Kansas first district forum lets voters meet candidates

A candidate forum in Liberal offered an opportunity for southwest Kansas voters to meet and hear from candidates for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the first district of Kansas.

The candidates are diverse in terms of experience, although most have experience in government, either as elected officials or employees of officials. Among the Republicans, it is sometimes difficult to find a substantive difference in policy positions.

The Republican candidates for this nomination and their campaign websites are physician and Kansas Senator Jim Barnett of Emporia, educator Sue Boldra of Hays, attorney and mediator Marck Cobb of Galva, farmer and Kansas Senator Tim Huelskamp of Fowler, Salina commercial real estate executive Tracey Mann, and Senator Brownback chief of staff Rob Wasinger of Cottonwood Falls.

Former Salina mayor and businessman Alan Jilka appeared at the forum as well. He is the only Democrat seeking nomination.

As is common, the forum started with opening statements.

Jilka, as the only Democrat, told the audience that he definitely will be on the November ballot. He said he graduated from Notre Dame University, and worked and studied abroad for four years. He had a college internship with Nancy Kassebaum when she was a United States Senator from Kansas, and later worked for Congressman Dan Glickman of Wichita. He said that he is one of the few people who has worked for both a Republican and a Democrat, adding that we need more people like that in Washington.

In 1995 he returned to Salina and joined the family furniture business. He has served three four-year terms on the Salina City Council, including serving as mayor. He said he is a pro-life fiscal conservative.

In his opening remarks, Tracy Mann told the audience he grew up on a farm near Quinter, saying his family has farmed and fed cattle there for over 100 years. He studied agricultural economics at Kansas State University, and said his life changed when he served an internship with current first District Congressman Jerry Moran. After graduating from college he worked for two years in Washington. Returning to operate the family farm was not an option because of other family members, so Mann said he went into business and has worked in commercial real estate since then.

“I feel like politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are taking this country in the wrong direction,” he said. Backgrounds in business and agriculture are necessary to correct things. He mentioned the “Mann Plan,” the specific things he would do if elected.

Marck Cobb see he grew up in the small farming community of Galva. After graduating from high school, he went to the Air Force Academy and served for 20 years. He worked in the Soviet Union for two years negotiating contracts on behalf of the United States, and then served at the Pentagon in Washington. He has worked the last ten years as an attorney doing legal mediation from his farm in Galva.

Cobb said he got into this race because he doesn’t like politics as usual. He said that we need someone who can think and solve problems, rather than just throwing money at problems. He said the first steps we should do to improve our economy are to secure the border against terrorists and illegal immigrants, and bring home our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tim Huelskamp, after noting he farms and ranches in Fowler, said he’s often asked why he is running. He said that with ObamaCare, the bailouts, the taxes in the spending, he believes that Washington is headed in the wrong direction. He said we need strong conservative leadership in Washington that reflects our rural, conservative values. He told the audience that he has a strong proven conservative record. He said that because agriculture is the number one industry in the first district, he will be an advocate for agriculture and rural America in Washington.

Jim Barnett told the audience he grew up on a farm near Reading, but due to allergies and asthma decided farming was not for him, so he decided to become a physician. He served on the Emporia school board for eight years, and in the Kansas Senate chairs the health committee and serves on agriculture, banking and insurance committees. He said we have to control spending, and we have to repeal ObamaCare.

Rob Wasinger told the audience that tonight is an important conversation regarding what we can do for economic growth and jobs. He traced his experience working in government: first for Gov. Bill Graves, then for Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran on his staff, them for 12 years for Sam Brownback, including five years as his chief of staff. He reminded the audience that in 1950, Kansas had six United States Congressmen, but by 1990 we had only four. He said, this loss of representation can be seen in things like the recent farm bill, which is really more of a nutrition bill to satisfy urban interests. Farmers were hurt in the process, he said.

The new Homestead act, which Wasinger says is the main plank of his platform, would help revitalize the economy of western Kansas.

Sue Boldra said that balanced budget, term limits, and tax reform are at the top of her to-do list. She told the audience that she was born and raised in McPherson County, and after graduating from college she and her husband moved to Hays. They operated a hunting and fishing store in Hayes. She has taught history and government for 33 years, and now teaches teachers how to teach government.

