ULYSSES — Republicans Marty Long of Ulysses and Jeffrey Locke of Sublette, who are both running for the Kansas House 124th District seat, had differing opinions on a majority of the topics, such as Medicaid expansion and school funding, that were discussed Wednesday during a candidate forum hosted by the Grant County Chamber of Commerce.

Long, a fourth-generation farmer in Grant County and a Ulysses hotel owner, is serving his fourth term as a Grant County commissioner since his election in 2004. He said the upcoming election is an important one for the state, and he believes it’s crucial that the state continues to move forward.

“I believe we’re heading in the right direction now after five years of turmoil,” he said.

Locke, who has been a teacher for the past 30 years, currently teaches art in Satanta USD 507. He described himself as a problem solver.

“If you want a problem solver and you want someone who’s going to do something different than what’s been done for the last 15 to 20 years, I’m your man because we need to do better, and I’m your man for southwest Kansas,” Locke said.

Each of the candidates, who are running to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Alford, who did not filed for re-election, had a two-minute opening statement before answering questions that had been compiled by Grant County residents.

Locke and Long were asked what they see as a solution to school funding issues and if a constitutional amendment should be passed to to limit the power of the judicial branch to dictate the level of state aid received by public schools.

Long said he isn’t entirely supportive of a constitutional amendment to take the judicial system out of school finance because he believes it’s a power trip of the executive branch.

“… The courts shouldn’t have anything to do with it. It’s all about power,” he said.

Locke said he supported the constitutional amendment to limit the judicial branch's power.

“I do support the amendment to be written, though for equitable dispersal, because what has happened out here is that the money usually goes concentrated into Wichita and other areas. It doesn’t get out here,” Locke said. “What we need more than anything is the revenue equitably dispersed. But we should not have the house of the people elected by the people… to be held up and told to raise taxes, especially when only 53 percent of taxes go to the classroom. That’s inefficient…”

Long said deciding whether a constitutional amendment should be passed to to limit the power of the judicial branch to dictate the level of state aid received by public schools was something he was “not extremely worried about” because of a safety net.

“That safety net is two-thirds of the House and Senate agreed to this constitutional amendment. All that does is put it on a ballot,” Long said. “The safety net is you all will vote on it, and I believe in that. That’s a good thing… You folks have the ultimate answer.”

Locke said he was not in favor of Medicaid expansion.

Long said he supports it because there are five hospitals in the 124th District that could benefit from it.

“Medicaid expansion would allow the federal government to fund 90 percent of that expansion, and the state government would fund 10 percent of that expansion,” Long said. “That would bring about $1.5 million to this district. Grant County’s hospital alone would receive half a million dollars or more. The other four hospitals would receive over $1 million.”

Long said the additional funding is important because it could be used to hire additional doctors, additional equipment, or for county commissioners to lower the subsidies at their hospitals.

“It can give you tax relief right here in your own counties,” Long said. “When you file your federal income tax, that money goes to the feds, they take your money and they disperse that out to Medicaid expansion in all these states, except Kansas. The money you pay in doesn’t go back to Kansas, so for this district, I think Medicaid expansion is good…”

Locke said Medicaid expansion could result in more debt for the state.

“We’ve been borrowing from the Department of Transportations and financing the debt in the Legislature because they can’t make their ends meet with what they’re doing. What has happened is that’s created a higher tax bracket that we can’t have,” Locke said.

Long said he thinks the 124th District can’t afford to not have Medicaid expansion.

“It’s going to continue to be harder and harder and harder to fund these hospitals (without an expansion)…” Long said.

One thing the two candidates did agree on was that the recently imposed tariffs on agricultural products by U.S. President Donald Trump were not good for the state.

The candidates were asked what the state could do to offset a negative impact the tariffs may have.

“I think it’s a bad idea because it puts us at a disadvantage when we export,” Locke said. “Trump did send out that he was going to give relief to our farmers because of his actions, which is right. He should because tariffs are not good.”

Long said the tariffs are particularly bad for farmers.

“I hope Trump can get this solved in a short time. (Market) Prices have fallen 20 percent in two weeks,” Long said. “It’s not a good time for farmers right now.”

 

Contact Josh Harbour at jharbour@gctelegram.com.