Democratic state Rep. Cindy Holscher campaigned and voted for a dramatic shift in Kansas tax and budget priorities during the 2017 legislative session.
The Johnson County representative embraced repeal of an income tax exemption to owners of 330,000 businesses and endorsed an increase in the state’s personal income tax to close a budget deficit. Both tax reforms were opposed by outgoing Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Holscher was on the prevailing side in votes adding hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to K-12 education, but was among lawmakers who failed to deliver enough votes to expand Medicaid benefits to about 150,000 working poor across the state.
“I saw this great willingness to do what is best for the state, the people, and that’s where we need to keep moving,” she said.
The political climate in the Sunflower State was sufficiently intriguing for her to take a look at seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor. Holscher decided against a dark-horse bid in 2018, but the process of preparing for that possibility convinced her the stakes were unusually high for Republicans, Democrats and independents stepping into the contest.
“I think Kansas is at a very pivotal point,” said Holscher, who as a freshman House member joined a bipartisan women’s caucus of moderate Republican and Democratic. “We’ve worked very, very hard this legislative session to try to move the state in a direction that will bring financial stability and growth.”
In Holscher’s absence, the Democratic primary ballot in August 2018 could include former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty, Olathe physician Arden Andersen and Wichita high school student Jack Bergeson. It’s possible House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, will add his name to that list.
On the GOP side, the roster could include Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, former state Sen. Jim Barnett, former state Rep. Ed O’Malley and Leawood businessman Patrick Kucera. Former state Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita, is a likely addition to that field.
Johnson County businessman Greg Orman, who ran in 2014 for the U.S. Senate, is angling to convince Republicans and Democrats that he could be elected governor as an independent candidate.
Holscher, who grew up on a farm near Slater, Mo., and worked at Sprint before concentrating on raising three children, said the state’s next governor ought to appreciate the value of investing in public schools. She said financial neglect by the state led to larger class sizes and shrinkage in academic programs. As a parent volunteer in the Olathe district, she said teacher morale suffered.
She said one of her children viewed the result through the lens of a student watching an exodus of teachers.
“One day, my daughter said to me, ‘You should go fix this,’” Holscher said. The remark helped inspire her to run in 2016 for the House seat held by Republican Rep. Amanda Grosserode, who represented the GOP-leaning district. “I covered that district three times going door to door. People see effects of what’s going on. Ultimately, I won by about 12 percent.”
Holscher said a priority of the Legislature and future governor should be lowering the state’s regressive 6.5 percent sales tax on food.
“That needs to be addressed. Kansas has the eighth most unfair tax system in the nation,” she said.
She said Kansas had an obligation to again seek passage of legislation enabling expansion of eligibility for Medicaid in Kansas.
She said state lawmakers would be challenged to re-establish a dedicated revenue stream to the Kansas Department of Transportation. In the Brownback era, billions of dollars were siphoned from highway projects to the state’s general budget.
“I always tell people,” Holscher said, “it didn’t take long to knock the wheels off the cart but it’s going to take a little longer to put them back on.”