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Candidates vying for Leavenworth House seat differ on tax issues, Medicaid expansion

Tax policy and Medicaid expansion are among the issues that the two candidates running for an open seat in House District 41 differ on.

State Rep. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat, currently represents the district but is running for the Kansas Senate this year. Leavenworth Mayor Mike Griswold won a three-way race in the Democratic primary for the opportunity but faces Pat Proctor, a Republican, in the Nov.  3 general election.

The Journal didn’t receive Griswold’s responses to a questionnaire it sent him about 2020 election issues. On his website, Griswold says he’d prioritize stabilizing the state budget following Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiments and returning to a three-legged stool approach of depending on income, sales and property tax revenues. He favors reducing or eliminating sales taxes on food.

Proctor says that government too often punishes people for trying to improve their lives. He believes the programs designed to help low-income individuals in his neighborhood trap them in poverty, and that government should focus on making it easier for small businesses to hire workers.

“Sky-rocketing property taxes are robbing small businesses of money they would otherwise use to create jobs in our town,” Proctor says. “Through property tax valuation increases far above the rate of inflation and back door pseudo-taxes like storm water fees, Leavenworth, like many other places in Kansas, has completely sidestepped the tax lid. We have got to restore accountability to our property tax system. Government should be in the business of creating opportunity and hope.”

Considering those positions on taxes, it’s perhaps not surprising that Griswold supports expanding the state’s Medicaid program while Proctor opposes it.

On his website, Griswold says Medicaid expansion would “ensure that another 150,000 Kansans have access to critical healthcare services and would help save rural hospitals by increasing patient load and creating new health care jobs.”

Proctor says the program would be another example of government action making people dependent on its programs.

“A couple of months ago at the restaurant here in Leavenworth, we hired a dishwasher,” Proctor says. “He worked really hard. We wanted to give him a raise and move him up to food prep, but he couldn’t take the job; he’d lose his food stamps because he’d make too much money. He’s trapped in government dependency. The current proposal for Medicaid expansion perpetuates this system; if a person works hard and gets a better job making over 133% of the poverty line, he loses his healthcare. Let’s take this Medicaid expansion money and help our small businesses offer healthcare to their employees.”

House District 41, which includes parts of Leavenworth, supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 by 11 percentage points but backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor in 2018 by nearly the same margin. It’s frequently flipped between parties, going from Republican to Democrat in 2012, Democrat to Republican in 2014 and back to Democrat in 2016.

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 41

Mike Griswold (Democrat)  and Pat Proctor (Republican)

Mike Griswold

The Journal did not receive answers to its questions from Mike Griswold. Below is a summary of his views based on publicly available data.

Background:

From his website:

Mike Griswold is a military veteran, business and civic leader.  Mike ran for Leavenworth City Commission in 2017 and was elected to a four-year term.  He began serving as a City Commissioner in January 2018 and in early December 2019 was elected by his fellow commissioners to serve a one-year term as Leavenworth Mayor.  Working with his fellow commissioners Mike has been at the forefront of policies, programs, and projects that are improving the quality of life for all Leavenworth citizens.  Improvements are evident in a number of areas including infrastructure, especially roads and the stormwater system, appearance and image of the City, public safety, economic development, and strategic communications.  Since March 2020 he has led the City’s response to the COVID-19 health crisis, and ensuing economic hardships.

Mike has been a Leavenworth and House District 41 resident since 2002, one year before he retired as an Army Colonel following 30 years of active military service.  Upon his retirement in 2003, Mike transitioned to defense contracting, working in support of soldiers and units in the fields of mission command training and training development.  For more than half of this time he was a program manager, leading dozens of contractors and managing multimillion dollar contracts.

Since 2009, Mike has served as President for the USD 207 Board of Education, Fort Leavenworth, KS Schools.  In this governing role he supports the public school education of school age military family members.  Working collaboratively with his fellow board members and the Superintendent, Mike’s leadership has been key in USD 207’s ranking as the number one school district in Kansas according to SchoolDigger.com, and for successful implementation of an ambitious facility and technology modernization plan.

In another governing role, Mike has been a member of the Board of Directors, Armed Forces Insurance Company, Leavenworth, KS since 2000, with the exception of one year.  In existence since 1887, this commercial company serves the property and casualty insurance needs of U.S. military personnel and their family members worldwide.

In 2014, Mike served in a voluntary capacity as the Education subject matter expert for the Leavenworth-Lansing Community Task Force addressing the U.S. Army Sequestration Threat to Fort Leavenworth.  In December of that year the Task Force briefed the Army staff at the Riverfront Community Center, and was lauded for its effort.  The following year when the results of cuts to Army installations were announced, Fort Leavenworth fared well, experiencing a reduction of only 50 soldiers in its Military Police Brigade.

Five years later in another volunteer effort, Mike served as Co-Chair of the Leavenworth County Mental Health Task Force, a group that studied the mental health crisis in Leavenworth County.  The Task Force identified the needs of citizens with mental illness and recommended solutions to meet these needs.  Mike was also the lead author of the Task Force’s report, delivered to the Leavenworth Board of County Commissioners on July 24, 2019.

Mike holds a bachelor of science (BS) degree from the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY; a master of science (MS) degree in management from the Naval Postgraduate School; and a master of military art and science (MMAS) degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).  In 2000 he earned a master of business administration (MBA) degree from the Rockhurst University Executive Fellowship Program.  He Is a graduate of the U.S. Army CGSC, School of Advanced Military Studies, and Army War College Fellowship Program.