She said we have many problems in our government today — health care, cap and trade must be stopped, and securing our borders.

The first question asked how a rural representative in Congress will be heard among all the urban representatives. Also, how can the “eastern” Kansas candidates assure “western” Kansas voters that they will be fairly represented?

Mann said that it will be important to work with other representatives who represent rural districts. Huelskamp noted that his home has always been in Fowler, and that he has chosen to make his home in rural America. Barnett said that if he wins the primary, he will commit to spending two days a week traveling the country to help elect like-minded representatives. Wasinger said what’s been missing is coalition building, and that will be necessary in Washington. Boldra said that her experience as an educator will help her show others how important are Kansas products.

The second question asked about the candidates’ views on abortion and exceptions, the the candidate is pro-life.

Cobb said that he is pro-life, but realizes there are exceptions and respects others’ decisions. Huelskamp said the right to life, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, is the most important right of all. He didn’t address the question about exceptions, but noted that he has the endorsement of Kansans for Life. Barnett said he is 100% pro-life, and didn’t answer the question about exceptions. Wasinger — noting that he has ten children — said he is pro-life, but he also didn’t address any exceptions. Boldra said she is pro-life and pro-family, and didn’t address exceptions. Jilka said we must protect life from conception to natural death, and also didn’t address exceptions. Mann said he is pro-life without exception.

A question asked about national energy policy and its impact on western Kansas.

Huelskamp said his energy strategy is “all of the above,” meaning support for diversified energy sources. He said we need more energy produced, noting his support for expansion of a coal-fired electrical plant in western Kansas. He said that the Obama Administration’s energy policy, including cap-and-tax, will be devastating to the economy of western Kansas. Barnett said he supported the coal-fired plant as well as diversified energy sources such as nuclear, wind, solar, and conservation, and that we need to become energy independent. Wasinger said the stakes in this are huge, and that Obama is willing to go after independent oil and gas producers. Boldra said that energy needs to be reliable and affordable, and also needs to consider the environment. Jilka said there are two things to consider: how we fuel our vehicles, and how we generate electricity. He said we must free ourselves from our addiction to foreign oil, and that biofuels could help in this regard and also help the Kansas economy, and that other alternative energy could provide many jobs in Kansas. Mann said we need to have a comprehensive energy policy in place that reduces our dependence on foreign oil. He also advocated a diversified energy strategy, noting how important it is to our economy. Cobb agreed with the positions taken by others, and also said that when considering alternative sources of energy, we need to be sure we consider the impact on the economy.

A question asked how high a priority would Highway 54 be for you in Congress? All agreed that this highway is very important and that it would be a top priority.

Another question: What is your solution to illegal immigration?

Wasinger said that our immigration system is broken to the point where it is a national security emergency. He said we need more troops on the border, and that we need to get serious about border security. Boldra said that we are a nation of immigrants, but immigrants should be legal. She said that we need to import certain types of skilled workers such as doctors and professionals, and she supports building a wall at the Mexican border. Jilka said “we can’t deport our way out of this problem.” He said we need to secure the border, punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, established an earned citizenship program, and encourage Mexico to help its own people. Mann said that first we must secure our border. Then, he said we must develop an effective process to handle legal immigration. Cobb said we need to enforce existing laws, and that technology can help secure the border. For illegal immigrants that are already present in the U.S., he said that we have to create alternative means to citizenship for these people, adding that part of the reason they’re here is our fault for not enforcing the laws. Huelskamp said the immigration problem is an example of what’s wrong in Washington. We’ve known of the problem for many years, he said, but politicians and bureaucrats do not want to do anything until comprehensive immigration reform — which he called amnesty — is passed. He said he does not support amnesty, and he supports enforcement of our laws, including securing the border. Barnett said he has nothing against immigration, but he is opposed to illegal immigration. He said that nothing will be resolved until the border is secure.

A question on health care asked if the candidates see that the current health care plan needs reform, and if so, what changes need to be made?

