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Differing views of government’s role in recovery mark race for Johnson County House seat

Voters in House District 28 will have a choice between two very different views on state government’s role in helping Kansas recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in the Nov. 3 general election. Carl Turner, a Republican, and Sally Jercha, a Democrat, are running to fill the seat being vacated by state Rep. Kellie Warren, who is running for a seat in the Kansas Senate.  

In comments to the Johnson County Public Policy Council, Turner signaled a desire to search for areas of the state budget that could be cut, although he didn’t mention any specific category or program. 

“We know we’ll have a revenue shortage and the appetite for spending never seems to end,” Turner said.

Nearly two-thirds of the state’s general fund budget goes to education, the bulk of which is devoted to K-12 public education. Jercha wants to work to protect that funding. Turner describes himself as a strong supporter of education and says his focus will be on ensuring that tax dollars are used efficiently and in the classroom.

One of the key lessons Jercha takes from the pandemic is the need to invest in public services, “so that it’s there for the times in which we need them.” She mentions the state’s outdated unemployment systems and computer systems, which made it more challenging to pay benefits during times of peak demand earlier this year, as an example.

Problems with the unemployment system proved that while not all government services may feel important to us everyday, many serve an essential service.

“I think that this has taught us that when we starve those systems, and do experiments on our tax system and things like that. It can come back to haunt us,” she said.

The two also differ on the issue of Medicaid expansion. Turner told the area chambers of commerce serving Johnson County that he didn’t want to find answers to health care problems by expanding an inefficient government program that burdened taxpayers. Jercha supports Medicaid expansion, saying it would provide 140,000 to 150,000 with much needed health care.

“I also think it brings a ton of jobs to our area,” Jercha says. “And it allows us to receive back some of the federal tax money that we pay to the United States government. I’d like to go ahead and get that money back here to Kansas. I thought the compromise that they came up with in the last session was reasonable. And I would support that plan if Governor Kelly thought that that was the best way to move that forward.”

The district includes parts of Overland Park and Leawood. It’s traditionally favored Republicans and supported Donald Trump for president by about 9 percentage points in 2016. But it has been trending blue and backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor by about 7 percentage points in 2018.

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 28

Carl Turner (Republican) and Sally Jercha (Democrat)

Carl Turner

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

Background:

From his website:

“Carl Turner is a career Financial, Process Improvement and Project Management professional with a long track-record of delivering results in multiple business areas. Carl has been a Leawood resident for 30 years and is a proud father. During that time, he was active in his daughter’s education, led a team of parents to improve the student experience at Leawood Middle School, and coached softball and basketball teams for many years. He stays active in the community through Rotary, a weekly biking group, serving as president of his neighborhood HOA, volunteering time to the LEARN Science and Math club and with the Heartland Honor Flight to honor war veterans.

The youngest of four kids, Carl’s parents both worked during his childhood. His mom drove a school bus for twenty years and his dad was a machinist at the TWA overhaul base.

His parents instilled in him a strong work ethic at an early age — mowing lawns and working in a gas station through high school to earn a paycheck. After high school, he was off to college and spent his summers working in a North Kansas City warehouse driving a forklift as an order filler. After college he started his career, got married, had the best blessing ever in the birth of his daughter, went back for his MBA and fully lived all the joys and setbacks of his American dream.

Throughout Carl’s career he has built a strong business acumen and trusted skills as a strong leader, communicator and team-builder. He is a quick learner, problem-solver, and team-builder with a passion for establishing positive relationships at all levels of an organization.”

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Turner expressed opposition to Medicaid expansion in comments to votejoco.com, a voter education website published by area chambers of commerce that serve Johnson County.

“I want to find answers to healthcare and don’t want those answers to be expansion of inefficient government programs that burden taxpayers. The best solutions typically come from the competitive market. Customers then have choices which serves as a check and balance on the providers quality, cost, customer service and level of care. No checks and balances exist when the government is the sole provider.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

On his website, he says one of his priorities is “restoring a vibrant, thriving economy.”

