If Libertarian Party candidate Jeff Caldwell is elected governor of Kansas in November, his first day in office will be a busy one.
His first act will be to pardon all nonviolent cannabis offenses, which he claims will save the state $20 million a year, and he’ll follow that action with an executive order preventing the state from discriminating against any Kansas resident.
“It’s time for legislators to listen to their constituents instead of their buddies and corporate donors,” he said. “I will bring true representation back to Topeka.”
Caldwell, a 32-year-old fourth generation Kansan from Leawood, said other initiatives he will pursue include elimination of the sales tax on food and water, which is one of the highest in the nation, a burden on every Kansan.
“Kansas is one of only seven states in the entire United States that taxes food without a reduced rate or no rate at all,” he said.
He supports the funding of schools, but he believes there is room for a new approach. He would use the savings from full legalization of medical and recreational cannabis and sports betting to cover the cost, rather than relying totally on traditional funding sources.
“Kansas legislators are telling us an improving economy will cover the funding,” he said. But “the unemployment rate in Kansas has been stuck at 3.4 percent for over six months.
“I also will work to pass the Kansas Education Liberty Act … which would bring sources of funding for education from outside of the state. Nonprofit organizations would be created to handle funding next to the current state infrastructure, and the organizations would be funded through donations that are matched with a dollar for dollars tax credit.”
Caldwell said he supports returns education back to local control, but he believes this would require a constitutional amendment to restrict litigation on state aid to districts.
He would couple that with tax credits for corporations to donate more money to the state’s colleges and universities.
One of Caldwell’s chief concerns is governmental transparency. He said he would lead the effort to information citizens of the legislative process.
“I have participated in committee hearings that continuously move, bills get gutted and replaced and legislators’ votes are not recorded when in committee,” he said. Under his administration, “all hearings, sessions and meetings will be recorded, live-streamed and available for public view.”
The Leawood resident said the time has come to overhaul the Department of Children and Families.
“Kansas should launch a complete, comprehensive audit of the DCF, Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Behavioral Healthcare,” he said. “All the abuse and neglect found within the system will be brought to light and handled appropriately. It is time to clean house within Kansas’ child services.
He supports the reintroduction of Kansas House Bill 2751, which would establish the office of the child advocate for children’s protection and services within the Kansas Department of Administration.
The bill creates an ombudsman’s office with the power to investigate, request confidential records, subpoena documents and review how well children are protected by the state.
He is concerned about procedures that in the past have allowed by agencies to hide or eliminate specific details of their failure to protect Kansas children.
His stand on the decriminalization of cannabis use ties in to his belief that children should not be taken away from parents who test positive for THC from marijuana consumption.
Caldwell ran unsuccessfully in 2012 and 2014 for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives.
His running mate is Mary Gerlt.
— Compiled by the Kansas Press Association staff.
She’s heard the predictions that a Democrat can’t get elected Kansas governor these days. Kansans vote mostly Republican, after all, even in her State Senate District 18.
So, Sen. Laura Kelly knows better than most that the race will be a close one. Recent polls show her slightly ahead of her Republican challenger, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
But Kelly knows Kansans, Republicans and others. She knows what their big worries are, including that “Ïdealogues” might bring back tax cuts that she says “devastated” the state’s schools, roads and other institutions in recent years.
Kelly said she has been able to work across the aisle with Republicans.
“My own senate district is very Republican, by 10 points plus,” she said. “I’ve been able to win that district four times. And it’s because I’ve formed these relationships and maintained them.”
A common thing she’s heard from Republicans in her district during her four terms: ”I voted for you because you showed up.”
And she has been endorsed in the gubernatorial race by two popular Republicans, former Gov. Bill Graves and former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum.
What she’ll do as governor: Fix what she calls the damage from “the dark years.” Everywhere she goes, voters describe to her what the 2012 “Brownback tax experiment” did to state institutions:
• Class sizes ballooned; teachers left the state.
• The Kansas roster of foster kids jumped from 5,000 to 8,000 because there were no longer enough social workers to reunite them with their families or adopting families.
• Thirty hospitals are on the verge of closing in Kansas because the government refused to deal with Medicaid expansion, a topic she says voters bring up at every stop she’s made.
• Roads are crumbling. “You go into KDOT now (Kansas Department of Transportation) and it looks like a ghost town.”
• “And we’ve had the greatest out-migration ever in the past seven years. It’s because all those cuts made Kansas a much less attractive place.”
• “And there’s one thing I always bring up, on the road – I want to re-instate the state arts commission. I get a standing ovation anytime I bring that up, and it doesn’t matter what part of Kansas I am, Overland Park or Oberlin. We were spending $750,000 on the arts commission — and getting back $28 million, either from the feds or foundations. It was a great investment and reaped rewards all over the state.”
The dark years ended, she said, “because the Republicans and I want the same things: they want to fund their schools. They want Kansas to be a well-respected place that businesses want to move to and to grow.”
