Posts tagged with 2010 Elections

School funding at center of race

Democratic legislative leaders Tuesday sent letters to school officials warning them that if Republican Sam Brownback is elected governor they will face more cuts, tax increases and litigation. But Brownback’s campaign denounced the assertion, leveling a broadside at “the party of Obama.”

“They can’t talk about their record. They can’t talk about their agenda — so they are making stuff up,” Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said about the Democrats. She said the school finance proposal that the Democrats are trying to link to Brownback would be vetoed by Brownback if he were elected governor.

Brownback, a U.S. senator, has said he wants to overhaul the school finance formula, but has declined to say how. Democrat Tom Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, has said that the finance formula is fine the way it is and that he wants to restore recent budget cuts made to schools as the economy improves.

The election is Nov. 2.

On Tuesday, House Democratic Leader Paul Davis and Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka sent a letter to educators, saying, “We are asking you to sound the alarm in your district.”

In a news conference, the two said Brownback’s school finance plan will reduce state spending on schools and place a greater burden for school funding on local taxpayers.

They point to several statements Brownback has made and the recent unveiling of a school finance plan by House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.

Siegfreid’s plan would remove limitations on how much school districts could raise locally in property taxes, and it would eliminate “pupil weightings,” which provide additional state funds for certain kinds of students, such as those not doing well in school, and for certain situations, such as districts that have high transportation costs. It also would require districts to apply for grants to receive funding for at-risk and bilingual students and for vocational education programs.

Replacing those pupil weightings with local property taxes would cripple many districts, especially less-wealthy rural and urban districts, the Democrats said.

For example, a 1 mill school property tax increase in Galena, in southeast Kansas, would raise $13,000, while in the Shawnee Mission School District in Johnson County, it would raise more than $3 million.

The Lawrence district receives about $6 million per year in funding for at-risk and bilingual students.

“Sam Brownback wants to overhaul the formula and that scares me to death,” Hensley said.

The current school formula allows some disparities in funding, but to allow unlimited local tax funding would produce such great disparities, the state would end up in court, the Democrats said.

“We have to maintain some level of equalization,” Davis said. “What history has shown us is when we get too far off course, the courts have to step in,” he said.

But Jones-Sontag, Brownback’s spokeswoman, said Brownback did not support Siegfreid’s plan and that, as governor, Brownback would veto it if it reached his desk.

Brownback has said he wants to bring stakeholders together to work on a plan “that meets the state’s constitutional requirement of providing for a suitable education, provides for equalization, increases funding to the classroom, doesn’t force consolidation, and gives school districts more local control such as extending the teacher tenure track from three to five years and allowing more alternated teacher certification options.”

When told of that statement, Davis said, “the devil is in the details” and Hensley said the current school finance formula has been declared constitutional and needs only to be funded adequately.

After Hensley and Davis’ news conference, the House Republican leadership issued a news release saying the Democrats’ assertions were wrong.

“Senator Brownback and House Republicans oppose any scheme which raises property taxes over the objections of local taxpayers and we will oppose any plan that calls for a property tax increase,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

By Scott Rothschild

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Commission chair candidates speak out at forum

Current commission chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh and County Commissioner Ed Eilert met in a public forum to answer policy questions written by the Public Policy Council in Johnson County. Surbaugh and Eilert’s early responses addressed the claims each has been making about the other.

“I’ve been accused of deficit spending and out of control spending by my opponent,” said Surbaugh in her opening remarks, “but I feel my record speaks against that. Johnson County currently has reserves of 33% of the budget.”

When presented with a question regarding the continuing demands on the county’s growing infrastructure, Eilert reiterated his concern over what he deemed Surbaugh’s deficit spending.

“[The demands] on the infrastructure are a major challenge to the county and to the commission, which is why we have to get our spending under control,” Eilert proposed. “We’ll have to evaluate our resources and prioritize the services we provide. In the end we’ll have to exercise some discipline to get out of the debt we’re in, but it can be done.”

Surbaugh responded to the mention of deficit spending by saying that all planning possibilities published by the commission are presented in the worst -case scenario.

The issue the two agreed on the most was the question of altering annexation procedures. Both agreed the procedures in place are working in a difficult situation and have no need for major changes.

