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Will an Emporia House district’s GOP tradition be tested in 2020?

Voters in House District 60 have long sent pragmatic Republicans to represent them in the Kansas Statehouse. State Rep. Mark Schreiber, elected to replace Don Hill in 2016, is the latest in a long line dating back more than two decades. He faces Democrat Todd Maddox in the general election.

The district encompasses much of Emporia and portions of northern Lyon County, including Americus. It’s preferences in other contests have swung between parties in recent years. Voters supported Donald Trump for president by a solid margin in 2016 before overwhelmingly backing Laura Kelly in 2018.

While there are differences between the two candidates (Schreiber is endorsed by Kansans for Life; Maddox has the backing of Planned Parenthood), they don’t express starkly different views on many of the issues The Journal asked about. On what basis will voters choose between them?

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 60

Mark A. Schreiber (Republican) and Todd Maddox (Democrat)

Mark A. Schreiber

Mark A. Schreiber Kansas House Emporia

Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Mark Schreiber. I am a lifelong Kansan, raised in Garden City and now living in Emporia with my wife, Angie. My 37-year professional career was spent with KG&E/Westar Energy. I began as a biologist at the Wolf Creek Generating Station and completed my career as the statehouse lobbyist for Westar Energy in Topeka. I retired a few days before being sworn in as the new 60th District Representative in 2017. This year was my fourth legislative session. Angie and I have been active in Emporia. Angie directs Cradle to Career Literacy Center focusing on children and adults with dyslexia. I have been extensively involved with a number of local organizations, but primarily with SOS, Inc. and the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, both are focused on preventing sexual and domestic violence. 

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

As a legislature, the budget and redistricting will be top priorities. From my committee assignments, I want to continue to find ways to further expand broadband access in Kansas and also investigate how a state energy plan can be structured and implemented.

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.

Through my experience with emergency response, I have learned the most important characteristic of effective leadership is communication, and that means both talking and listening. I try to listen more than talk, asking questions of those on both sides of an issue. As legislators we also need to speak from a fact-based perspective rather than hyperbole. From there I believe trust can begin to flourish and we can begin to pull together for the betterment of the whole. I have made this sound simple, but it’s not a linear process. It requires perseverance and good communications. I have been working in our Statehouse for almost 20 years, as a lobbyist and a legislator. The state has always had difficult and stressful decisions. Politics and service have no time clock. There is always something more to do, and because none of us are immortal we also need to prepare others for service.

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

For some it’s access. For others it’s cost of the health care. Prescription drug costs can be a problem. I can’t say one is a bigger problem than the other. It depends on each person’s situation, and that is why it is difficult to get a handle on. If it was as simple as doing X or Y, we would have done that years ago. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we ignore it. We have to continue pressing forward for solutions.

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

Health care encompasses many areas, such as access, affordability, coverage, medicine, etc. Some areas may need further government involvement, while others may not need so much.

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.

Health care is important not only at a personal level, but also at an economic level, as healthier people are more productive. People should have access to health insurance. Government should be involved, but to what extent I’m not sure.

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.

I supported the passage of Medicaid Expansion from the beginning, and voted it out of the House in 2017. Unfortunately, it was vetoed by Governor Brownback and we were unable to override his veto. Access to health insurance is important for that segment caught between not making enough money to buy insurance in the market and making too much money to qualify for subsidies. Many of these uninsured are the working poor. Providing access to health insurance would not only be a personal benefit, but also an economic one as healthy people are more productive.

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?

State government is already facilitating the distribution of the CARES Act money coming into the state. This financial package is very helpful in sustaining the state through the pandemic. A good example of what is being done is getting high speed broadband expanded through a grant program.

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 don’t want to return to decades of school funding lawsuits. We have finally adopted a constitutional funding formula and we need to fund it. Helping those most in need during this crisis is important, whether it’s children in foster care, unemployed or disabled. I think raising taxes will not be the first option we look at. We should first look at trimming budgets where we can without creating disastrous effects. Right now, our revenues are coming in above estimates, and we all hope it continues. However, every state is hurting and it will take some time to recover. 

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?

As I mentioned earlier, a new broadband expansion grant program is underway. Projects funded through these grants need to be ready by the end of the year. The new highway plan passed last session includes $5M per year for the first three years and $10M per year for the last seven years of the bill for expanding broadband. We are making headway, and we want to continue that progress so all Kansans can have access to high speed broadband.

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

It seems we learn something new about this virus every week. In the spring, many believed the summer heat/humidity would reduce cases, but instead they increased. Quick turnaround of test results is stubbornly problematic. Many Kansans are doing the right things to stay safe. However, the downside of social media is how fast fake science and other information is spread. We have knowledgeable experts in the state and we should follow their advice. 

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

The economy’s downturn is due to the virus, so to return the economy to normal levels we need to contain the virus. The best way to do that is through a widely distributed, safe and effective vaccine. Until then, we should continue to wear face masks when unable to social distance, wash our hands and practice social distance when possible. 

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?

Perhaps it’s because I’m a child of parents who suffered from the effects of the Great Depression and the dust bowl days. From my parents’ stories, people worked together within communities to help each other during those times … and remember that was not for a few months but rather several years. Right now, it seems we don’t do things because it was suggested by a Republican or a Democrat. My experience is both parties have good ideas and we need to return to a practice where we can disagree, but understand we need to reach a consensus on a strategy. I don’t know where we diverted from trusting sound science, but I believe it is affecting how we have responded to the 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?

We should respond to these issues the same way we respond to other critical situations. Listen to experts, listen to those who are affected by the system, listen to our communities. Then work together on any changes deemed necessary. Government can solve some things, but I don’t believe more government is the answer to every issue. I think we need to ask ourselves every day, “can I do one thing today to improve my community or my neighborhood?” It doesn’t have to be front page news or a new set of statutes. 

Todd Maddox

todd maddox kansas housePlease briefly introduce yourself.

I’m Todd Maddox and was born and raised in Emporia and want to see it continue to grow and thrive. My post-secondary education was at Wichita State University and graduated during the Great Recession with a degree in Communications. I’ve worked in the aviation and software areas over the years, primarily dealing with communications, education, and training in those industries. Having a degree in Communications as well as a background in working with those of all ages and abilities can help me connect with constituents here in our great district as well as the varied agencies that legislators are tasked with overseeing. My spouse is a teacher in the district, and we have seen first-hand the result of recent cuts to education funding. This is something that plays out immediately and over the long-term, with negative consequences that can last a lifetime for students who receive subpar education due to crowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and under-investment in teaching our students the skills needed to compete in a 21st century economy. As someone who has followed politics closely over the years, I felt the time was ripe for change in Topeka at the Statehouse and decided to throw my hat in the ring running for the 60th District.

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

My first priority would be expanding Medicaid so that during a health and economic crisis that we currently are facing, Kansans (an estimated 140,000-160,000) would have health insurance to protect both their health and finances during these challenging times.

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.

The most important qualities for a state representative are that the representative is responsive to fellow constituents, from a similar background as a majority of the constituents and actively listens to and works to address concerns that are brought up from those that the candidate is elected to represent. As a working Kansan, I believe I have seen in recent years some of the impacts that lawmakers have made in Topeka that directly affect the conditions in which Kansans work under. Decisions that are made there propagate down to those of us who depend on informed, intelligent decisions being made at all levels of local and state government. My personal and professional life involve me being on call to make changes to materials for audiences of almost all ages and backgrounds. Being responsive to those folks is something that I do daily and welcome the opportunity to do so for the great people in District 60 as well. I am agile enough to use different tool-sets to meet different people where they “live”, even if that place nowadays is a digital location (Facebook, Twitter, email, Instagram). As a responsible legislator it is key to be able to communicate with constituents where they are and in a timely manner. We need to make sure that communication with and among stakeholders and constituents is an ongoing process that leads to better results for all of us.

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

It’s so complicated that it’s hard to pick one answer.

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.

Healthcare throughout the state should be made more widely available and accessible to Kansans both physically and financially. As we have seen in the recent months, our healthcare workers and first responders are vital to keep our community healthy and thriving. As state representative, I would work hard to help expand Medicaid for Kansans, because having healthy, insured citizens results in a safer and more productive society for all of us. Many other communities throughout the state have lost medical centers, hospitals, and doctor’s offices as a result of legislators’ lack of expanding Medicaid. With hospitals having the certainty of reimbursement from Medicaid, this could slow or even reverse the negative results of the last several years with the shuttering of those offices and hospitals across the state. 

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.

I am wholeheartedly behind expanding Medicaid for Kansans. I will fight for Medicaid expansion every chance I get, not just when it is easy or politically convenient. Our current legislators have waited far too long to accept these federal dollars that we have been sending out of state for years. Not only would this improve the healthcare and quality of life of Kansans, it would help to ensure that health care in rural areas continues well into the future. As we have seen in recent years, partially due to the lack of compensation from the federal and state authorities, we have had hospitals and medical clinics close. This is not in the best interests of our state in a physical nor fiscal sense. 

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?

We should allow our expert, trusted health officials and scientists to provide us with the facts in public health crises, like the current pandemic. Elected officials should lean on these individuals to inform decision-making and help guide public policy for the benefit of the general public.

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?

Just like a lot of household budgets, the state tax revenue picture has worsened as a result of businesses, organizations and government offices being closed due to the coronavirus situation. When discussions begin to happen in earnest at the state level as to how to manage with the expected shortfalls, those among us that were the most impacted by this pandemic should be kept in mind. When it comes to taxes, both individuals and companies should both pay their fair share. We should be looking for efficiency gains where possible across the board while impacting our citizens in the least impactful ways possible. After years of a failed tax experiment here in the state, we had begun to make headway into shoring up the state financial picture right as the coronavirus pandemic struck. We need to continue to fund education equitably across the state and across the spectrum from Pre-K all the way through technical colleges, junior colleges, and universities. Deferring on investing in our future, the education of fellow Kansans, should not be an option.

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?

The state should use any funding available from the federal government to help build out broadband across the state. Guidance and assistance in the planning and build-out should come from the state with flexibility built in to meet the needs of different parts of the state. In the year 2020 broadband internet has been proven to be every bit as much of a necessity to engaging in civic life as the landline telephone was over a hundred years ago.

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

Everyone’s doing their best. It’s just a really tough situation.

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

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?

There will be time to study the successes and failures of the government’s response to the pandemic in the future, but it is key that we get the virus under control now and deal with its immediate economic hardships brought on by it first. Lessons learned should be acted upon and made widely available to avoid some of the mistakes that were made during the current response.

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? 

As much as we would like to believe we live in an equal and just society, there are unfortunately remnants of our past that still affect lives here today. Implicit bias in policing, sentencing, housing, employment and more are things that we need to not only be aware of when making life-altering decisions, but we should work to remedy those built-in biases as well. The state’s criminal justice system from top to bottom needs to be looked at for improvements. No system is ever perfect, but we should constantly be working towards that elusive goal. We all know we can and should be doing better on this front and I welcome the chance to talk with all law enforcement, judicial system workers and citizens to help guide us to a more just justice system.

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.

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