By the time the special session came to an end, Mary Pilcher-Cook was one of the only lawmakers to vote no.
The Johnson County state senator was the only member of the state’s upper chamber to vote against the last-minute school finance solution in June to satisfy the state’s Supreme Court and help keep public schools open past June 30.
And Pilcher-Cook is proud of that vote. So proud that it’s one of the first points she makes when discussing her legacy and accomplishments in Topeka. The bill took money from Johnson County, she said, and sent it to another part of the state.
“I am very consistent with where I stand,” she said. “And in fact, a lot of times it doesn’t make party leadership very happy.”
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The two women running for the Senate seat in District 10 have competing visions for Kansas. Pilcher-Cook, the incumbent, holds strict conservative views, while challenger Vickie Hiatt is campaigning on a platform of change in Topeka.
Pilcher-Cook, regarded by some as the most conservative member of the Kansas Senate, is opposed to Medicaid expansion and said she still supports the tax cuts championed by Gov. Sam Brownback that critics have pointed to as creating budget issues.
“I think the 2012 tax cuts, our citizens have received great benefit from them,” Pilcher-Cook said.
Those cuts trimmed income tax rates, while also taking around 330,000 businesses off the state’s tax rolls.
“Income taxes are a tax on productivity,” she said. “When you want less of something, you tax it, so we certainly should not increase income taxes and instead we need to look at making government more efficient.”
The Republican incumbent has at times had a controversial tenure in Topeka, including earlier this year when she lost her role as chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
While other Republican candidates have been more critical of Brownback’s tenure, Pilcher-Cook said she still supports the embattled governor. She said she disagreed with Brownback on a sales tax increase and “not cutting spending enough.”
“I disagree with Governor Brownback on some things,” she said. “And I believe that he’s also done some good things for our state.”
Hiatt, the Democratic challenger, said this election is a time for Kansas to “re-direct.”
The retired educator is running a campaign emphasizing the need for a solid budget, fair taxation and keeping public education strong. She also said she’s in favor of expanding Medicaid “so we can keep hospitals open.” And she supports rolling back the Brownback tax cuts.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have 330,000 LLC’s, businesses not paying income tax,” Hiatt said. “And I think it’s unfair to put a high sales tax, regressive taxes, on people who are the least able to afford it. So I think we just need to balance that tax picture again.”
If elected, Hiatt said she was hopeful that a more moderate Legislature could find ways to bring more revenue in to avoid cutting state services and road construction. She also said she’s hopeful that “a fair and reasonable” school funding policy that will meet the state constitution’s requirements will be addressed during the 2017 legislative session. And if the state does choose to expand Medicaid, Hiatt said, it could help ease some of the state’s budget issues.
“We’ve had people in our Legislature, and our governor, who just, they believe in very, very small government and limited services,” Hiatt said. “And I just don’t think that Kansans, when it comes right down to the reality of that, I don’t think Kansans support that.”
Education: Bachelors in education from the University of Kansas, masters degree in special education from KU.
Occupation: Retired educator, taught for 30 years in Johnson County
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor of Science in information science from Avila University, MBA specializing in finance from Avila.
Occupation: Retired software engineer
Elected experience: Kansas House 2001-2002, 2005-2006; Kansas state senator, 2009-present