Differences over whether to expand Medicaid are among the clearest points of divergence in the race for House District 39 in northwest Johnson County.
State Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Republican, says he believes that state government should more fully fund services for the most vulnerable before expanding government health insurance to able-bodied adults.
“We need to first fully fund those on the waiting lists,” Donohoe told The Shawnee Mission Post. “Medicaid should be for the truly most vulnerable – those with intellectual and physical disabilities, pregnant women, children, veterans, and at-risk seniors.”
His challenger, Democrat Les Lampe, contends that expanding Medicaid would help Kansans better cope with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This would also help our economy by infusing federal dollars into the state and creating 13,000 new jobs,” Lampe said. “Our schools are also experiencing considerable stress in dealing with the pandemic and maintaining adequate funding for schools would be a priority for me. And, of course, the pandemic has affected our economy. We must use facts and the best science available to evaluate how to effectively reopen our economy.”
Donohoe is in his second stint serving in the Kansas Legislature, having also served in the Kansas House from 2007-12. He was elected to represent House District 39, which includes parts of Shawnee and Bonner Springs, in 2018. The district has long been a Republican stronghold, voting overwhelmingly in favor of Donald Trump for president in 2016. But it backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor in 2018 by about 6 percentage points.
Here’s a look at how the candidates see key issues in this year’s elections based on answers they provided to questions from The Journal and publicly available information:
Kansas House District 39
Owen Donohoe (Republican) and Les Lampe (Democrat)
The Journal did not receive answers to its questions from Owen Donohoe. Below is a summary of his views based on publicly available data.
From Donohoe’s website:
A husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Owen has been a leader in the pro-life movement and his legislative record reflects an impeccable commitment to life at all stages.
You can count on him to advocate for Kansas’ most vulnerable populations — the unborn, the disabled and the elderly.
Owen and his wife, Charlene, have lived in Shawnee for more than 25 years. They are members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shawnee.
They have five children, 16 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Views on COVID-19 pandemic:
Donohoe opposes Medicaid expansion and voted against it in 2019.
He told The Shawnee Mission Post:
“I believe we should fund the most vulnerable first. Currently we have 5,849 on the Intellectual and physical disabilities Medicaid waiting list. This session we secured a relatively small $22 million increase to move people off the waiting list, but the Governor cut it out of the budget. We need to first fully fund those on the waiting lists … Medicaid should be for the truly most vulnerable – those with intellectual and physical disabilities, pregnant women, children, veterans, and at-risk seniors. We also have a shortage of providers that will accept Medicaid, or if they do accept Medicaid, they limit the number of Medicaid patients in a daily clinic. By adding able-bodied adults to the program those who are disabled and in vulnerable populations have an even harder time being seen by a provider. We crowd out those individuals who are truly in need, and we crowd out private insurance programs within the state reducing options for everyone.”
Views on COVID-19 pandemic:
Donohoe expressed concerns to The Post about the handling of the state’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on business and state government’s lack of transparency in testing, as well as the detail and accuracy of state reporting on testing.
“Initially, I gave Governor Kelly a lot of grace because there were so many unknowns with the virus. When she made the decision to close schools last March, I was one of the legislators that said we needed to be supportive until we had more information. As time went on, I felt that there were definitely areas for improvement. We left our small businesses closed for too long, while allowing big box stores an unfair advantage in the market place. I would have liked to have seen a task force utilizing health inspectors and other qualified personnel work together with small businesses to formulate a plan allowing them to safely and effectively stay open during that same time period. Government should not be an impediment to entrepreneurs who can find solutions that meet the criteria for being open in a safe and responsible manner. We never gave our small businesses a chance to respond, which not only hurt our economy but was devastating to families across the state.”
He also encouraged Kansans to follow CDC guidelines on washing hands, socially distancing and wearing masks. “Together we will get through this time. I continue to encourage anyone who needs assistance to reach out me.”
Views on criminal justice:
Donohoe discussed the unique racial dynamics of his family with The Post, mentioning that he has 13 biracial grandchildren and one biracial great grandchild who is named after him. He indicated he and his family have had many kitchen tables conversations about race relations.
He said he and family were “appalled and deeply disturbed by what happened with George Floyd, as was all Americans.”
“Abuse of power is never acceptable no matter the situation, and more so when it comes from within government. That being said, we cannot attribute the misuse of power by individuals to an entire entity. We must hold individuals who abuse power accountable swiftly and without equivocation. We must also support those men and women who go out and put their lives at risk to protect and serve the community without equivocation. The more transparency and open communication we have within our community the better we will be able to address any issues that arise. I believe all officers should be equipped with body cameras. This assists both the public and the officers when addressing incidents where there is conflict.”
Please briefly introduce yourself.