Answering first, Boldra said that the Kansas first Congressional district has more hospitals than any other congressional district. She said that health care must be affordable, accessible, and portable. She warned about the unintended consequences that may accompany the current overall plan. Jilka said we must try to control health care costs. He said we need to give ObamaCare a chance to work, keeping its best features and revising what is found not to work. Mann said we must repeal ObamaCare, saying it will kill our rural hospitals. He said the real problem is costs, saying that tort reform, allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines, and access to health care in rural Kansas are the important issues. Cobb expressed concern that we do not understand the consequences of the recently passed health bill. Huelskamp said he believes the ObamaCare proposal is unconstitutional. He supports the state of Kansas joining about 20 other states in suing to force the repeal of the recently passed a bill. Barnett said he supports repeal. He also mentioned the problem in recruiting physicians in western Kansas and said that he believes that the recently passed law will make this problem even worse. Wasinger agreed with repealing ObamaCare, and said that it is more focused on urban areas rather than rural concerns.

A question asked what is the most important issue facing small business today and how would you solve this issue?

Jilka said that we need to focus on tax relief for small businesses, not for the wealthiest people. Mann said that politicians and bureaucrats who don’t have a business background are a problem when they try to create policies for business. He said that taxes and regulation are punishing job creation. He said we need to extend the Bush tax cuts which are set to expire this year and also to kill the death tax. Cobb agreed that we need to reduce the tax and regulatory burden. Huelskamp said he has a pro-business voting record. He said that candidates don’t run on a platform of increasing taxes and regulation, but when politicians get to Washington, they sometimes say one thing but do another. He said we need leaders who understand that the best decisions are made by businesses themselves, not by by politicians in Washington. Barnett agreed that regulation is stifling growth, and that regulations need to be kept to a minimum and that they need to be fair and predictable. Wasinger proposed a simple reform, he said: that all regulations have to go to Congress for an up or down vote. Boldra agreed that the uncertainty of regulation harms business.

Starting off the round of closing remarks, Boldra asked the audience members if they are happy and secure with the performance of government. Criticizing the elite environment — the backroom deals and cronyism — that she said has become our nation’s capital, she said we need citizen legislators to take control of our future. She said we need to “build that wall of separation” between the federal government and the states. Saying that she is applying for this position, she believes her experience as an educator, businesswoman, and a farmer are her qualifications.

Cobb said the important issues are the economy and jobs with agriculture being a component of this, education, and national security. He said the current administration simply throws money at these issues without thinking through the consequences of this action, adding that we need to use existing tax revenue more efficiently instead of raising taxes. He criticized the other campaigns for taking out-of-state money, saying this is politics as usual.

Huelskamp criticized wasteful spending in Washington, saying it’s been successive congresses and administrations that don’t understand that we can’t spend more money than we take in. He said that we need people in Washington who understand the values of rural Kansas, balancing our budgets, protecting our families, working hard, and not relying on government. He said this is the perspective he would like to take the Washington. He said he has the best record on fiscal issues, and that he does not vote for tax increases.

Mann said — twice for emphasis — that “politicians are killing the American dream.” He promoted his extensive experience with business and agriculture. He said that we need fresh faces and new ideas, and that promoting politicians from within would not achieve this. He referred again to the “Mann plan” that is available on his campaign website. He said that politicians get elected with good intentions, but that that may change over time. He said that his connection with his father and his farm will help him keep grounded.

Barnett said that when he considered running for this position, he called Congressman Moran and asked them what the important issues were, and Moran said agriculture and health care. Barnett said that his background is in agriculture and health care. He said he planned to live in Kansas. He said we need to elect leaders who can govern and solve problems and can work with each other to develop conservative solutions. He said that elected officials are not listening to constituents.

Wasinger — again noting he has ten children — said this race is about our children, and we are burdening them with debt that will be repaying for many years. Obama’s social spending programs, he said, are out of control. The new Homestead act and its provisions such as first time home purchase credits, tax incentives for business startups, and student loan forgiveness will help encourage economic growth in the first district. He said his focus is jobs and economic growth.

Jilka, the lone Democrat, said that he is in the political mainstream and has experience working with people from all across the political spectrum. He promoted his business experience, living abroad for four years, working in Washington, and experience in local government, as his qualifications.

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