Republican voters two years ago elected moderates who combined with Democrats to end some of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, and override Brownback’s vetoes. Kris Kobach wants to bring the cuts back, she said.
In the state’s primary in August, “Some of those really wonderful moderate legislators were taken out. We’ll have to see what happens in November, whether they are replaced by an ideologue, or by a Democrat.”
All this and more, she said, is why more than two dozen past and current Republican legislators in the red state of Kansas have endorsed her, including Kassebaum and Graves.
“We need to re-brand … go back to being a sane, open, welcoming state that businesses will look at, that people will look at.”
Voters are telling all three candidates that property appraisals and the sales tax are pricing some voters out of their homes and retirement savings. She agrees with Kobach and Orman that those taxes are too high. “We’ve got to lower the sales tax, particularly on food. Our property taxes are too high. Beyond that, we’ve got to get back to a balanced approach to taxes.”
The Brownback cuts forced the legislature and local municipalities to raise those taxes, she said, to offset what they lost from state-run programs funded with the income tax.
So would a Governor Kelly lower all taxes? Would she raise state taxes to rebuild schools, roads and other programs she said were gutted by Brownback?
“I’m not prepared to do anything about revenues until we really understand the full implications of what we did in overturning the Brownback experiment, and then what the feds did,” she said. “And we’re not going to know that until the middle of 2019.”
She hopes to make state government more open, but said she wants conversations with legislators before she would make any moves. There are many moves to consider, she said. Legislators often prepare bills without putting their names on the bills. Committees, where most of the debate and work takes place, don’t record the votes of committee members, another way to hide a legislator’s maneuvers. Legislators sometimes remove all the wording from a bill, and substitute other wording, a secretive process they themselves call “gut and go.”
Oftentimes, she said, the only way voters find out about state mistakes, big and small, is when a newspaper reporter digs up documents and exposes wrongdoing.
News reporters are not the “enemy of the people,” she said. “Sometimes we need help. Somebody needs to hold us accountable, and the press does a really good job of that.”
Kelly has a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Indiana University. Her husband is a physician; they have two daughters.
Her running mate is Lynn Rogers.
– Roy Wenzl is an award-winning journalist who formerly reported for the Wichita Eagle.
Topekan Rick Kloos admits he is a frustrated Republicans running as an Independent for Kansas governor.
“Decisions for Kansas should be made by the residents, not the agenda of the two parties,” he said. “I want to represent the people and not just a party.
“I will work between the parties to unite us rather than divide Kansas. I believe the state will run healthiest when we work together and find common ground solutions.”
Kloos is a graduate of Trinity College in North Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in theology and ministerial studies. He served as clergy for 30 years.
He continued his studies in substance abuse counseling at Washburn University and has certification from the American Council for Pharmacy Education, which allows him to serve as a police and hospice chaplain in correctional facilities and clinical settings.
While he is an advocate of lower taxes, he believes in achieving reform in a responsible way.
“As of right now, I support the three-legged stool approach: income tax, sales tax and property tax,” he said. But “I think taking our income tax out is partly why we see our high sales tax and property tax. When you take one away, it puts pressure on the others.
“Right now, we are in a position where we need to sit tight and adjust our taxes when we know we have sufficient funds to carry out our services.”
School funding, a perennial concern in Kansas, has his attention as well.
Education, Kloos said, consumes about 50 percent of the states budget.
“Because of that,” he said, “people sometimes view education as only a liability. I believe we need to change our way of thinking and view it as one of our greatest assets. I want to restore value and respect back to our education system.”
How would he fund the growing budget needs of public education?
“I believe we can fund both higher and K-12 education with the new online tax and also with sports betting,” Kloos . “I think those are two good ways we can help fund education without raising our sales, income and property taxes.”
He said another concern is that Kansas ranks fifth in the percentage of residents moving out of state.
Kansas needs to grow, he said, which will provide the jobs necessary to keep our residents and college graduates here.
That also will have an effect on state revenues.
“We’re not going to be able to cut taxes if we don’t start growing,” he said. “I will promote Kansas to help it grow.”
Kansas government also needs to be more open.
“One way I will work to be more transparent is being more involved with our local leaders across the state,” he said. “I had the opportunity to visit all 105 counties over 52 days and made it a point to meet with local leaders all across the state.
“I would like to continue that because it helps government leaders stay accountable to the people, their needs and their concerns. Also, I think we need to get away from behind-the-door deals.”
Kloos supports Medicaid expansion and the decriminalization of marijuana, but not outright legalization.
“It is important we not continue to fill our prisons with more non-violent offenders,” he said. “We should also explore options concerning the use of marijuana in medical and end-of-life care.”
Kloos, his wife Pennie and son Nate started the non-profit organization God’s Storehouse in Topeka nine years ago.
His running mate is Nate Kloos, his son.
— Compiled by the Kansas Press Association staff.