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Health, tax issues highlight differences between candidates for Johnson County House seat

Is Medicaid expansion a good deal for the state of Kansas? One candidate seeking to represent Kansas House 16, which includes parts of Lenexa and Overland Park, believes that it is. The other is skeptical.

Getting Medicaid expansion passed is the top priority for Linda Featherston, a Democrat, who is seeking to claim the seat now held by Cindy Holsher, a Democrat who chose to run for state senate. Rashard Young, a Republican, worries about the fiscal impact of such social programs on the national debt.

My background and where I come from is one of poverty,” Young said. “Not only did we lack resources, we lacked health care at certain points in time. To say I understand the struggle, what it’s like to go without, is an understatement. So I definitely believe that here in Kansas, there’s a big battle right now, and having seen and read that bill, I think Kansas can do better. I think there’s areas of that deal with Medicaid expansion that from a fiscal standpoint, we need to rethink. We need to make sure that rural hospitals are getting more than pennies on the dollar. But I think we also need to factor in both money and where it’s coming from. Our nation is $26.5 trillion dollars in debt so I definitely believe we need to keep our children in mind, making sure that with this Medicaid expansion bill we’re making good financial decisions.”

But Featherston said that after years of debate, during which Medicaid expansion has stood on the precipice of becoming law, it’s time for legislators to pass it.

“The Legislature’s actions should reflect the will of the majority of Kansans and pass Medicaid expansion,” she said. “We cannot afford to send one more of our tax dollars to other states while hard working Kansans continue to fall into the insurance gap and our healthcare system continues to suffer from lack of funding.

The two candidates also differ on tax issues, with Featherston backing an effort by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to study how make the state’s taxes fair and sustainable and balance income, sales and property taxes. Critics of the governor’s approach are concerned it will result in higher taxes.

With people struggling, Young wants government to hold the line on taxes while increasing property tax transparency and reducing the burden of the sales tax on grocery.

Our Governor ran on that and then nothing got done last session and it just seems like Democrats and Republicans are passing the buck,”  Young said. “I hope to lead on that issue. There’s no reason why, definitely during a pandemic, folks should worry if they can get their eggs, bread and milk. 

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 16

Linda Featherston (Democrat) and Rashard Young (Republican)

Linda Featherston

Linda Featherston Kansas House

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am a lifelong Kansas who has lived in Johnson County for over 20 years. I am the child of retired Kansas state employees, and attended Kansas public schools from Kindergarten through graduate school. My husband and I chose to send our children to public school, and we are thrilled that they chose to go to Kansas State University. I am a piano teacher and active volunteer in my community and in my profession. I serve on the boards for the Kansas Music Teachers Association and Kansas City Music Teachers Associations. I volunteer in the WIC garden, at my church and as a Be SMART volunteer for Moms Demand Action. When my children were still at home, I volunteered at their schools and as a Girl Scout leader, which enabled me to help out at Harvesters, Hope Chest Food Pantry and the Ronald McDonald House. I was a core member of Rep. Cindy Holscher’s campaign team before launching my own campaign.

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

My top priority is Medicaid expansion.

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.

I truly believe that Kansans are not as divided as we may seem. I pride myself on having excellent listening and evaluating skills and will work to find a middle ground in the legislature that continues to move our state forward.

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

Lack of access to care or providers

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

It’s just about right

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.

In Kansas, we need to expand Medicaid to bolster our healthcare system and our economy. People need to have access to affordable, appropriate healthcare, rather than being forced to seek treatment in the emergency room for non-emergent conditions.

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 Legislature’s actions should reflect the will of the majority of Kansans and pass Medicaid expansion. We cannot afford to send one more of our tax dollars to other states while hard working Kansans continue to fall into the insurance gap and our healthcare system continues to suffer from lack of funding.

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?

I support Gov. Kelly’s continued limitation of evictions and foreclosures for those suffering economic hardship due to the pandemic. I support continuing extra unemployment benefits so that families can continue to pay their rent/mortgage (thus foregoing a collapse of the housing market and a homeless crisis) and feed their children. I also support education assistance for those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to help get them back into the workforce.

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 will prioritize funding K-12, technical and university funding. Education is the foundation of our society and our economy, and we must do everything we can to create a well prepared, high quality workforce here in Kansas. I support Gov. Kelly’s taxation plan that balances property, income and sales taxes. I would like to see the legislature look at expanding our tax brackets in a way that protects the middle class while equitably generating income. Medicaid expansion would be another great income source for the state – perhaps the best income source that we can easily create.

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?

I think we need to seriously consider making Internet access a public utility. In lieu of that, the Legislature should consider how Kansas can create incentives for private industry to provide affordable Internet access to those that cannot currently afford it.

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

Too little has been done to stop the spread of the virus.

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

The best way we can keep the economy going is to stop the spread of the virus. I am very concerned that businesses that barely survived the initial pandemic shutdown will not survive if we are forced into a second shutdown by infection rates that continue to soar.

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 lesson I would like to see Kansans take away from the pandemic is compassion for one another. We’ve all had friends that found themselves filing for unemployment that never imagined they would ever do so. I have plenty of acquaintances that have found themselves going to school to get free lunches that never expected to need to seek help feeding their kids. I hope when this is all over, we will look at those around us that live on the edge of economic disaster every day and think about what we can do as individuals and as a society to help them. On the legislative level, I think we need to re-examine how compromises passed in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, were manipulated by extremist legislators and how this manipulation negatively affected the impacted counties and our state’s economy.

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? 

We must continually evaluate and find ways to eliminate systemic racism in this country. Legislators need to investigate how the criminal justice system affects those of color disproportionately and what can be done to equalize the system. I am very interested in learning more about how the juvenile justice system can be improved to truly guide and reform troubled youth.

