Some 23 hopefuls for local, state and federal offices are expected to participate in today's Primary Election Candidate Forum.
Hosted by the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce, the event will be held at the Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center on the Fort Scott Community College campus, 2108 S. Horton. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the forum starts at 6 p.m. Larry Gazaway, from 103.9 KOMB radio, will be the moderator.
Usually the forums are held at Fort Scott Middle School, but the Ellis Fine Arts Center can accommodate more people, so Chamber Executive Director Lindsay Madison is hoping for a larger audience. The primary is Aug. 7 and the general election is Nov. 6.
At the state and federal level, redistricting has changed the boundary lines of some of the districts and created new ones. Incumbent state Sen. Bob Marshall, R-Fort Scott, is facing Republican Jake LaTurner of Pittsburg. The winner of that contest will square off against Democrat Gene Garman of Pittsburg.
"I think this particular election is extremely important for Fort Scott and Bourbon County," Madison said, adding that the chamber is not taking a position on the election. She noted that Marshall lives in Fort Scott and people can ask him questions and offer input.
"Regardless of that, I think it's just very good to be informed when people go to the polls and not just vote for a name or even a party, but actually know where the candidates stand on the issues," Madison said. "The public is invited to submit questions before the forum starts. The questions would need to be submitted before the forum begins, but everybody is invited to submit questions. ..."
Marshall, who plans to attend tonight's forum, said his main issues are economic development and transportation. "Jobs are probably the most important thing to the state right now," he said. "One of the most important things for Southeast Kansas is the completion of U.S. 69."
When he kicked off his campaign in January, Marshall said he thought he had a "pretty good advantage," but now the race has likely tightened up. "That's just a natural thing that has to happen," he said. "... I'm working like I'm 10 points behind."
Marshall's district now includes the township of Chetopa in Labette County and Baxter Springs and Columbus, none of which were in his area before redistricting. As a result, the retired U.S. Marine has to increase his name identification in those areas while protecting his base in Bourbon County and Pittsburg.
LaTurner, who Marshall beat for the Senate spot in 2008, worked for U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, for four years. "It was a wonderful experience," LaTurner said. "In that job, I focused mostly on constituent services, so for example I'd help a veteran get his benefits straightened out with the VA."
LaTurner, 24, said he thinks he can make an "enormous impact" in Topeka.
"I'm not interested in being anyone's lapdog. I want to work and negotiate with all parties involved and I want to listen to what the voters of Southeast Kansas want," LaTurner said. "In Topeka, it's like Washington. You have to be careful not to get entrenched in any one person's point of view. ... At the same time, it's important to maintain good relations with everyone. ..."
Garman, who has been chairman of the Crawford County Democratic Party for two years, is a retired U.S. Postal Service letter carrier and retired from the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters. He currently works for Pittsburg's Parks and Recreation Department and USD 250 in Pittsburg.
Garman's main concern is getting people a living wage. With minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, Garman said that's not enough to support a family. He would like to see it raised to $8.25 an hour, but he doubts he could get that passed. "That is a poverty level wage; you can't raise a family on that and yet that's what they pay. That's what I get paid working for the city and the school district," Garman said. "... It's a shame and I know some of these people that have no income. They're in debt up over their ears. It's sad; we need to help them out."
All candidates running without opposition in the primary election will be given an opportunity to give up to a five-minute statement. Individuals representing candidates not in attendance will be given an opportunity to give up to a three-minute statement.
Candidates facing an opponent in the primary will be given the chance to make a one-minute opening statement.
Audience questions will be submitted on cards and be screened by a specially selected committee. Three questions will be asked of each office. Candidates facing an opponent in the primary election will be given one minute to respond to each question.
Candidates facing an opponent in the primary election will be allowed to ask the candidate one question. Rebuttals will be allowed in their three-minute closing statement.
The order of the forum will run with federal candidates going first, followed by state and then local: U.S. House of Representatives, District 2; Kansas Senate, Districts 12, 13; Kansas House of Representatives, Districts 2, 4; Bourbon County commissioner, Districts 1, 2, 3; Bourbon County Clerk; Bourbon County treasurer; Bourbon County register of deeds; Bourbon County attorney; and Bourbon County sheriff.