Meet the Candidates: District 17
Election Day is only a couple 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.
Last week, the Dispatch took a closer look at the forum responses from candidates in Districts 18 and 23.
This week, we’re taking a closer look at the candidate responses from Districts 17 and 39.
There are three candidates vying for the opportunity to serve residents in District 17, which covers parts of Shawnee, Lake Quivira and Lenexa.
Incumbent and Republican Tom Cox has represented the district for the past two years.
He currently serves on numerous committees, including Judiciary, Insurance, Local Government and Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications. He also sits on the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations.
He’s a lifelong Shawnee resident who was raised in District 17.
His main legislative focuses include properly funding education, creating jobs and making government more transparent.
The Democrat facing him on the ballot is Laura Smith-Everett, an educator and mother-of-three from Shawnee.
A Kansas native, she decided to run for state representative of District 17 because of her disappointment in the Brownback administration and the trickling effects she believes it’s had on the state.
If elected, her main issues of focus will be education, Medicaid expansion, gun safety measures and lowering taxes.
Also on the ballot is Libertarian Michael Kerner, a grandfather from Lenexa.
The retired engineer spent 49 years with Honeywell International and he serves on the executive committee for the Libertarian Party of Kansas.
The New York City native has lived in Kansas for the past two decades.
If elected, Kerner hopes to bring some common sense solutions to the state legislature.
Each candidate offers distinct views on hot topics currently facing the legislature:
Views on state tax policy
Cox said he believes the state is finally in a healthy, sustainable spot regarding tax policy.
“We made the really hard decision to undo a lot of the Brownback Tax Experiment in 2017,” he told the audience. “We did not go back to the full top-tier rates that would have put us as one of the highest in the region. We found a middle ground for income taxes that was reasonable.”
If re-elected, he wants to find ways to offset the state’s food sales tax.
“Our food sales tax is the second-highest in the nation and that is unacceptable,” Cox said. “Especially when it is so low across the border in Missouri and Nebraska.”
Smith-Everett agrees the tax policy is better, but she thinks it still needs improvement and she also agrees the state needs a lower food sales tax.
But if elected, one of her priorities will be taking a closer look at tax incentives given to corporations.
“There’s been a lot in Kansas about the inability to track what tax incentives we’re giving the large corporations,” she pointed out, adding that Missouri has a website where people can see which businesses were provided incentives. “I think we need to really start to look at the component of taking the burden off of hardworking Kansans and begin to make sure corporations are paying their fair share.”
As for Kerner, he said the Libertarian party does not support the issuing of taxes.
Growing the state’s workforce
Kerner said the state of Kansas lacks skilled laborers, such as tradespeople, and it needs to draw those type of workers to the state.
He would like to see more skills education in the state, particularly vocational schools or more training programs added to community colleges.
“We need to get rid of this notion that everybody has to go to college,” he said. “It’s right for some people but it’s not right for everybody. Vocational training is quite important.”
Smith-Everett told the audience that a District 17 constituent once told her that while Kansas doesn’t have mountains or oceans, it has a great public school system which attracts people to the state.
So, by funding Kansas public schools, it will attract employment to the area, she pointed out.
Plus, making the state a friendlier place will also help, she added.
“Pro-immigrant and anti-discriminatory policies are important for attracting workers,” she said. “Businesses get very cold feet about coming to discriminatory places or states that are dipping into (that kind of ) controversy.”
Cox agreed with his Democratic opponent that public school education needs to be a top priority to draw new workers to the state.
“Different states have different incentive mechanisms but what has driven Kansas, specifically Johnson County—which has a fifth of the state’s population and about 40 percent of the tax revenue base of the entire state—is schools,” he said. “We all know people who have lived on the Missouri side and were either getting ready to have kids or had kids and they moved over here because they wanted to be in the school system.”
Improving the state’s transportation
When it comes to transportation, Smith-Everett said she thinks it is important the state repay what has been borrowed from the Kansas Department of Transportation, so work which has been stalled for the last several years can continue. She also wants to make sure there’s a proper funding mechanism in place for future projects.
Cox said the process to allocate those funds has already begun, helping to put more than 23 previously stalled projects back into motion.
“The money we invest in infrastructure comes right back into our economy. It’s local jobs, it’s local spending, it’s local companies they use for a lot of the materials,” he said. “It is one of the best ways to cycle government spending right back into actual economic growth.”
If re-elected he wants to help take a closer look at what rural projects are needed as well.
“Not a lot of people may live out there but that is where a massive amount of where our trucking and shipping runs through so we need to maintain they have good roads,” he said.
As a Libertarian, Kerner reminded the audience he doesn’t like taxes, but he doesn’t mind user-fees.
“Gasoline taxes and tolls are user fees,” he said. “They’re a direct payment by people who actually use the roads. The problem is, the government tends to steal it and use it for other things. We need to set up an absolute firm trust fund situation where that money cannot be used for anything but road maintenance and road building.
“That’ all we have to do to solve the problem.”
Funding K-12 education
Cox called public schools the “lifeblood of the community,” with property values dependent on school districts and even specific schools.
He told the audience he helped pass a plan that will put $850 million back into K-12 spending through a five-year phase.
If re-elected, he wants to help the legislature work with the court system, instead of against it, to solve the funding problem.
Kerner said he would like to see every school district raise its own funding and run its own schools as each sees fit.
He also thinks there needs to be a more competitive market for public schools, to increase quality and keep cost down.
Everett said if elected, she wants to help solve the funding problem in a way that will help keep Kansas a vibrant place to live and work.
“The thing I hear at the doors, over and over again, is people are really wanting Kansas public schools funded and they’re tired of being in the news about it and going back to court,” she said. “There’s a real sense of exhaustion over this topic.”
Drawing economic development and tourism to Kansas
Kerner said a way to draw business and investment to the state is by lowering taxes by whatever means necessary.
Everett-Smith, however, disagreed.
“...there’s so much more that drives economic development than just taxes alone,” she said. “It is really important for us to be as transparent as possible with taxpayers about the tax incentives we use in the state of Kansas. It’s a critical step so we have the trust of Kansas taxpayers; that we are using their tax money responsibly.”
Cox said one of the state’s best advantages to draw economic development is real estate.
“The Kansas City metro has the most land per person in the United States,” he pointed out. “So, it’s about the ability to show the cost-effective savings...of investing here. You can build large infrastructure at a significant lower cost. Homes are less expensive than other places.”
A closer look
Smith-Everett said she is an independent thinker who is open to all ideas that are reasonable.
She believes District 17 needs new representation in order to move forward in a positive direction.
“If Kris Kobach becomes governor, I think we will need a Democrat to run our district, to stand up to really extreme policies,” she said. “If Laura Kelly becomes governor, I believe we need a Democrat to represent our district to help move Kansas forward. We have an opportunity here to make a great difference.”
Cox disagreed with the notion political parties should play a role when it comes to serving the district.
He wants District 17 citizens to vote for him if they like his ideas, not simply because he is a Republican.
“I represent a district that is made up of every party affiliation of wide, different views and my goal is to represent that district, never a party,” he said. “I’ve been willing to stand up to my leadership every time I thought what they were asking for was in the wrong for our district.”
Kerner said if elected, he will put individual freedom above all other considerations.
“I support your right to keep and bear arms, with no conditions or exceptions,” he said. “I consider progressive income tax as fractional slavery because it punishes the most productive people who earn the most. I want to completely legalize marijuana, not just for medical but for every possible use. It will send 20 percent of our prisoners home and take care of prison overcrowding in one month, overnight probably.”