During a Tuesday night debate in Garden City, incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp and his challenger in the Aug. 2 Republican primary in the 1st Congressional District, Great Bend doctor Roger Marshall, generally agreed on several issues. But the main area of contention was Huelskamp’s ability to represent the agricultural interests of the Big First.
Both men support a repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with something else. Both emphasized roots in agriculture and family farming going back generations. Both agreed that the way the Veterans Administration has operated in providing health care to veterans needs to be changed. And both support improving trade for the state’s farmers and ag producers.
But Marshall said the biggest difference between himself and Huelskamp is the ability to work with others, calling himself a “peacemaker,” and saying his brothers called him Henry Kissinger from a young age.
“I have the ability to walk into a group of angry people ... defuse the anger, get people to put their differences aside,” Marshall said. “What I find is if we listen to each other, start respecting each other ... I’ll better understand the problem. I believe the solutions we come up with as a group are a lot better.”
Tuesday’s candidate forum was sponsored by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce. In addition to Marshall and Huelskamp, local legislative candidates John Doll, Larry Powell and John Wheeler discussed state issues.
As they did during a Monday night debate in Hutchinson, Huelskamp and Marshall disagreed about whether Huelskamp is a voice representing the interests of people back home. Marshall stressed Huelskamp’s removal from the agriculture and budget committees, and Huelskamp expressed confidence that new House Speaker Paul Ryan will put him back on the ag committee.
Huelskamp was removed from both the agriculture and budget committees in 2012, a punishment by then Speaker John Boehner. Huelskamp said the removal shows that he stands his ground in Washington and doesn’t work for people like Boehner.
“I’ve been pushing back,” Huelskamp said.
Marshall responded by saying, “We need representation on the ag committee. We just want a voice at the table to influence decisions.”
Huelskamp’s confidence in Ryan putting him back on the ag committee appeared to be based on being put on a steering committee that will play a role in committee assignments.
Marshall strongly disagreed, calling it “a gamble” to think Ryan will do so.
Huelskamp said he hears from thousands of Kansans worried about the future, national debt, an out of control and unaccountable administration, and overreaching federal regulations.
Huelskamp blamed Boehner for removing him from the committees, calling it a punishment because Huelskamp wouldn’t vote the way Boehner wanted him to.
“He kicked me off. He kicked three other people off committees. At the end of the day, John Boehner lost his job because he kicked too many people out of their positions,” Huelskamp said.
Marshall said he believes he has his “finger on the pulse” of the state’s agriculture industry. He said the biggest problem with Washington is the lack of leadership.
“What’s important to me is to build teams and get things done. That’s what leadership is about,” Marshall said. “Leadership is not blaming other people. Blaming John Boehner, who’s been gone 10 months; blaming Barack Obama, who’s a lame duck. Blaming other people is not what leaders do.”
Huelskamp reiterated his commitment to agriculture, saying his priorities are simplifying farm policy and protecting crop insurance.
“It’s one thing to say you know everything about it, it’s another thing to have been there and done that,” he said.
The tenor of the debate among Doll, Powell and Wheeler was generally much more congenial and light compared to the Huelskamp-Marshall debate, with several quips and moments of levity — including a couple of slips of the tongue by forum moderator Mark Hinde and Powell in referring to Doll as “Senator” Doll.
On most issues, Doll and Wheeler tended to have similar positions while Powell took an opposite view — most of the time hewing to the line supported by Gov. Sam Brownback.
Doll and Powell are facing off in the 39th Senate District’s Aug. 2 Republican primary. The winner will take on Democrat Zacheriah Worf in the November general election.
Wheeler, seeking the 123rd House seat being vacated by Doll, is opposed in the Republican primary by Joel Erskin. a Garden City physician assistant who is being sued by the Kansas Attorney General, whose suit claims Erskin used non-FDA approved Botox, and who has had his license suspended by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts. Erskin did not appear at Tuesday night’s forum.
As part of the forum, each candidate was allowed a five-minute opening statement and three-minute closing statement. Questions were selected by the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Chamber members, local media and community members.
In his opening statement, Powell listed his roughly half-dozen committee assignments and the amount of time it takes to be a lawmaker, calling it not a part-time job.
“So I don’t have much time to return calls and stuff like this. We’re pretty busy during the day,” Powell said.
Doll said he is running for the state Senate to be part of the solution to fixing the state’s issues. While some of Powell’s ads have called Doll not Republican enough, Doll said he’s a critical thinker, and became a Republican after analyzing both parties.
Doll was critical of Powell for voting for the largest tax increase in state history last session, which Doll voted against.
“I want to work with others to find long-term solutions to the budget problems we’re having now,” he said.
Some of the issues covered included:
• Diverting KDOT funds to prop up the state general fund.
Doll and Wheeler both called it a bad idea due to concerns about seeing roads deteriorate. Doll said good highways are important to Garden City, given its growth, citing the local milk processing plant under construction and growing wind energy industry.
Powell said the KDOT secretary has said all highway projects will get done despite the state borrowing money from KDOT.
“I think the state of Kansas is doing fine, and our roads are doing fine,” Powell said.
• 2012 tax cuts.
Wheeler and Doll both felt the state is in dire financial straights because of the governor’s 2012 tax cuts and would support revisiting those cuts.
“We are run by a system of ideologues in Topeka that are spending more time fighting with the Supreme Court than doing the duty of the people,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he realizes talking about tax increases is considered a political kiss of death, but he said he’s not a politician and intends to do what’s right if elected, implying that even if that means talking about raising taxes.
Powell disagreed. He said Kansas took in $140 million more last year, and said 75 percent of the tax cuts benefited “people like you.”
“If you’re going to be in Topeka, sometimes you have to do the responsible thing instead of coming home and complaining about it. You can vote no all day long on everything, but you have to do the responsible thing, and that’s what I’ve done,” Powell said.
Powell also pointed out that other states have had fiscal problems, noting that both Alaska and Louisiana had to have special sessions just like Kansas.
“Kansas has a spending problem, not a taxing problem,” Powell said.
“To say we don’t have a revenue problem is crazy; it’s nuts,” he said.
• Implementation of a property tax lid on cities and counties that requires a public vote if additional property tax revenue is required above the rate of inflation.
Both Doll and Wheeler called the issue one of “state overreach” onto issues best handled by local officials. Wheeler called it “insulting” for the state to mandate a local election on property taxes. If the public doesn’t like what their locally elected representatives are doing, they vote them out of office, he said.
Powell, calling the tax lid a good idea, said it “lets people live without a property tax increase.”
• Medicaid expansion.
Doll and Wheeler support expansion, noting that it’s an important issue for western Kansas hospitals like St. Catherine Hospital, and that the state has left $1.24 billion in federal dollars on the table instead of helping 150,000 Kansans qualify for health insurance. Powell opposes expansion due to concerns that at some point in the future the federal government will no longer fund it.
Watch our videos from the forum below: