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Will 2020 bring another close race in a southern Topeka House district?

When it comes to the way Kansas has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, both candidates running for Kansas House District 56 see room for improvement. But they have different interpretations about why the state hasn’t done as well as it should have.

Tim Clothier, a Republican, says a “‘one size fits all’ approach” overburdened Kansans early in the pandemic and that he prefers a “more targeted method.” State Rep. Virgil Weigel, a Democrat, believes that “most counties are doing what they can to stop to spread but there is a lot of disinformation being put out by individuals which makes it harder to get a grip on the virus.”

Weigel is in his second stint representing the district, which encompasses portions of southern Topeka. He first won election in 2012 before losing re-election two years later. He reclaimed the seat with a narrow victory in 2016 and won it again easily in 2018. The district went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and for Laura Kelly in 2018, but Weigel’s races have historically been close. He won the district with 51.9% of the vote in 2012 and 2016 and lost with 49.7% of the vote in 2014.

Here’s a look at how the two candidates vying for the seat answered several questions from The Journal about key issues in this year’s elections:

Kansas House District 56

Virgil Weigel (Democrat) and Tim Clothier (Republican)

Virgil Weigel

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

Work with other legislators to find solutions for challenges facing the state-Covid-19 virus, helping our small businesses, tax reform(cut or eliminate sales tax on food) continue infrastructure repair and replacement.

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.

Help our communities and businesses recover from the Covid-19 virus, rebuild the Kansas economy by partnering with businesses and corporations to grow back our economy and keep jobs here in Kansas.

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

Lack of access to insurance

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.

It should be more accessible, by doing so it becomes more affordable. Kansas should pass Medicaid Expansion-it allows health care to be available to more people, federal government will cover approximately 90% of new costs (we are sending millions to the Feds-we should get some of that money back)

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 Kansas legislature should have the courage to do what is best for the citizens of Kansas-Medicaid Expansion is good for Kansas and its citizens.

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?

Kansas should be leading the way to spur economic recovery. The Kansas government, business and industry and public health sectors should be working together to find solutions. This is a better formula for improving the Kansas economy instead of finger pointing.

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?

Before prioritizing I would look at all sectors of state government and see if there are savings to be found. Cutting or eliminating sales tax on food. Make every effort to maintain K-12 education budget as we navigate the Covid-19 virus and get our children back into schools as quickly and safely as possible. This will stimulate our economy.

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?

Lack of broadband coverage-particularly in rural areas is a problem that was happening even before the Covid-19 virus. Internet providers and the state should look for low cost solutions by working together to get this accomplished.

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

Most counties are doing what they can to stop the spread but there is a lot of disinformation being put out by individuals which makes it harder to get a grip on the virus.

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

All of the above (Note: The choices were: stop the spread of the virus, keep the economy going, and economic recovery after the virus is contained.)

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?

Kansas is experiencing the same challenges as other states-many states are worse off and some are better. Kansas should evaluate what is working and what is not and react accordingly. Changes in how we work, go to school and interact with our fellow Kansans will need to be made once we get past this pandemic.

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? 

Law and order are a top concern and outbreaks of Covid-19 in the Kansas Correctional system have to be addressed now to keep inmates and correctional officers and staff safe. Black Lives Matter protests have an impact not only in Kansas but across the United States. We need to address these issues head on by bringing all sides of the issue together.

Tim Clothier

Tim Clothier Kansas house topeka

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am a native Kansan and lifelong Republican. Raised in suburban Kansas City attending Shawnee Mission East High School and Emporia State University. I moved to Topeka in 1979 and like many in Topeka, went to work for Payless ShoeSource. After 27 years in the corporate world, my wife Lynn, a former kindergarten teacher at Highland Park Central Elementary, decided to become independent business owners and began operating Cold Stone Creamery in Topeka. Today, I serve as the Washburn Tech Director, Business and Industry. I have a passion for workforce development and believe our community can only be as strong as the partnership between our schools and businesses. As the husband of a kindergarten teacher and the father of three, I know the value of education, which is why I served 12 years on the Topeka Public Schools Board of Education, fighting to make our schools better. I have also been involved with the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Crime Stoppers of Topeka, a 1995 graduate of Leadership Greater Topeka, and I am currently a member of the Curriculum Leadership Institute and the United Methodist Homes BOD. I am an active member of Countryside United Methodist Church. My wife, Lynn, a lifelong Topekan has been married 42 years. We have three children Jordan, Lane and Logan, son-in law Brian McNeil and grandson Carson Grey.

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

  1. Focus on the recovery of the Kansas economy post COVID 19 2. Workforce development will be an essential component as we rebuild our economy post COVID 19. 

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.

As a community, as a state and as a nation we look to our leaders to lead in a thoughtful, consistent, and strategic manner. I believe it is critical to bring those essential stakeholders to the table to ensure the best policy decisions are being made on behalf of Kansans. To do otherwise would be a disservice to those you represent.

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

Lack of access to insurance

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

It is woefully inadequate as decision makers continue to “kick the can” down the road pointing fingers knowing that our rural communities are negatively impacted as well as 130,000+ Kansans are without medical insurance

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.

It is apparent that to make it more accessible to those in need is the route to take. The inability of decision makers to craft policy in the past 10+ years to make it both affordable as well as accessible has only placed Kansans at a disadvantage. It is an opportunity to retrieve those federal tax dollars we’ve sent to Washington and bring them back to Kansas. The performance of policy makers to meet the healthcare needs of most vulnerable and our rural communities is a true indicator as to the level of involvement and commitment provided to date. 

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.

With more than 130,000 + Kansans uninsured, Kansas taxpayers are underwriting the cost of those persons without the benefit of federal Medicaid funding. Without expansion, the costs to Kansas taxpayers will continue to grow. Implementation offers Kansans the opportunity to retrieve federal dollars to underwrite in large measure the cost associated. In addition it will ensure the viability of our rural hospitals and the communities that they serve.

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 addressed this issue earlier that as leaders we must be thoughtful, consistent and strategic as we approach our recovery. I believe it is critical to bring those essential stakeholders to the table to ensure the best policy decisions are being made on behalf of Kansans. To do otherwise would be a disservice to those you represent.

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 as individuals are dealing with the same issues within our own households. Knowing that and applying the same to services provided by the state as well as those mandated obligations only highlights our responsibility to do our due diligence prior to making any indiscriminate recommendations and or decisions.

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?

Where those issues have surfaced it is incumbent upon those local leaders to target those issues and seek partnership to meet the needs of those that they serve. 

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

It is indeed a serious issue that has placed a tremendous burden on all Kansans. A “one size fits all” approach did a disservice to Kansans as a whole vs. a more targeted method.

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

Keep the economy going.

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?

There is absolutely the need for change. To have a strategic plan in place to react accordingly is essential regardless of the situation. A pandemic or otherwise. Our current situation only exposed our vulnerability as a state. This tool must be a living breathing document that drives your focus and purpose.

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? 

The issues outlined above are only the tip of the iceberg relative to what we are experiencing as a community, state and nation and to the future needs of our criminal justice system. The COVID 19 pandemic along with other events only exposed our weakness and indifference offering policy makers the opportunity to reassess decisions of the past while offering the opportunity to get it right. 

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.