Republican Sen. Greg Smith’s loss in the August primary all but assured a more moderate candidate will head to Topeka to represent the 21st Senate District.
But whether that lawmaker is a Democrat or a Republican will be the decision in front of voters on Nov. 8. There’s also a third party option, with a Libertarian candidate entering the fray.
Democrat Logan Heley has said Kansas needs to move “beyond Brownback.” His opponent, Republican Dinah Sykes, has said that already happened because of the substantial gains moderate Republicans made in the August primary. And Libertarian Michael Kerner said Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, which have been criticized by both candidates, actually didn’t go far enough.
Heley said he’s the only candidate in the race who can stand up to Brownback. The 23-year-old newcomer also said his campaign is focused on fiscal responsibility and strong public schools. After winning a contested primary in August, Heley has continued to criticize Brownback-era policies.
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“The message is still we need to stop Sam Brownback,” Heley said. “We need to reverse the damage caused by Sam Brownback. We need to reverse Sam Brownback’s education cuts, we need to repeal Sam Brownback’s grocery sales tax, which is the highest in the nation, along with the exemption for 330,000 businesses that don’t pay any state income tax.”
Kansas needs solutions, Heley said, and to have bipartisan solutions there needs be more than just Republicans in Topeka.
Both the Democrat and Republican candidates have taken Kansas lawmakers to task for education funding issues, epitomized by the Gannon v. Kansas case now in front of the Kansas Supreme Court, as well as the state’s financial picture. Kansas has a $60 million shortfall a quarter of the way through the 2017 fiscal year. That number is likely to grow if revenue misses continue, making budget cuts more likely.
Sykes, a Lenexa Republican, has also advocated for better funding for schools and getting limited liability companies, or LLCs, back on the state’s tax rolls.
“I honestly believe 80 percent of Kansans are moderate, pragmatic, hard-working people,” Sykes said. “They don’t want to spend too much, but they want their taxes to go for great schools. They want their police to show up when there’s a problem. They want good roads. They want a strong economy.”
She said the state also needs to look at the other tax cuts made in 2012 and find a way out of “this ginormous hole that we are in.”
“It is not a pretty picture. It is not an easy task,” Sykes said.
Sykes said she’s also hopeful that Brownback will work with a more moderate Legislature but added that she’s not “100-percent convinced” that he’s ready to do just that.
Michael Kerner, a longtime Libertarian, said both Sykes and Heley have identical platforms that he characterized as more liberal. He said he’s a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, approving medical marijuana and further tax cuts in Kansas.
He also said he has a unique idea for school spending that would take the state out of the school finance debate. If the state collects the money, nobody is ever going to be happy with a formula, he said.
“My proposal is a complete paradigm shift,” Kerner said of his plan. “The state is out of it and that means we can make the state income tax go away and then individual school districts can do their local real estate taxes and pay for their own (schools) however they want it, whatever the voters want, without affecting other school districts.”
Instead of taking a glide path approach to the state not having taxes, Kerner said the income tax should be “zero for everybody” and that could then end the debate over whether the LLC exemption is fair.
“If we can go to zero immediately because the state doesn’t have to worry about education spending anymore, people start pouring in,” Kerner said.
Education: Bachelor’s in journalism and history, University of Southern California
Occupation: Package handler at UPS
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Education: Bachelor’s in business administration from Trevecca Nazarene University
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, personal chef
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in electrical engineering, from what is now New York University
Occupation: Retired engineer
Elected expirence: None
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