Incumbent Rep. Anita Judd-Jenkins, R-Arkansas City, and her primary opponent, Wellington resident Bill Rhiley, answered questions from voters Tuesday night at a candidate forum.
The forum was hosted by the Arkansas City Area Chamber of Commerce and held at Cowley College’s Wright Room.
Each candidate was given several minutes to answer single questions, all of which were moderated by Winfield Mayor Greg Thompson.
In addition to the question-and-answer section, each of the candidates were asked to provide opening and closing statements.
Chamber Director Kammy Downs also announced that another forum will be held July 5 in Sumner County.
The forum will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Raymond Frye Complex, located at 320 N. Jefferson Ave. in Wellington.
Judd-Jenkins and Rhiley are vying to represent Kansas House District 80, which stretches from Arkansas City west to Caldwell and also encompasses about half of Wellington. The Republican primary is set for Aug. 7.
Judd-Jenkins opening statement
In her opening statement, Judd-Jenkins focused on the work she has done at the Capitol during her two years as a representative.
“First of all, I wish to thank all of you for the support I have received in the last two years, and the communications that I have received and the privilege I have had of being the representative for District 80,” she said.
Judd-Jenkins admitted there was an “incredible learning curve” when she started as legislator in 2017.
She said taxes are lower than they have been, with the exception of the so-called “Brownback experiment,” since 1992.
Judd-Jenkins also said that there have been school finance adjustments since she has taken office.
“We didn’t keep up our end of the bargain,” she said of balancing the budget dollars given to education. “We are working to rectify that.”
Judd-Jenkins said she is a fiscal conservative.
“We, in Kansas, are very adept at paying our bills as individuals,” she said. “Our state must be responsible to do the same.”
Rhiley opening statement
Rhiley, who has not previously run for the District 80 seat, spent time introducing himself and his platform during his opening statement.
He introduced his wife, Diana, who was in attendance.
“As of July 4, we will have been married for 27 years. That’s awesome on her part,” he said.
Rhiley is a retired special education teacher and small business owner.
He said his background as a teacher gives him insight into how to get the money into the classroom.
The three major items in his platform that he repeated are that he is pro-life and endorsed by Kansas for Life, as well as being pro-small business and pro-Second Amendment. “I will protect your right to bear arms,” he said.
Online sales taxes
One of the questions asked of the candidates pertained to the possibility of Kansas collecting sales tax on items purchased online.
“What that opens up is probably another income windfall,” Rhiley said. “What do we do with that money … well, I say let’s give it back to you.”
He suggested a 0-percent sales tax on groceries. “I don’t think we should be finding more ways to spend money,” Rhiley said.
“What is the role of the government? Is the role of government to solve problems for us? Or is the role of government to serve the people? We need to get the money back into the tax payers hands.”
Judd-Jenkins said she agrees with a lot of what her opponent said.
However, she also said the legislators had been waiting on a court case to move forward before making any changes to Kansas tax laws.
“It will be a tremendous amount of money that will come back,” Judd-Jenkins predicted.
She said there are two different programs that have not been funded in quite some time that would be good to funnel the tax revenues into — ad valorem property tax reduction and city-county share. Judd-Jenkins did say that food also was on the list of items that should be looked at.
School funding debate
The next item presented to the candidates was the opportunity to comment on an amendment to the state constitution that has been suggested to settle the school funding debate once and for all, and whether a vote on such an amendment should be open to the citizens.
“It would indeed require a vote of our citizens,” Judd-Jenkins said, adding that she has heard divided answers on the subject.
“The constitution is a sacred thing,” she said. “It is for the long ride. It goes through and keeps us safe in cycles.”
Judd-Jenkins said there is a fear that by creating a constitutional amendment to restrict the power of the courts, Kansas could open the door to having unequal government branches, which should provide checks and balances when they are functioning correctly.
“I am definitely interested in having the public make a decision on this,” Rhiley said, adding he supports having three branches of government.
