Two years ago, Republican John Wheeler ran for the Kansas State House of Representatives 123rd District with the desire to reverse the damage of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment.
Two years into his term, now running for reelection against Democratic candidate Pedro Rodrigue of Garden City, he believes he’s on the right track.
"We overrode the governor's veto and the state is being ... restored to financial stability. We still have a ways to go. I think I have more good left in me to take the state in a favorable direction,” Wheeler said.
Moving forward, Wheeler addressed many of the votes of his past term. He voted not to refund money to taxpayers when the federal government reduced taxes and returned money to the state because the legislators had no idea how much money would be involved.
“Right now, we're going to know how much money that is, and I'm hoping that we can start giving favorable tax breaks to our people in the state,” Wheeler said.
He believed the bill the Legislature passed to fund K-12 schools was adequate and equitable, and will fully meet the Kansas Supreme Court’s standards once they carry the plan through five years. He said the state, at least in that area, was “back on track.”
As long as the state could “keep comfortable” with the court, he said he was not in favor of a constitutional amendment that would limit its power to determine adequate and equitable funding for schools, particularly in regard to equitable funding.
"Should that ever happen, western Kansas would lose all of our funding to eastern Kansas. The population base is where it would go. That's why we have that requirement in our constitution," Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he would prioritize area highways when considering infrastructure improvements. Kansas Highway 156 was dangerous and long neglected, he said. He’d like to see U.S. Highway 50 converted to four lanes from Garden City to Mullinville and would push for improvements to U.S. Highway 83, the only highway in the country that rides from Mexico to Canada. An interstate in Amarillo, Texas, could be extended through Liberal and farther north to Canada.
To do that, funds would need to be restored to the Kansas Department of Transportation, which was deeply hurt by the Brownback tax break.
The Department of Commerce, also severely cut under Brownback, would need to be refunded to better attract workers and businesses on a statewide level, Wheeler said, instead of leaving communities alone to grow on their own.
As far as Garden City’s growth, Wheeler said he could do whatever he could to assist local leaders, such as attempting to garner support for STAR bond approval or tax breaks.
"I just work really closely with my chamber. I work very closely with my economic development people and with the City of Garden City and Finney County, because we all have a common purpose. And with me in the Legislature, I'm an advocate for this community,” Wheeler said.
The state needs to dedicate funds and attention to issues with its prisons and mental health system, including the state’s suicide rate, especially among children, Wheeler said.
Wheeler voted for concealed carry on college campuses and said he stood by the vote and the right to carry on campus.
"Hysteria over guns is just something that I don't really buy into. I'm very candid about it,” he said.
When asked, Wheeler also explained the reasoning behind his support for a bill that allowed adoption agencies to deny service based on religious beliefs, which includes turning away gay or lesbian couples. The judicial council put forth a “beautiful adoption bill” that addressed issues in the adoption code, and “certain right-wing members” — “And I call them out,” Wheeler said — attached the freedom of religion provision, in part to protect Catholic Charities, the biggest provider of adoption in western Kansas, he said.
Without the provision, it was possible for Catholic Charities to be sued and “run out of business” for refusing service to gay or lesbian couples, which Wheeler said he doesn’t believe should happen. His support for the bill, he said, had nothing to do with LGBTQ rights, but was an effort to keep the agencies in the state, pending certain provisions that attempted to lessen the blow to gay or lesbian couples, like referrals to agencies that would serve them and a loss of the religious freedom protection should the agency obtain a state contract.
Regardless, he said he would otherwise support the rights of his LGBTQ constituents.
"Anything that is passed that is discriminatory towards them, excluding, I will oppose. It's just as simple as that. It's the human thing to do,” Wheeler said.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.