“I agree that [annexation] is an important issue to all citizens of Johnson County, but I think the process now is working,” Eilert stated. “I’m not saying the process couldn’t be tweaked or reviewed a little, especially in some areas that aren’t uniform across the board, but overall I think it’s fine.”

Surbaugh is also in favor of keeping the annexation process the way it is.

“Annexation matters are difficult and it is one of the most difficult jobs I have,” Surbaugh said. “It’s difficult, but it works.”

While Eilert and Surbaugh agreed on the issue of annexation in Johnson County, they had very differing opinions on mass transit.

Surbaugh spoke of a plan to begin testing new lines, some through Mission, and to research methods for encouraging residents to choose the bus.

“Johnson County loves its cars, it always has, and that’s what we’re going to have to overcome, maybe we should go with my daughter’s suggestion and install latte dispensers on buses,” Surbaugh suggested with a grin.

Eilert saw the transit issue as one of differing populations using the bus: the elderly and disabled who “have no other option” but to ride the bus, and those with alternatives to the bus.

“We have to provide a transit system for those without an alternative, but we also have to realize if we want a good transit system we’re going to have to pay for it,” Eilert said. “I think we should test a few new lines, maybe around The Plaza and other areas, and if they don’t have the ridership then we cut them loose.”

Both agreed that economic development is not the job of the county; it is the job of the independent cities in Johnson County. Eilert proposes a taskforce with new commission advisor geared at helping cities develop new projects and encouraging growth. Surbaugh tied economic development for the county to maintaining social services and the quality of life for Johnson County residents.

Consolidation of cities and county services was another area where the two has similar beliefs. Both felt that the measures some Johnson County cities, particularly in the northeastern parts of the county, have already shown that cities are capable of making consolidation choices for themselves responsibly.

Because the race for chair of the county commission is non-partisan, the candidates were asked to tell the audience what made each of them different from his/her opponent.

Eilert outlined his business and financial background, stating he would be able to create stronger budgets for the county in the future and could get the county out of its “deficit spending” trend. He also promised to bring about a positive relationship between the county and the constituents. In closing, Eilert professed his belief that he can make a difference for the county and that Johnson County’s best days are still ahead.

Surbaugh spoke of her belief in keeping government accessible to the people and maintaining a strong sense of fiscal responsibility as her shining attributes. She reiterated her strong reserve policy, the high quality of life for Johnson County citizens and her history in Johnson County politics and assured the audience that during her term; Johnson County has been “on the right track and moving forward.”

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3rd District debate highlights differences among candidates

Candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat Wednesday debated on topics including education, health care reform and climate change. Democrat Stephene Moore, Libertarian Jasmin Talbert and Republican Kevin Yoder spoke at the Johnson County Public Policy Council’s candidate forum in Overland Park.

Yoder said it was important to elect someone who would not support “the status quo” of greater government spending and regulation and raising taxes.

“I believe our country is off-track,” Yoder said, noting the national debt, unemployment levels, layoffs and other factors. “ … Things are very, very challenging in this country right now economically, and I think we have to change course. Washington is not helping.”

Talbert admitted she had no political ties or experience, but she said it was time for someone with that type of background to be elected.

“We need to put somebody in office who’s not afraid to make the hard choices, make the deep cuts that do go against the status quo and may not be very popular,” she said.

Moore said she was not a career politician either, and she promised to work as a moderate with members of both parties.

“People want quality, good-paying jobs; they want our government to live within a budget just like we do here in our own homes in Kansas; and they want to ensure that our children have quality public education,” she said. “I know that I’m the only candidate in this race that will get the job done for the people in this district.”

Tax cuts, health care

Candidates were first asked whether they would support extending the tax cuts passed by Congress in 2001 and 2003, often called the Bush tax cuts, which will soon expire.

All candidates said they would support an extension. Talbert and Yoder both said they supported making the tax cuts permanent. Moore was more tentative, saying the government should extend them but should wait and see what is going to happen with the economy.

On health care reform, Moore said the reform act was an important start. She disagreed with repealing the act because she supported how the act helped insure those with pre-existing conditions, provided tax incentives for small businesses and allowed children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26.

