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Health, budget priorities distinguish candidates running for Olathe House seat

The political rule of thumb in recent years has been that the further south you go in the Kansas City suburbs, the more Republican ideas still resonate. The race for Kansas House District 49, which includes parts of Olathe, could be one place that tests just how far south can compete in once reliably red areas of Johnson County.

State Rep. Megan Lynn, a Republican, won her first term two years ago by 639 votes out of 8,263 cast against a Democratic challenger who didn’t spend any money on the campaign. It was by far the closest race the district had seen in a decade. This time around, Lynn,  a children’s ministry assistant, faces Democrat Katie Dixon, a financial adviser.

Lynn didn’t respond to a Journal questionnaire about election issues. But in answers she provided to jocovotes.com, a website sponsored by area chambers of commerce serving Johnson County, she indicated that her top three issues for the campaign would be: advocating for mental health; transparent property tax policy and reducing sales taxes on food.

She differs with Dixon on the topic of Medicaid expansion as well as how the state should approach digging out of the financial hole caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lynn voted against Medicaid expansion in 2019. She says she is skeptical because the state is already failing to help the most vulnerable and thinks there might be other ways to help those who struggle to afford private health insurance but don’t qualify for government-finance coverage.

“The thousands on waiting lists plus other concerns lead me to be skeptical about Medicaid Expansion,” she wrote in comments to jocovotes.com. “We are currently failing to help the vulnerable among us and this is unacceptable.”

Dixon supports Medicaid expansion and thinks it could have some economic benefits.

“If we do end up expanding Medicaid that should inject some federal dollars back into our local economy, our Kansas economy. So, you know that I think that could be a step in the right direction,” Dixon says.

Lynn indicates that, in the wake of the pandemic, the state will have to do a better job of prioritizing its spending.

“We need to find ways to reduce the rate of growth of spending and eliminate waste,” she told jocovotes.com. “While our government agencies have worked on this through attrition, we will need to find additional ways to cut spending. We need to hold the rate of spending at a reasonable level to keep the budget balanced. There are possible revenue enhancements that are being considered with sports wagering and the recent addition of lottery vending machines. I would consider these options first.”

Dixon agrees that it will take work to balance the state budget and told jocovotes.com that it will need to both increase revenue, perhaps through the creation of a new income tax bracket for higher-earning taxpayers, and cut spending. But she draws the line at public school funding, saying it needs to be protected. She suggests cutting others areas such as tourism, which might be less essential during a pandemic.

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 49

Megan Lynn (Republican) and Katie Dixon (Democrat)  

Megan Lynn

The Journal did not receive answers to its questions from Megan Lynn. Below is a summary of her views based on publicly available data.

Background:

From her website:

Megan worked as a developmental biologist for eight years and currently serves as children’s ministry assistant at Olathe College Church of the Nazarene. She has an MS in Biology and has been married to Chad for 15 years. They have three children and have called Olathe home since 2001. Megan and Chad Lynn have also been elected as Republican Precinct Committeewoman and Committeeman in Olathe 4-18.

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Lynn voted against Medicaid expansion in 2019. She told votejoco.com that she is skeptical of Medicaid expansion because the state is already failing to help the most vulnerable.

“The thousands on waiting lists plus other concerns lead me to be skeptical about Medicaid Expansion. We are currently
failing to help the vulnerable among us and this is unacceptable. I do feel we should address the needs of individuals caught
in the coverage gap. Ideas like continuing TeleMedicine, utilizing APRNs effectively, allowing workplaces options for on-sight healthcare, and utilizing community paramedicine for the under-served population will reduce the financial and time-sensitive
burden of healthcare.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Lynn told votejoco.com that lawmakers will need to scrutinize the state budget during the state’s recovery from the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need to prioritize our spending. We need to find ways to reduce the rate of
growth of spending and eliminate waste. While our government agencies have worked on this through attrition, we will need
to find additional ways to cut spending. We need to hold the rate of spending at a reasonable level to keep the budget
balanced. There are possible revenue enhancements that are being considered with sports wagering and the recent addition
of lottery vending machines. I would consider these options first.”

Katie Dixon

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 am happy to vote for Medicaid expansion. I did not initially think that I would have the opportunity to vote for Medicaid expansion. I anticipated that it would pass last year. But I would be in favor of expanding Medicaid. 

This might be an anticlimactic answer but I don’t know what the solution is to come to some sort of consensus. I don’t know what the good solution is, other than just trying to work together to get things completed. You know, I think that we’ve come to a point where, if we could have expanded Medicaid before the pandemic, it would have helped Kansas. Hopefully next year in session, people will realize that we need to work together to solve problems instead of being more partisan. 

