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Here’s what Journal readers say they want candidates talking about during the 2020 elections

“What do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes in the Nov. 3 general election?”

That was the question that The Journal, a civic issues magazine published by the Kansas Leadership Center, posed to its readers right after the August primary election. More than 800 respondents from across the state responded to our brief survey. They overwhelmingly mentioned three issues they would like to see candidates running for office discuss – the economy, health care and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education and social issues figured less prominently in survey responses but were still mentioned by dozens of respondents. A number of readers wanted to know about issues related to Black Lives Matter and law and order. Immigration figured prominently as well. Among social topics, abortion was mentioned less often but tended to be a very pivotal issue to those who brought it up.

The Journal’s 2020 election issue focus

The Journal plans to build its election coverage this Fall around the three issues mentioned most often by readers – the economy, health care and the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of its efforts, The Journal plans to survey candidates running in competitive races for the Kansas Legislature. The hope is to provide Kansans with thoughtful, nonpartisan information that makes it easier for them to be civically engaged through voting.

Readers want to know more about candidates

One thing we heard from readers is that what candidates have to say about the issues matters. Party identification is certainly important in politics these days, but a number of readers said they wanted to know specifics from candidates about why they were running for office, what they hoped to accomplish and what plans they have for addressing issues of importance to Kansans. A few even said they were turned off by the tone of the August primary.

Our goal is to provide some balance to what information voters have access to, and perhaps even remind our readers that just about everyone who runs for office in Kansas, regardless of party, is doing so out of a sense of public service and a desire to accomplish things they see as good for their community, state and country. 

There’s one general question we want candidates to answer

We’d like to know about the vision candidates have for dealing with health care, the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. But we also want to understand how they see the big picture. So we’ve decided to ask as many candidates as possible a single, big, open-ended question that we hope will give our readers greater insight into how candidates will approach tackling difficult issues in office.

Here’s the question:

  • 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? 

Questions We’ll Be Asking About the Issues:

In several races, we plan to ask questions dealing with specific issues that are based on input we received from our readers.

They are:

Health Care

  • What should the future of health care be? Would you prioritize affordability, access or something else? To what extent should government be involved, and should it be doing the same, less or more than it is now?
  • How should the Legislature resolve its ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion? 
  • The Journal recently reported about patients facing lawsuits for unpaid medical debt that were sent to jail for missing court dates. Is this an issue of concern that the Legislature has a role in addressing? If so, what do you think should be done?

The Economy

  • What should the government’s role be in facilitating economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic? Are there any specific things you would like to see done/not done?
  • 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?
  • Unemployment is down to about 7% statewide from a 12% peak earlier this spring. But it remains above 8% in more than a dozen Kansas counties. How concerned are you about unemployment and what would be your approach to dealing with it?

The COVID-19 Pandemic

  • 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?
  • How would you evaluate the response in Kansas to the COVID-19 pandemic thus far? Do you think that officials have done too much, too little, or about the right amount to limit the spread of the coronavirus?
  • Should the COVID-19 pandemic continue into 2021, what would your top priority be: keeping the economy going, stopping the spread of the virus, fostering economic recovery after the virus is contained, or something else? Please explain why.

Criminal Justice

  • 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? 

Keep telling us what you think

Of course, these questions aren’t set in stone. We might choose to adjust what we ask based on additional feedback from readers and the responses that candidates submit. Having this sort of flexibility is an important aspect of the citizens agenda for campaign coverage, a decades-old idea that is back in vogue and being utilized by dozens of newsrooms across the country.

We think this approach is a great fit for The Journal, which is more interested in covering how Kansas and its communities make progress on daunting challenges than tracking political horse races. But we think it also has the potential to be of considerable use to voters as well because of its potential to push candidates beyond campaign talking points and into discussing the everyday matters that voters care about most.

Were that to happen, we think the end result would be better for voters, candidates and the broader project of self-governance in Kansas and the United States. But we’re hardly experts at this approach, so please stay tuned and keep telling us what would be most helpful to you as you think about the 2020 campaign.

You can provide feedback on our survey questions and coverage here.

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