Yoder said he wouldn’t have voted for the health care bill and didn’t agree with something that didn’t receive bipartisan support, so he supported repealing it and replacing it.

Talbert agreed she would repeal health care reform. She said she liked the idea of providing everyone access to health care, but she didn’t think it addressed out-of-control spending. She said she wanted a system based on free enterprise.

Climate change

Another difference in viewpoints concerned how to address the issue of climate change and energy production, including the system of cap and trade, a proposal that would limit overall emissions linked with global warming while allowing flexibility in how businesses comply.

Moore said she would support cap and trade, because like health care reform, she saw it as a starting point. She said Kansas should capitalize on wind energy production.

Yoder said he doesn’t support cap and trade because he believes it will hurt the economy. He said a comprehensive energy plan was needed.

Talbert said she didn’t support cap and trade because she doesn’t like getting people to change through punishment rather than incentives. She said the government should give tax incentives and price breaks on green technology.

One of the areas all candidates agreed on was not reinstating the No Child Left Behind Act. Candidates also agreed that they would not support a second stimulus act suggested by President Barack Obama.

Moore and Yoder took time in many of their responses to make negative points about each other.

Moore often made a point that the state budget Yoder suggested would have slashed education funding and noted that he voted to raise sales and income taxes in 2003. She also said he would support outsourcing of jobs.

Yoder said Moore had supported the tax increase at the state level this year and would vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House if elected, supporting higher taxes and more government spending.

By Caroline Boyer

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Kobach working on “birthright citizenship” issue

Kris Kobach, the Republican candidate for Kansas secretary of state who helped Arizona legislators approve a controversial immigration law, said Wednesday he is working with those legislators on a proposal aimed at denying automatic citizenship to children born in the country to parents who are illegal immigrants. Kobach said he has worked on the so-called "birthright citizenship" issue over the past month with Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican.

Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, children born in the U.S. are guaranteed citizenship.

But Kobach said the 14th Amendment, written following the Civil War, was directed at guaranteeing citizenship to freed slaves.

Kobach said he, Pearce and others are exploring ways that states could change that law without amending the Constitution. Kobach is an attorney and former law professor.

Supporters of changing "birthright citizenship" say it would stop immigrants from coming to the U.S. illegally to have children who would be automatically U.S. citizens.

Kobach helped write S.B. 1070, which has been challenged in federal court. He has also been the attorney representing several cities in efforts to pass local ordinances against illegal immigration, which have also been challenged.

Kobach's comments about the birthright citizenship issue came in response to questions at a news conference where he announced that if elected secretary of state he would use the office to increase civic education. He said he plans to do this by enhancing the secretary of state's website to include teaching tools on the U.S. Constitution, traveling the state to speak about the Constitution, and holding an annual youth summit where students could observe and interact with members of the Legislature.

He also said he would make secretary of state's website a one-stop service for people to report allegations of voter fraud. He also wants to expand the office's role in prosecuting voter fraud.

Kobach's opponent, Democratic Secretary of State Chris Biggs issued a statement, saying, "The real fraud is the continued and dishonest insistence that Kansas elections aren’t secure. Our election process is fair and secure, and every eligible citizen who has the right to vote is able to do so. There is no need to radically reinvent the role of the Secretary of State; this office must remain free of partisanship and focused on real issues that affect Kansans."

By Scott Rothschild

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Campaign Notebook: Brownback releases two ads; Holland campaign says they lack details

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sam Brownback has two new television commercials and the campaign of his Democratic opponent Tom Holland says the 30-second spots say nothing, especially about school funding In one commercial, Brownback says he has drawn inspiration from Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta on how to improve Kansas. The eight-man team won five straight state championships and 79 consecutive games under Barta and their success was the subject of a recent book.

The lessons learned from Barta, Brownback says, are to get a little better each day, love the person not the position and care and respect each other.

In the other commercial, Brownback says the three "great challenges" of his administration will be to create private sector jobs, improve education and have government support families.

Brownback, currently a U.S. senator, faces Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City in the Nov. 2 election.

Holland's campaign issued a news release saying the Brownback ads lacked detail.

