State Senate race highlights primary
Boyer challenges O’Connor in 9th District
Tuesday's primary is deficient in hotly contested statewide contests, but the Republican 9th District Kansas Senate race fills the drama void nicely.
Sen. Kay O'Connor is attempting to retain the seat she won four years ago when she gave up her safe Olathe House seat to oust incumbent Rich Becker in the GOP primary. Rob Boyer hopes to duplicate O'Connor's feat of four years ago and exchange his 38th District House seat for one in the upper chambers.
O'Connor openly embraces the conservative label, expressing hope Republican conservatives can take control of the Senate with her and other candidates' victories in the primary.
Never fearful of speaking her mind, O'Connor was widely quoted for remarks questioning the wisdom of women's suffrage (remarks she denies making but which the Kansas City Star stands behind) and sent a letter to The De Soto Explorer in April revealing the details of heated phone calls and e-mails between herself and De Soto USD 232 Superintendent Sharon Zoellner.
Boyer's two years in the Kansas House weren't without controversy.
The Olathe Republican and De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson ran afoul of Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh when he advocated legislation that would have required the county to create a redevelopment authority to oversee the transfer and redevelopment of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
O'Connor said she welcomed the primary challenge as a way to inform voters of the issues.
"I enjoy the challenge of debate," she said. "I enjoy the opportunity to assist people. But this wasn't about something fun for Kay. This is about doing something that needed to be done, and Kay's in line to do it."
State agencies and school districts needed to make fundamental changes in the way they handled taxpayer dollars, O'Connor said. Should she and enough fellow conservatives win control of the Senate, she would introduce measures that would require school districts and state departments to follow generally accepted accounting practices, which she now maintained weren't used, and provide open disclosure of financial records.
"When we have a $10 billion business called the state of Kansas, the very least we could do is require generally accepted accounting practices and encourage taxpayers who provide the money to review those records," she said.
Without a firm understanding of how dollars were being spent, O'Connor said it was impossible to say whether local school districts were funded at the appropriate level.
"It's a pig in a poke," she said. "I suspect they have plenty of money because they seem to have money to give their administrators a raise in pay and their teachers a pay raise. But that's only a suspicion.
"Without proper accounting and more sunshine, nobody can answer that question."
Citing her 90 percent rating from the conservative Kansas Taxpayers Network, O'Connor slammed the record on taxation of Boyer, whom she said had voted for a number of tax increases in his term in the House.
Two years ago, Boyer won election to his first and only term in the Kansas House by acknowledging he would support a tax increase should one be necessary to adequately fund K-12 education.
After two years in the House dominated by recession-driven state revenue shortfalls and education's place in that budget crisis, Boyer stood by his earlier campaign vow. But his legislative experience gave him more insight into what was a workable solution.
He would not support gimmicks that would put off problems.
"You don't rob Peter to pay Paul," he said. "I disagree that the way to solve education funding is to take money from the transportation budget of public employees retirement fund. That just creates another deficient you have to fill.
"I'm adamantly opposed to tricks and gimmicks, which is why I voted against things like the property tax accelerator."
Tax increases might be needed to honestly address the state's commitment to education, but Boyer said he refused to support a measure this session that would have done so through higher property taxes by allowing school boards to raise local option budgets beyond their current limits.
"The buzz word in politics is local control," he said. "But in De Soto and Eudora, I'm not sure local control is the right direction. I think at some point the state is going to have to fund our schools. The state raising property taxes in De Soto is not the right direction."
That awareness underscored another difference between him and his opponent, Boyer said. He attempted to have a presence in De Soto and work on issues that were important to the community, he said. From that local involvement, he came to understand the importance of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in the history in De Soto, he said.
That was, in part, behind his efforts with Anderson to pass legislation to facilitate Sunflower's transfer, Boyer said.
With the help of Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner, Boyer worked legislation in 2003 allowing Johnson County to create a Sunflower Redevelopment Authority that would be responsible for the plant's transfer and development. Johnson County officials successfully lobbied to change the legislation to make creation of a redevelopment board optional.
Boyer accepted the language change at the time because of the Johnson County Commission Chairwoman's statement to a House committee considering the bill that the county's intention was to appoint a redevelopment board.
The County Commission's failure to do so in the 15 months since the bill passed had him looking for different options, Boyer said.
"I will look in the next Legislative session for a state solution to Sunflower," he said. "In my opinion, the county has not kept its promises."
O'Connor said her presence or lack of it in De Soto was a "bogus issue."
"I'm sure the superintendent doesn't think I have a presence when I won't come visit her schools again, even though she hung up on me when I agreed to do so," she said.
A Senate district was three times as large in population and area as a House seat, but she responded to phone calls, e-mails and letters from constituents, O'Connor said.
Economic development was the avenue to a larger tax base, O'Connor said. To provide the proper atmosphere for economic development, government had to get out of business, she said. But in recent years, state government has increased regulation and doubled fines and fees, she said.
"The government does not provide economic growth," she said. "It can assist in economic growth. It is a user of other people's wealth by definition."
Boyer said the Legislature took a significant step in economic development this spring with the passage of the Kansas Economic Growth Act, which both he and O'Connor supported. Since its introduction, Boyer said he advocated economic development officials in the communities he represented tayloring their recruitment message to take advantage of the $500 million the act makes available for growing and attracting life-science companies.
"There's $500 million floating around for life sciences," he said. "The presence of Intervet gives De Soto the opportunity to be a leader in the world in animal science."
Both candidates' cite same-sex marriage is one of the issues on voters' minds. O'Connor and Boyer supported allowing Kansans to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a bond between a man and a woman.
As for another social issue, O'Connor has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and once again won the endorsement of Kansans for Life.
Boyer ran as a pro-choice candidate in his 2002 House race, but said he longer identified himself with that label.
"After I found out how the issue is framed in state politics, I no longer call myself pro-choice," he said. "I'm not pro-life enough to get their endorsement."