State office hopefuls reveal platforms

Thursday, October 26, 2006

State political candidates sounded off Tuesday on a variety of issues ranging from expanded gambling in Kansas to urging the Kansas Legislature to regulate home schooling for students across the state.

During a public forum Tuesday evening at Buck Run Community Center, area candidates for the Kansas House of Representatives joined others running for state offices in a question-and-answer session that focused on issues considered to be important to Kansas voters.

Candidates also issued statements that reflected their attitudes and opinions heading into the Nov. 7 general election.

"There are a lot of issues coming up, I'd like to be your representative and the voice of the people," incumbent 2nd District State Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, said. "A lot of people go to Topeka with the intent to make a lot of changes and I did too, but that doesn't happen with just one vote."

Incumbent 4th District State Rep. Lynne Oharah is seeking to hold his spot against Democratic challenger Shirley Palmer of Fort Scott. Oharah said issues facing Kansas residents in the near future include immigration and the possibility of extending the expansion of U.S. Highway 69 south through Crawford and Cherokee counties to the Kansas-Oklahoma state line.

KDOT is currently expanding U.S. Highway 69 into a four-lane freeway from Fort Scott north to Louisburg.

Palmer, a long-time teacher in USD 234 in Fort Scott, also formerly served on the Kansas Board of Regents and said she knows her way around Topeka.

"I'm up for a challenge -- I truly believe in my life and my career," she said.

Palmer also said she believes her work ethic and her commitment to her constituents are important traits for the position she is seeking.

Oharah, who grew up in Uniontown, spent a 31-year career working with Southwestern Bell Corporation.

Grant is a long-time businessman who lives in Crawford County.

One audience question addressed to the candidates was whether or not the Kansas Legislature should regulate home schools across the state. Two of the candidates shared similar opinions on this issue, while the other disagreed. Grant and Palmer both agreed that the idea of home schools being regulated by state legislators should be up to the Kansas State Board of Education.

Palmer said home schools in Kansas should be regulated and that she is in favor of the state board looking into possible regulations. Oharah, however, disagreed with his opponent, saying that state board is responsible only for regulating public education, and that the it should not interfere with the operations of home schools, particularly in light of the fact that specific requirements already must be met for all students to graduate.

Another question dealt with the idea of expanding the gaming industry and adding casinos across the state as a way of increasing state revenue. On this issue, both Palmer and Grant said the matter should be put to a vote by local citizens, while Oharah said that he doesn't support the notion of expanded gambling and that other methods can be used to increase state revenues without raising taxes.

"If a majority of district voters want it, I won't stand in their way," Oharah said.

"I think they're (voters) smart enough to know if they want gaming in Kansas," Grant said. "We're losing a lot of revenue and I keep hearing people say, 'Don't raise our taxes.'"

Candidates also discussed whether or not Kansas judges should be elected on a partisan or non-partisan basis. Palmer and Grant agreed that the current system used for electing judges in Kansas is satisfactory.

"I think the system we have now works well," Grant said. "I think we've got a good system."

Palmer agreed, adding that judges across the state should be appointed based on their merit because the election of those judges is usually political. Oharah said the consensus among lawmakers is that judges are appointed by the governor.

"I think we need to take a serious look at how we elect our judges," Oharah said.

A sensitive issue for some Kansas residents that the candidates discussed on Tuesday is the possible increase in the state tobacco tax, a question posed by a member of the audience. Grant said an increase in the tobacco tax would cause many Kansans to travel to Missouri to purchase tobacco products, which would adversely affect the Kansas economy.

"We have enough money going out of our state to Missouri as it is," he said. "I would not vote for an increased tax on cigarettes. By putting more tax on, you'd be sending more people to Missouri, and they'd buy gas while they're over there."

Palmer said she would support such an increase "only as a last resort," and that research shows that making people aware of the dangers of smoking reduces the overall number of people who smoke. On this matter, Oharah agreed with Grant, saying he would not be in favor of an increased tobacco tax, because such a situation would increase revenue in Missouri and decrease Kansas revenue.

"There's a steady stream of people going across the border," Oharah said.

Candidates also issued closing statements on Tuesday, to emphasize their positions on the issues as they make their way down the campaign trail toward Nov. 7.

"I feel that I can make a difference, and I will work hard for each and every one of you," Palmer told the audience. Palmer also said she would listen closely to constituents on their concerns, and she urged voters to put party labels aside and vote for the candidate who can do the best job in office.

Oharah said he would continue to work to protect Kansas farms and make them competitive to other businesses.

"Number one, I'm a pro-business candidate," he said.

Oharah also said he is a pro-life candidate who will work to give local budget control back to Kansas school districts, and to place a cap on property taxes for senior citizens living on fixed incomes. Concerning immigration, Oharah said he supports the idea of making English the official language of Kansas and he would not allow college students who are illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition.

"Get out and vote, whether you vote for me or not," Oharah told the audience.

Palmer, too, urged people to get out and vote on Nov. 7.

Grant, who said he enjoys representing the people, shared those sentiments.

"Please get out and vote," Grant said. "I try to use common sense. Some things I say, some people might not like, but I tell it like it is."