At least two Olathe politicians are campaigning to replace Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, in the Kansas Senate come January. There may be more candidates when Republican precinct committeemen and women meet on Dec. 20 to elect her replacement.
During the Dec. 20 replacement convention, nominations will be taken from the floor, and Rep. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, and Olathe City Council member Ron Ryckman both intend to be nominated for Brownlee’s post. Brownlee accepted a position in Gov.-Elect Sam Brownback’s Cabinet.
Republican 23rd District precinct committeemen and women will elect Brownlee’s replacement during the convention at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20 at Spring Hill High School.
Both men have the support of public officials who currently represent Gardner, Edgerton and Spring Hill in Topeka. Brownlee is endorsing Ryckman and Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, has endorsed Olson.
Ryckman said the Senate seat isn’t something he sought out.
“Sen. Brownlee approached me and asked if I would consider running,” Ryckman said. “After much prayer and discussion with my wife, we decided to throw my name out there.”
Olson said he’s also started the process to obtain Brownlee’s seat. He currently serves in the Kansas House.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be in this position,” he said. “I believe I have so much to offer. I’ve accomplished so much in the House, and I believe I can do a lot more in the Senate.”
One of his proudest accomplishments is the passage of the Kelsey Smith Act. The act, named for the Overland Park teenager who was kidnapped outside a Target store and later killed, requires wireless phone carriers to provide information about the location of a cell phone when requested by a law enforcement agency in an emergency situation.
As a member of the Olathe City Council, Ryckman said one of his top achievements is the handling of Olathe’s budget during the current recession.
“I’m pleased with the direction we’ve taken the city with the reductions we’ve made without having to cut services and without having to raise taxes,” Ryckman said. “I’m glad we made the necessary cuts and made difficult decisions that are probably right for the future. We shed about 20 percent of our staff, but our service levels are still positive. That’s not easy. That’s not fun.”
Both Olson and Ryckman said addressing a projected shortfall in the state budget will be a priority in Topeka next year. They differ slightly, however, on whether the 1 cent sales tax, which passed the Kansas Legislature last session, should be repealed.
“I do support that. I fought against the passage of that… I don’t believe we need it. I think it hurt the economy,” Olson said. “We can’t keep increasing taxes. It reduces growth, and two, constituents have less money to pay their bills and expenses.”
Ryckman said he couldn’t say whether he would sponsor or support a repeal of the 1 cent sales tax without more detailed information.
“I don’t have stats with the data in front of me,” he said. “That’s why I’m hesitant to say what I want to do.”
However, he said he was disappointed in the Legislature’s decision to raise taxes.
“I don’t think when you raise taxes you necessarily raise income,” he said. “In a recession, you need to keep people’s money in their own pockets.”
The pair also expressed similar desires to see more school funding issues resolved at the local level.
Ryckman said now would be a great time for a fresh set of eyes in Topeka to examine the school finance formula.
“I would push for more local control. It’s a big picture and there needs to be a big solution,” Ryckman explain. “…One of the things I’m encouraged about is the transparency issue of having schools put their books online. I’d also like to be supportive of Brownback’s solution.”
Olson said the school finance formula needs to be redone.
“I know we need to get more local control,” he said. “The schools need to find more ways to put money in the classrooms. Those decisions shouldn’t be made in Washington or Topeka. They should be made locally.”
Both potential Brownlee replacements said job creation will be a priority – particularly when it comes to helping and maintaining small businesses.
“They’re the large block of job creators for the state,” Olson said.
About 80 percent of jobs come from small businesses, Ryckman explained.
“We spend a lot of time going after the big fish and not cultivating the businesses we have,” he said.
Neither man offered broad support for tax abatements as an incentive for larger businesses.
“The problem with tax abatements is that they become a commodity and everyone starts offering them,” Ryckman said.
Olson said instead of offering abatements for large businesses, the state needs to try to make the business climate fair for every business in the state.
“I don’t really like these big abatements and incentives for 20 years, and then in 20 years, they pick up their business and move to the next state that will give them an abatement,” he said. “It’s like Nebraska Furniture Mart.”
Kansas offered the big box furniture store abatements and incentives to open a store in Wyandotte County several years ago.
“How many other furniture businesses were in town? It put a lot of other businesses out of business. They were actually paying into the system,” Olson said.
Both Olson and Ryckman are actively campaigning for Brownlee’s seat by calling precinct committeemen and women and asking for their votes. Other candidates may be nominated during the replacement convention next week. Members of the public are welcome to attend the event. It starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20 at Spring Hill High School.