I’m Les Lampe, candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives, District 39, which is the western portion of Shawnee in Johnson County. My career was as a professional engineer focusing on water projects throughout Kansas, the nation, and the world. I’m a life-long resident of Kansas, attended Kansas public schools, and obtained three degrees from the University of Kansas, including a Doctorate degree in Water Resources Engineering. My family includes three grown children and four grandchildren.
If elected this fall, what would be your top priority while in office?
My top priority would be to help Kansas address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic had impacted healthcare, education, and the economy. To help Kansans better cope with the health effects of the pandemic, we need to pass Medicaid expansion. This would also help our economy by infusing federal dollars into the state and creating 13,000 new jobs. Our schools are also experiencing considerable stress in dealing with the pandemic and maintaining adequate funding for schools would be a priority for me. And, of course, the pandemic has affected our economy. We must use facts and the best science available to evaluate how to effectively reopen our economy.
These are tough times. Kansans will likely need elected officials willing to lead on a number of difficult challenges. As an office holder, how will you work in service of helping us navigate this period of distress and strengthen our communities, state and nation for the long term?Please share your thoughts in a few sentences.
My entire career was spent helping cities, counties, states, and federal governments address challenging infrastructure issues. This required evaluation of innovation solutions to difficult challenges and working with available budgets. A key component was also developing a consensus among a variety of stakeholders on how to move forward. My approach to addressing these challenges would be to respect facts and expert opinions and then work with all interested parties to develop solutions that work the best for all. Solutions that work for the long term will be a key consideration.
What’s the biggest problem in health care right now?
It’s so complicated that it’s hard to pick one answer.
How do you feel about the current level of government involvement in health care?
It’s not involved enough
What should the future of health care be in your view? Would you prioritize making it more affordable, more accessible, or something else? To what extent should the government be involved, and should it be doing the same, less or more than it is now?Please explain your views in a few sentences.
Priorities are to make it both more affordable and more accessible. Passing Medicaid expansion would be a good first step in the right direction. This would add coverage for 150,000 Kansans while creating 13,000 jobs and allowing threatened rural hospitals to remain open.
How should the Legislature resolve the ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion?
It should pass Medicaid expansion.
In a few sentences, please explain your thinking on how the Legislature should resolve the Medicaid Expansion debate and your views on the issue.
The compromise reached by Governor Kelly and Senator Denning would have worked very well and should have been enacted. The majority of legislators were in favor of passing the compromise, but Senate leadership blocked it. Again, passage would protect 150,000 Kansans, create jobs, and return hundreds of millions of dollars that Kansas now sends to Washington to support Medicaid in other states.
What should government’s role be in facilitating economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there specific things you would like to see done or not done?
In particular, the government should look at cost-effective measures for job creation. Two notable examples are Medicaid expansion which would create 13,000 jobs and maintaining school funding to support jobs in every school district in the state. The pandemic has also demonstrated that significant improvements are needed in the Kansas Department of Labor, particularly with the systems used to administer unemployment claims.
What would you prioritize when dealing with shortfalls in revenues that fund state services? What would you do about taxes? How would you deal with the state budget’s funding for K-12 education?
I support most of the measures proposed by Governor Kelly to address the shortfall in revenues. In particular, the deferral of payments to the Pooled Money Investment Board is a sound measure that is needed until revenues recover. In terms of taxes, the tax rate on groceries is among the highest in the country and affects those least able to afford it. It should be reduced. Property taxes are probably at an appropriate level. Income taxes are still lower than they were before the disastrous Brownback tax experiment and should be revisited.
The pandemic further exposed a lack of broadband access in parts of the state and other divides in access to Internet service. What do you think should be done?
Broadband access is absolutely essential in terms of addressing the needs of both the present and the future. The State should take the lead in conjunction with regional and Federal partners to enhance broadband access. This would enable practices such as remote learning and telemedicine to be implemented.
How would you evaluate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas thus far?
Everyone’s doing their best. It’s just a really tough situation.
Should the COVID-19 pandemic continue into 2021, what would your top priority be?
Economic recovery after the virus is contained
What key lessons would like to see Kansans take away from the pandemic and the response to it? Do you see the need for changes as a result of what’s happened?
The pandemic has posed challenges unlike any others in the history of the state. We must view the pandemic as an opportunity to learn better practices in areas such as remote learning and telemedicine. This also emphasizes the need for broadband access in all parts of the state.
How should legislators respond to the events of this summer (such as the prison outbreaks of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter protests and concerns about preserving law and order) in shaping the state’s criminal justice system for the future?
A thorough review of the criminal justice system is warranted. There are laws in place requiring reporting on policing practices and very few law enforcement agencies are complying with the law. In particular, we have little information to understand the true extent of racial profiling in law enforcement across the state. There is a need to establish community advisory boards that would oversee training programs aimed at providing training to law enforcement officials so that measures to de-escalate incidents and avoid the use of force could be implemented.