In one way at least, the race to represent the 16th District in the Kansas House is the most hotly contested in the Aug. 5 primary election. It’s the only one of 125 House seats that has attracted multiple candidates on both the Democratic and Republican sides.
The district includes parts of Overland Park and Lenexa, mainly south of Interstate 435.
Incumbent Amanda Grosserode is completing her second term in the office. She is opposed in the Republican primary by attorney and businesswoman Jameia Haines, who has staked out more moderate positions, and Ray Marshall.
The two Democrats vying to oppose the Republican in the general election are business consultant and Democratic Party activist Arthena Easterwood and pharmaceutical salesman Don McGuire. Easterwood and McGuire are Democratic precinct committee members for the same Overland Park neighborhood.
Grosserode has established herself as a conservative Republican.
She voted for the income tax cuts pushed during the 2012 legislative session by Gov. Sam Brownback and says she would not vote to repeal them.
She voted this year to repeal renewable energy standards favored by environmentalists but opposed by groups like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, who reject government mandates and contend that the standards raise the cost of electricity for consumers. Support for renewable energy standards is one area where Brownback breaks from his conservative brethren, perhaps because of the wind-power industry that has grown up in the state.
The standards require major utilities to get 10 percent of their energy capacity from renewable sources such as wind by 2010, 15 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020. The legislation was passed in 2009, but faced a repeal attempt in the last legislative session. The Kansas Senate passed a repeal bill, but the measure failed in the House.
Grosserode and Brownback are aligned on the question of Medicaid expansion, with both opposing it, despite the federal government’s promise to pay for it the first three years under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
As to public schools, Grosserode thinks they have all the funding they need, given changes made this year.
“In order to adequately fund our schools, we have increased funding to the base state aid per pupil, as well as within the weightings to the finance formula,” Grosserode wrote in answer to a questionnaire. “In addition, the education bill passed this year will begin to help alleviate the problems many in Johnson County have with the K-12 finance formula. The changes allow for greater local control in the local option budget and more flexibility within the capital outlay funds. With these changes, more funding should be spent within the classroom.”
Haines, in contrast, has been endorsed by Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, which is led by a group of moderate former lawmakers ousted in a Brownback-led effort in 2012. She has also been endorsed by the Kansas chapter of the National Education Association and MainPAC, the political action committee of the Mainstream Coalition.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Haines says she is concerned about the effect of the 2012 income tax breaks and that schools are not adequately funded.
“The tax cuts implemented have left schools and other public services struggling,” Haines wrote in answer to a questionnaire. “When taxes are cut, revenue is reduced, which in turn leads to dwindling reserves. Couple that with employment growth that remains behind the national average and it is cause for great concern. With most of the tax cut benefits going to high-income households, many low-income families actually experienced a tax increase. I prefer a more balanced tax approach.”
As for schools specifically, Haines wrote: “While total state aid to school districts was increased, other factors such as increasing fixed costs like utilities, inflation and increasing student need will offset that increase and ultimately result in a shortfall.”
Haines says she would favor Medicaid expansion in Kansas. “By not expanding Medicaid,” she wrote, “Kansas will leave federal dollars on the table for other states — including those contributed by Kansas taxpayers.”
And she does not favor the repeal of the green energy standards. “Kansas has the second highest wind potential in the United States,” Haines wrote. “This is an opportunity to create clean energy and stimulate our economy.
Marshall said in answer to the Star’s questionnaire that he was not sure about voting to repeal the 2012 income tax cuts or the renewable energy standards, but that “for sure” he favors Medicaid expansion. He said he would like to know more about education funding.
“I’m about stronger and the best education for every citizen’s child,” Marshall said.
On the Democratic side, Easterwood favors expanding Medicaid, repealing the Brownback income tax cuts, retaining the renewable energy standards and says public schools are inadequately funded.
A single mother of four children and foster parent to several more, Easterwood is the current secretary of the Johnson County Democratic Party, treasurer of the African American Democratic Caucus of Kansas and a team leader for Johnson County Democratic Women.
McGuire criticized the Brownback tax cuts and says public schools are inadequately funded.
“The reports show that Kansas is on the verge of being unable to continue providing vital services because of the lack of revenue from taxes,” McGuire wrote. “The governor’s tax plan has pushed the burden onto families in the form of higher property taxes and sales taxes. We must create a tax plan that is fair and balanced for all Kansans, not just a select few.”
Schools, McGuire wrote, “are in dire financial straits for the most part. Equity funding that the recent court decision addressed did little to put dollars in our crowded classrooms. Addressing the adequacy portion of the formula is urgently needed to lower class sizes and continue world-class education in Johnson County.”
He also wants to retain the green energy standards and expand Medicaid.
Education: Bachelor’s in elementary education, Wayne (Neb.) State College
Occupation: Former elementary teacher
Elected experience: Kansas House District 16, 2011-present.
Education: Bachelor’s in political science, Kansas State University; law degree, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing Charter Township, Mich.
Occupation: Vice president of operations at NDS Inc.
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in psychology, University of Missouri-Kansas City; master’s in business administration, University of Phoenix; master’s in accounting and financial management, Keller Graduate School of Management
Occupation: Business consultant
Elected experience: Democratic Party Precinct Committeewoman for Overland Park, 2012-2014
Education: Bachelor’s in biology, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Occupation: Pharmaceutical sales
Elected experience: None