Rashard Young

What are your views on Medicaid expansion? And how would you like to see the legislature resolve the debate over it?

My background and where I come from is one of poverty. Not only did we lack resources, we lacked health care at certain points in time. To say I understand the struggle, what it’s like to go without, is an understatement. So I definitely believe that here in Kansas, there’s a big battle right now, and having seen and read that bill, I think Kansas can do better. I think there’s areas of that deal of Medicaid expansion that from a fiscal standpoint, we need to rethink. We need to make sure that rural hospitals are getting more than pennies on the dollar. But I think we also need to factor in both money and where it’s coming from. Our nation is $26.5 trillion dollars in debt so I definitely believe we need to keep our children in mind, making sure that with this Medicaid expansion bill we’re making good financial decisions.

What should the government’s role be in facilitating economic recovery from the covid 19 pandemic? And are there specific things that you would like to see done or not done?

I believe that government should be now focusing on how to relieve pressure and stress from families and small businesses. I believe it’s government’s responsibility right now to hold the line and not plague families with tax increases and things like that. We need to be keeping the families and small businesses in the forefront of recovering our global and state economy right now. We pay federal taxes, state, local, property tax, sales tax – you name it. We’ve got to figure out ways to hold the line and give us some time to recover. People are struggling. These people are hurting. You’re really trying to figure this thing out. So I think the best thing that government can do right now is figure out ways to be efficient and allocate funds properly. 

I’d like to see more property tax transparency right now. That seems to be a big issue in District 16. Older folks who are retired and not making the same money they were in their prime are being pushed out of their homes. And that’s a very unfortunate thing. Grocery tax has been a big burden. Our Governor ran on that and then nothing got done last session and it just seems like Democrats and Republicans are passing the buck. I hope to lead on that issue. There’s no reason why, definitely during a pandemic, folks should worry if they can get their eggs, bread and milk. 

The pandemic further exposed Lack of broadband access in parts of the state and other divides in access to internet service. What do you think should be done?

I’m very passionate about broadband expansion. I’ve traveled the state and I’ve spoken to farmers who are running $300,000 worth of machinery off hot spots on their phone and just having issues in that area. We need to make sure folks in rural and urban areas have access to solid, internet access.

I think we should create some competition. We should work together with some of the bigger communications companies right now and work with local government, rural towns to make sure that we have the infrastructure we need to figure out exactly what does it look like? How does it work? Is it laying a bunch of infrastructure under the highways? I look forward to diving in deep to the complexity of all of that.

What key lessons would you 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? 

I think one of the biggest lessons I think we can all take away from, and this sounds a little cliche, but we are a community that relies on one another. We rely on the small business owner that cuts our hair clean or that dry cleans. And we rely on our teachers. We rely on our families. And there’s consequences – there’s unintended consequences too – for every decision we make. Whether that’s from the Governor level or all the way down to family decisions. We need to learn to come together. And we cannot politicize every single thing. We can’t use a global pandemic, to further push our agenda. We really need to come together and we need to have real solutions. Kansas solutions to Kansas problems.

I’ll tell you something my voters are saying really needs to change – in District 16 I’ve spoken to a lot of (home) owners we’ve been to all 1,100 households 2.5 times. One of the things we’re hearing is the grocery tax has really created a burden definitely during the pandemic. There’s been a lot of job loss. I’ve spoken to teachers who have quit jobs. I’ve spoken to people that have actually lost jobs. Everyone seems to agree that property tax transparency is needed and the grocery sales tax issue. The groceries tax is a lot and it’s a very heavy burden. 

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? 

I’ll start with the first one: How should we, the state legislators, respond to the covid-19 outbreaks? I think, first and foremost, we need to get down to Topeka and we need to look at our budget and what we’re dealing with. Right now it’s looking like it’s going to be a $1.3 billion deficit. We need to make sure that we are prepared for this at the Kansas level. I think we need to figure out exactly what, when the winter comes when the flu and everything kicks up again, how can we be prepared to still operate and get things done as a Legislature. But also make sure we have all of the PPE (the state needs) and have all the things. I think that’s one of the first things as a Legislature we should do.

Regarding Black Lives Matter and the protests. I think, first of all, we’ve got to get an idea of exactly what is black lives matter? Who are they? And what do they stand for? And how do we peacefully protest? You know, how do we go back to our own districts that we represent and encourage our voters to protest in a peaceful way. I live here in District 16 and every Friday and Saturday BLM is protesting. And they do it in a well, respectable way. They stand here and they do it and they’re not blocking traffic. It’s really encouraging to see, as an African-American man, to see people protesting for the things they want the right way. So I think we’re very blessed here in Kansas. As far as I’m concerned here in Johnson County we haven’t had any outbreaks. 

I think Law and Order is a big deal. I was a criminal justice major, minor Legal Studies. I understand community policing, the importance of that. I understand even prison reform, which was my major area of studies. It’s really good to see folks like the Kansas Chamber and other advocacy groups working together to improve our prison system. So I think we need to focus on, definitely here in Kansas, OK, what ways could we improve and really rally behind, as a Legislator, social justice. Can we put out a resolution condemning racism, white supremacy and things like that? I would love to see things like that happen. I think those are bipartisan issues by far that would really, really unify our Legislature and even our state.

Navigating the Pandemic Election

How to Vote and Be an Engaged Citizen During a Time of Disruption, Conflict and Uncertainty A KLC Journal Magazine Virtual Launch Event and Discussion Join us from 5-6:15 PM. on Thursday, Oct. 22, for the virtual release of the KLC Journal magazine’s Fall Edition with a focus on issues and voting in one of the most unusual elections most of us have ever seen.