But “from time to time, and I think we’re in the era, the constitution is being overrun by judicial powers right now that are completely inappropriate,” he said.
“I don’t think … education (money) wasn’t cut that much. So what we have here is a spending problem, not a budget problem.”
Rhiley said the three branches of the government should be doing the jobs that they are assigned to do.
“It’s your money,” he said. “You need to decide how to spend that money.”
The next question asked of the candidates was what “ideal gun laws” in Kansas should look like.
“We are close to what we need,” Rhiley said. “We have open carry. We have training (requirements).”
But there is a missing segment of law, he said, concerning the gun rights of 18- to 21-year-olds.
Rhiley also said that there always will be individuals who shouldn’t carry a gun.
“I want to keep (Second Amendment rights) strong,” he said. “I do not want to take any of those rights away.”
Judd-Jenkins said representatives passed a bill that would have given rights to 18- to 21-year-olds to carry, but it did not become law.
“I grew up hunting and fishing with my father. It’s a very important culture,” she said.
“I can’t imagine living on a farm or a ranch without owning a gun. But the culture has changed.”
She said the language of a bill regarding gun laws will determine whether it will succeed in the future.
Judd-Jenkins said she doesn’t think a free-for-all environment is the answer to the issue. She compared the legal ability to drive a vehicle with a driver’s license to the kind of screening process that might be appropriate for gun ownership.
The candidates also were asked what kind of policies they would support regarding economic development.
Judd-Jenkins said job recruitment is necessary for the vitality of any area, and there have been some successes here locally.
However, there used to be funding to do so. “Those budgets have been cut,” she said.
“We need to let other areas of the United States know what we have. And that takes a state incentive to do so. We are the salt of the earth, we have the greatest values, we take care of each other. We need to spread the word.”
“This hits home for me,” Rhiley said. “Ninety percent of businesses in Kansas are small businesses.”
He indicated the most sustainable growth will happen with small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship at a high school level.
Rhiley said he would like to see the following incentives provided to small or “micro” business owners — those with five employees or fewer:
- lower property taxes;
- make expenses smaller;
- reduce fuel and energy costs.
Both candidates said there should be allowances for the use of medical cannabis products, but they had slightly differing views on the legalization of recreational marijuana.
While Rhiley stated he was not in favor of this, he added there would have to be research into the true cost of legalizing the substance.
Judd-Jenkins said legislators would have to look at further down the road, but admitted there were downsides to legalization.
One of the final questions asked was about KanCare expansion and other efforts that could be made to help to save rural hospitals.
Judd-Jenkins said Kansas has given money back to the tune of 4 percent where Medicaid is concerned.
“We will have to see how we proceed with our new director,” she said of the private agency that oversees KanCare.
Rhiley spoke out against the expansion of Medicaid.
“No for me,” he said. “We have a certain amount of money. We need to be more efficient with our money.”
Rhiley said that he thinks the way of the future looks like the Direct Primary Care model that South Central Kansas Medical Center has instituted through its partnership with Revere Health Solutions.
Rhiley’s closing statement once again emphasized his three-point platform, but he also mentioned he would like to see people reinvest in their own communities. He also encouraged voters to check Judd-Jenkins’ voting history at www.billtrack50.com.
Judd-Jenkins took a direct approach in addressing her voting history, which was not “graded” well on the website mentioned by her opponent.
“There are fringes in our very divisive nation right now. There are the fringe on the Right and there is the fringe on the Left,” she said.
“When I’m knocking on doors, they’re sick of it. I do not represent either fringe. I am proud of that voting record,” she said.
Judd-Jenkins said she is willing to work “across the aisle” with her Democratic counterparts in the House.
“We won’t go anywhere without going together,” she said.
“I will not serve any other than the bell curve, where most of us live,” she said of a curve whose large center region represents moderate positions, which said are the values of a majority of her constituents. “I vow to continue to work hard on common sense.”