“Our country has never slammed the brakes on the economy, as has been done to stop the spread of the virus. Fortunately, we had a thriving economy and full employment at the start. As a result, we were going from ‘great to bad’ rather than from ‘bad to worse.’

Governments at all levels will have a big role in setting policy to get the economic engine up and running again. This is not a time for opportunists to ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ by advancing their agenda of endless government expansion and control and higher taxes.

We must reduce the tax and regulatory burden to stimulate the rapid recovery and sustained growth and prosperity of the economy.

Sally Jercha

In a few sentences, please explain your thinking on how the Legislature should resolve the Medicaid Expansion debate and your views on the issue.

“I support Medicaid expansion. I think it provides 140,000 to 150,000 Kansans with much needed health care. I also think it brings a ton of jobs to our area. And it allows us to receive back some of the federal tax money that we pay to the United States government. I’d like to go ahead and get that money back here to Kansas. I thought the compromise that they came up with in the last session was reasonable. And I would support that plan if Governor Kelly thought that that was the best way to move that forward.”

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 think the federal government – so not necessarily our state government – I think the federal government has a responsibility to pass Covid relief legislation as soon as possible.

From a state perspective I would like to see our state budget made whole from the effects of the pandemic. And I’d also like to see that money go to our cities and our counties as well. I think a federal government needs to provide that relief to Kansas and its cities and counties.

I also feel that our Department of Commerce is doing an excellent job of attracting new investments. I’ve been very pleased to see over the last couple of months many announcements by Governor Kelly and Secretary (David) Toland describing some of the new ventures that have happened.”

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 should do what we can do feasibly to provide broadband access throughout our state. And I know that included in the big transportation projects are ways to facilitate some of that,” she says.

“I would need to learn more about the solutions for the rest of the state where there is limited broadband access. But I would be very interested in understanding what the path forward is there.”

The portion, she says, that she’s familiar with is infrastructure updates along U.S. 69 Highway that allows companies to run cable underneath the highway. It makes sense, she says, to complete updates like that when it costs Kansans the least amount of money.

“I think where we can integrate that into already approved infrastructure improvement makes a lot of sense. We should consider broadband access anytime we are improving roads throughout Kansas.”

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

“It’s taken some time to come together as a community to stop the spread of Covid-19. We all banded together early on.”

There have been plenty of divergent opinions since the early days, but Jercha believes the community has once again started to come together on some key issues including masks.

“I think that some of the guidance around mask-wearing has taken hold. I think we’ve seen examples where that’s effective.”

Jercha believes there are several lessons learned by the pandemic.

“I think long-term we need to make sure that we appropriately invest in our public services so that it’s there for the times in which we need them. I think one of the things that we found was our unemployment systems and the computer systems involved were pretty heinous,” Jercha says. “I think this speaks to making sure that we continue to keep these systems operating efficiently and effectively even when we’re not in times of crisis. And I would add that investment in public health also makes sense.”

Problems with the unemployment system proved that while not all government services may feel important to us everyday, many serve an essential service.

“I think that this has taught us that when we starve those systems, and do experiments on our tax system and things like that. It can come back to haunt us,” she says.

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 think the best way to do that is to sit down with the right people. So sit down with representatives from the different communities. And from what I’ve heard people are pretty open to doing that now,” she says.

It’s time, she says, for the conversation to move forward with sound policy that makes sense for all.

Jercha is clear that the process won’t be easy but it’s necessary.

“Talking to the law enforcement families that are helping me on my campaign, there are things that they’d like to see improved in their own department,” she says. “I think that there are people that would like to just work together. And as long as the right representatives are at that table, I think we can get a lot of things accomplished as long as we keep an open mind to maybe doing things just a little bit differently. Ultimately the goal is to save lives. Black lives and then also protecting officers’ lives. So as long as they go in with that goal, I think it’s good.”

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