"Senator Brownback is now saying on TV what he's said on the campaign trail -- nothing," Holland's campaign spokesperson Seth Bundy said.

Bundy said the commercials include "no details, no specifics and no answers. It's time Senator Brownback stops hiding his real agenda for Kansas schools."

Brownback has said the current school finance system needs an overhaul but he has declined to say what he would like to see changed.

Bundy said of Holland, "Tom will get new resources back into the classroom, he opposes forcing districts to raise their property taxes and he opposes taking money away from public schools through private vouchers."

By Scott Rothschild

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Brownback’s ‘Road Map’ for state criticized for being short on details

Sam Brownback’s road map for his campaign bus tour better have more detail than his policy “Road Map for Kansas.” If not, he’ll be lost and asking for directions, Democrats say. Brownback, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor, faces Democrat Tom Holland, a state senator from Baldwin City, in the Nov. 2 election.

Brownback unveiled his “Road Map” on Monday, outlining the broad “measurables” as the goals for his administration, if elected. He promised more detail as his four-day bus tour unfolded.

But so far, the details haven’t been too detailed.

In Manhattan on Wednesday, he said his rural policy initiatives will be helping set up “free enterprise zones” in rural Kansas, and expanding broadband Internet in rural areas. “We have got to do a lot better in creating jobs in rural Kansas,” Brownback said.

On the enterprise zones, he said he wanted local groups to come to the state with recommendations, and he added that he didn’t want to expend any more state dollars.

As Democrats pointed out, there is nothing new here.

The Kansas Department of Commerce is already engaged in enterprise zones, and on the issue of expanding broadband access, Kansas is spending money on this endeavor — federal money that Brownback voted against as a U.S. senator.

The lack of detail is evident in other areas, too.

Brownback has repeatedly said the school finance formula is flawed and needs to be overhauled. Public school funding makes up more than half of the state budget, and the school finance formula is the product of years of political balancing and litigation.

But Brownback has repeatedly declined to point out where he thinks the school finance formula is flawed and how it needs to be overhauled.

Brownback says if elected he will put the Legislature on the task of reforming school finance rather than dictating what he would like to see done. “This isn’t a one-person decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent Holland will roll out some of his policy details on Tuesday. Holland’s campaign notes that while Brownback has been in Washington the past 15 years, Holland has been in Kansas working on state issues in the Legislature.

“As governor, Tom Holland will create jobs by continuing to invest in education and workforce training,” said his spokesman Seth Bundy. “Tom will carefully manage the budget so that public safety and our most vulnerable Kansans are never put in jeopardy. And Tom will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to make government more efficient, transparent and responsive to Kansans,” Bundy said.

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Kansas primary results to be certified August 30

Three top Kansas officials plan to meet Aug. 30 to certify the results of last week's primary elections. Gov. Mark Parkinson, Attorney General Steve Six and Secretary of State Chris Biggs make up the state Board of Canvassers. The panel's job is to review election results and declare them valid.

Certifying election results is usually fairly routine. The actual figures are compiled by county election offices and approved by county canvassing boards before they get to the state board.

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Brownback unveiling his campaign’s ‘Road Map for Kansas’

Republican candidate and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback plans to unveil his platform for his campaign for Kansas governor this week. Brownback scheduled a Monday news conference at his campaign headquarters in Topeka to discuss his "Road Map for Kansas." He's already said he'll push a pro-growth agenda that also will improve schools and reform state government.

He's planning to start a 32-city bus tour of the state Wednesday.

Democrats are skeptical because of Brownback's conservative politics. The campaign of Democratic nominee and state Sen. Tom Holland has already dubbed Brownback's platform a "road to ruin."

Brownback and Holland are running to succeed Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson.

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Kansas GOP candidates promote unified effort

Republican Party members and their newly anointed candidates pledged Wednesday morning to make a clean sweep of Kansas races in the November general election. GOP candidates — including lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Colyer, U.S. Senate nominee Jerry Moran and 3rd Congressional District nominee Kevin Yoder — spoke at a “Victory Breakfast” at the Overland Park Marriott, emphasizing the need for party unity this fall.

