing,” she pointed out. “A lot of that has to do because we don’t have Medicaid expansion. That does have an economic domino effect to everything else in the state. Things become more costly for everyone else.”
Gallagher said that as a resident of District 23 for nearly 40 years, she knows her constituents needs and interests, making her well suited to continue representing them.
Plus, as a state legislator she has found her voice.
“I have made the welfare of children and seniors and social services my niche in the legislature out of my concern for the most vulnerable people in Kansas and the shrinking state support for safety net programs,” she said.
For more information about Ruiz, visit susanruizforkansas.com.
For more information about Gallagher, visit lindagallagher.org.
To see District 18, please go here.