What should the 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?

Well, one thing I think will be a help is tied back to your first question with Medicaid expansion. If we do end up expanding Medicaid that should inject some federal dollars back into our local economy, our Kansas economy. So, you know that I think that could be a step in the right direction. I don’t think that will be the entire solution. I would like to see as much local control as possible but facilitated by the state government – things that we’re already doing, that Governor Kelly is helping lead us on from helping secure PPE for small businesses, helping give clear direction on how to use that PPE. 

There’s a whole program right now with I believe six or eight different grants that are available to small and medium sized businesses through the state that can help them with this recovery and I think that’s a good first step. I think long term some of the things that we’re going to need to do revolve around workforce readiness and understanding how we can create higher education that’s more affordable to Kansans for workforce readiness and have people that are ready to enter the workforce without maybe a traditional four year degree. And I think that’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to require a lot of collaboration with different high schools and different colleges. It’s not going to be an easy task. 

So short-term try to inject funds into our economy where we can without having to spend more money to do that. So things like Medicaid. Then long term, how can we just create a stronger economy out of this. 

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 the Internet should be a utility. I don’t know that I have the answer on this one either.

It is interesting to me, another consideration that I have been thinking about through all of this is access to health care. We’re using zoom to meet with a doctor. If you don’t have internet, health care becomes even less accessible. And then inequality in education. My son’s 14 and he does school from home and Olathe is about ready to go to a hybrid learning system and it’s a challenge. I mean, we’re going to have to put money into our infrastructure to fix this because inequality comes in all forms. Not just what we typically think about. Areas of internet drought are really concerning.

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?

I would like for us to be a little gentler and nicer to each other. And give each other a little bit more grace. 

I wish that we could have handled things a little differently from the beginning. I wish that we would, as a state, have kind of rallied behind Governor Kelly and been able to have clear direction and clear guidance from the top down. Again, I’m usually for local control when possible. But in a case that was so unprecedented like this, it would have been nice to have a really clear statewide direction in my mind that we could have managed this together.

Going forward, I’m worried about some of the jobs that have been lost that may not come back. But I’m also excited because I think that when you go through uncomfortable things you get stronger. And so I’m excited if we can find some solutions together. But I think that we could have a net positive outcome from this. That’s hard to think about whenever we have so many people getting sick, people passing away and such a trying time for our country and our state. But I do think that we can have lessons or results that lead us into a better place in the future from both an economic standpoint and just a compassion standpoint and how we treat each other, banding together and trying to grow from our experiences right now.

Immediately I go to the economics of this and I think that there are some opportunities for skilled work that we can provide as a state. Provide some training. Provide some access in how to find new jobs and acquire new jobs. How to get the training for new jobs. I think it will make people realize how we can create efficiency in some of our processes that maybe we had lacked before as a 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? 

I think that more people have become aware of the systemic issues that a large portion of our population faces in areas of criminal justice. There are inequalities that this pandemic has exposed or laid bare. I think the first step of fixing a problem is trying to see it and understand it and recognize it. Some people fortunately have not had to experience anything like this before in their lives. And some people live with inequality and injustice every day. I have to stay full of hope. And so I initially say that I’m hopeful that this is coming to the forefront of people’s minds. I would like to see our state as a whole treat this and treat a solution with a high level of intention instead of reaction. And I would like for us to be very intentional and very transparent with not only our research but what our findings are and what our solutions are. From where I stand right now I don’t know that I can fully articulate to you what the extent of our problems are that we need to provide for solutions for. Some level of me is glad that we are addressing it. Some level of me is sad that we had to get to this point before we decided we were going to address these really serious matters of racial inequality in our country.

It’s a learning process. But I know there are some specific things that I would like to see. I would like to see de-escalation training for some of our police officers. And have that be mandatory. I would like to see us have a better form of communicating if a police officer was let go as a direct response to a violent interaction. Then we as a state should know that before we look to hire, rehire or to bring on somebody into our police force. I think there are little things that we can start with that are like low hanging fruit that would help create safer communities for everyone in Kansas. But then I also think that we can’t stop there and say, oh, well, we have de-escalation training and that’s going to solve all of our problems. But I do think there are some pieces of low hanging fruit that we can grasp onto and make immediate change. 

The second part of that is acting with the intention that I mentioned earlier. We need to be very intentional about things like criminal justice reform and very transparent about what our long term goals are, and what our long term plans are to address these issues holistically and superficially. 

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