U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican nominee for governor, was to speak at the event but had to fly early Wednesday to Washington, D.C., for a Senate vote. His running mate, Colyer, addressed the crowd.

“This is one of the fun times of being a Republican, a time when we can all come together,” he said.

Colyer said he had been on the losing end of a primary in the past, but it was important to support the Republican candidates moving forward.

“That next morning, I knew that there was a lot more that joined us together than separated us,” he said.

Colyer promised a “clean sweep” for Republicans in November, urging the crowd to cheer the phrase twice.

Moran discussed the need for change in the nation’s government, saying he was concerned that many Kansans did not think their children would have a better life than they had.

“Whether it’s Johnson County, Kansas, or Johnson City, Kansas, we live a lifestyle that is worth preserving,” he said.

Moran’s opponent in a bruising primary, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Goddard, did not attend the breakfast but pledged support for Moran.

“I do not want a Democrat senator from the state of Kansas,” Tiahrt told a Wichita audience overnight.

Yoder, who emerged as the winning candidate from a field of nine Republicans for the 3rd Congressional District, commended the other candidates on their hard work. At least four of his opponents, including former state Rep. Patricia Lightner, attended the event.

“The great thing about this campaign was all the candidates believe in less government, less spending,” Yoder said, adding he would continue to support those principles as he moved forward. “We need a unified party to beat Stephene Moore this November.”

Ronnie Metsker, Johnson County Republican Party chairman, expressed his joy at the passing of the primary season. He noted the party had vowed not to promote any particular candidate before the primary.

“Thank the Lord we’re past that now,” he said.

Metsker said taking back the 3rd District seat was of particular importance, noting the challenge was to find 35,000 extra votes to prevail over the Democratic voters in Douglas and Wyandotte counties.

“There is a central focus, and that is on the 3rd District because that’s the race that needs help the most,” he said.

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County Commission chair race narrowed to two

And then there were two. The field of competitors for the Johnson County Commission Chair race is now narrowed down to incumbent Annabeth Surbaugh and Fourth District Commissioner Ed Eilert. “Obviously I’m very pleased with the results. I really appreciate the confidence the voters showed at the polls,” said Eilert.

Surbaugh and Eilert secured their positions on the ballot for the general election to take place in November by winning the majority of the votes in Tuesday’s primary election. Eilert received 40 percent of the votes and Surbaugh received 29 percent, with the remainder of the votes split between other candidates John Segale and John Toplikar.

Both Surbaugh and Eilert ran on a platform encouraging fiscal responsibility. Both intend to restructure county departments and eliminate positions in order to save the county money.

Eilert has no plans for making drastic changes in his campaign platform, but isn’t planning on taking much of a break before the next challenge at hand: the November general election.

“I think the folks out there are ready for a bit of relief from politics right now,” said Eilert, “So, my team and I will take a day to celebrate and enjoy our victory, but then it’s back to the race.”

Surbaugh and her team also plan to take a few days off to regroup, but she is still thinking about November.

“The way I see it, today is the first day of the next election,” said Surbaugh.

Eilert is confident in his campaign strategy but acknowledges the strength his opponent Surbaugh has.

“It’s never easy to run against an incumbent, but all we can do is our best between now and November,” said Eilert.

The primary outcome wasn’t a surprise for Surbaugh either.

“I think we all knew how it would play out as far as who would move on. The real question was just ‘who’s going to be first?’” said Surbaugh.

Despite her place behind Eilert in the numbers, Surbaugh’s real disappointment was in the total number of votes. Unofficial vote results show that Johnson County saw a 22 percent voter turnout.

“I wish we’d had a better voter turnout (for the primaries) and I hope that changes in November,” said Surbaugh.

John Toplikar, who received 10 percent of the votes, has no hard feelings over the race.

“Of course I’m a bit disappointed, but it was a clean race. There were no personal attacks and everyone stayed on the issues,” said Toplikar.

Toplikar has no current plans to run for election again in the future.

“Right now I’m thinking more about going fishing than running again,” Toplikar said.

At the moment, Toplikar is not endorsing either Eilert or Surbaugh.

“I’m just going to watch their campaigns and see who looks like they’ll do the better job,” said Toplikar.

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