Mike is married to Deborah E. Griswold, Ph.D., University of Kansas, Assistant Professor of Practice, Special Education.  They have three children and six grandchildren.  Two of their three children are graduates of Leavenworth High School, as is their oldest granddaughter.

Mike is a member of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Post 56, Leavenworth, KS.

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Griswold supports expanding Medicaid. He says on website that it would “ensure that another 150,000 Kansans have access to critical healthcare services and would help save rural hospitals by increasing patient load and creating new health care jobs.

The 90%-10% split between federal and state funds, respectively, to pay for Medicaid expansion is a bargain. The state legislature has already forfeited an estimated $3 billion in federal funds that could have been used to improve the health of our citizens and save lives. In the last ten years, over 30 other states have recognized the cost-benefit of expanding Medicaid for their citizens, and it is time for Kansas to do the same.”

Other priorities listed on his website: (1) stabilizing the budget and providing tax relief; investing in infrastructure such as roads and bridges; continue to invest in education; support economic development; support veterans; invest in mental and prison reform.

Pat Proctor

Pat Proctor Kansas House

Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Pat Proctor and I am running to serve the people of Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth as their State Representative. I have a lifetime of service. I enlisted as a private in the Army in 1989 and retired as a colonel earlier this year. I served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Since leaving the Army, I have continued to serve through my church and service organizations here in town. I am also an educator. I teach a couple days a week as an assistant professor in the Homeland Security program at Wichita State University. Finally, I’m a business owner. My wife and I own Baan Thai Restaurant and have turned it into the biggest Thai restaurant chain in Kansas. Our success has allowed us to give back to our community; we’re heavily invested in revitalizing downtown Leavenworth.

If elected this fall, what would be your top priority while in office?

People deserve opportunity and hope for the future. The programs designed to help low-income folks in my neighborhood have trapped them in poverty. Food stamps, welfare, and the proposed Medicaid expansion all have salary caps at or near the poverty line. We’re punishing people for trying to improve their lives. We need to make it easier for small businesses to hire people, too. Sky-rocketing property taxes are robbing small businesses of money they would otherwise use to create jobs in our town. Through property tax valuation increases far above the rate of inflation and back door pseudo-taxes like storm water fees, Leavenworth, like many other places in Kansas, has completely sidestepped the tax lid. We have got to restore accountability to our property tax system. Government should be in the business of creating opportunity and hope.

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.

We have got to get Kansas back to work. Even before the Coronavirus economic shutdown, our economy was faltering. Kansas was 39th in non-farm job creation. Our state was one of the top 5 states to move out of. The Coronavirus economic shutdown has only exacerbated this problem. We need to bring jobs and opportunity back to Kansas.

What’s the biggest problem in health care right now?

It’s too expensive

How do you feel about the current level of government involvement in health care?

It’s too involved

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.

We need to lift unnecessary government regulations, end corporate practice of medicine restrictions, and reduce government licensing requirements, all of which drive up the cost of healthcare.

How should the Legislature resolve the ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion?

It should not 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.

A couple of months ago at the restaurant here in Leavenworth, we hired a dishwasher. He worked really hard. We wanted to give him a raise and move him up to food prep, but he couldn’t take the job; he’d lose his food stamps because he’d make too much money. He’s trapped in government dependency. The current proposal for Medicaid expansion perpetuates this system; if a person works hard and gets a better job making over 133% of the poverty line, he loses his healthcare. Let’s take this Medicaid expansion money and help our small businesses offer healthcare to their employees. Now we’re not penalizing folks for trying to grow their futures. Now we’re giving folks opportunity and hope. 

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?

We’ve got to knock down the obstacles that keep people from taking jobs, and the obstacles that prevent businesses from hiring. That means creating a path to help folks escape generational poverty and reducing the cost of owning and running a business.

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?

We need to grow our way out of the budget shortfall from the Coronavirus shutdown. That means returning every Kansan to work and knocking down the obstacles that prevent businesses from hiring. Every one of our kids, no matter where they live or who their parents are, deserves a quality education. But I teach at the undergraduate level here in Kansas; I get the product of the Kansas K-through-12 education system. I can tell you that, despite the massive, court-mandated increases in education spending over the last decade, our kids are not leaving high-school college- or workforce-ready. Throwing money at the problem and legislation-by-lawsuit aren’t working. The answer is to create and enforce clear, measurable standards to make sure that our education dollars are making it into the classroom—and our kids are getting the world-class education they deserve. 

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?

Government needs to get out of the way and let the market drive a solution to this problem. Subsidies and carve-outs have stifled innovation in this area.

How would you evaluate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas thus far?

We have got to balance the advice of experts against the violence that their recommendations can do to our liberty and our livelihoods. Poverty kills, too.

Should the COVID-19 pandemic continue into 2021, what would your top priority be?

We have got to get our State safely back to work, protecting the most vulnerable first.

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 disaster and emergency powers statutes in Kansas were not designed for response to a crisis that lasts months. In a democracy, no one, no matter how well intentioned, should be allowed to wield unchecked, unrestrained power.

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? 

Our corrections officers are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They put themselves at risk–some making the ultimate sacrifice–to keep us and the inmates in their charge safe. We owe them a debt we can never fully repay. I think the idea of defunding the police is nuts. I understand that folks are upset that George Floyd was killed by police. It was an injustice and those involved should be prosecuted. Every cop in America cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of a few bad cops in Minneapolis. But this ceased being about George Floyd the second the first brick was thrown, the first business was burned, and the first store was looted. These riots are about destroying our history and replacing it with a narrative of systemic racism and division.