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Contrasts emerge in race to fill Salina-area House seat

With District 69’s four-term state Rep. J.R. Claeys poised to join the Kansas Senate after the Nov. 3 general election, the race to fill his western Salina and Saline County seat features candidates with clearly contrasting positions on many issues. Claeys, first elected to the House in 2012, unseated incumbent state Sen. Randall Hardy in the August GOP primary and is unopposed by a Democrat In November

Clarke Sanders, a retired radio host, faces teacher Ryan Holmquist in the general election. Sanders opposes expanding Medicaid while Holmquist supports expansion. Sanders lists his top priority being getting the “Value Them Both Amendment” on an August ballot. The amendment would stipulate that there is “no constitutional right to abortion” and would reassert the Legislature’s purview to regulate abortion after a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling.

Holmquist indicates that his top priority would be “reducing the sales tax on groceries and making our tax system more fair for working Kansans.”

Claeys generally won the district easily, but did face a close race in 2016, when he won by 277 votes out of 7,427 cast. The district overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 but backed Democrat Laura Kelly 47%-43% for governor in 2018.

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 69

Clarke Sanders (Republican) and Ryan Holmquist (Democrat)

Clarke Sanders

Clarke Sand

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I’m Clarke Sanders. I’m running for House District 69 which is basically the west half of Salina. I have lived in Salina for 35 years. I retired this past April from KSAL Radio where I hosted two talk shows. I have been married for 40 years to Lillian. We have three adult children and five grandchildren with #6 due in mid-October.

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

  1. Get the “Value Them Both” Amendment on an August ballot.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 will study the available data and work to make decisions that are prudent and give Kansans as much leeway as possible to live their lives as they see fit.

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

It’s too expensive

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

It’s too involved

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 needs to be more affordable. The “one size fits all” approach that we have seen dictated from Topeka is not a good idea. Local units of government need to be empowered to make decisions in their local communities.

How should the Legislature resolve the ongoing debate about Medicaid expansion?

The cost of Medicaid expansion as it stands now is too high. If the costs could be brought under control, I would consider voting to expand it. 

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?

Get out of the way and let the free market operate.

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?

Obviously, we have to get back to work so people are paying income tax and have the ability to buy more things thus increasing sales tax revenues. K-12 education gets the lion’s share of the budget now. It seems to me belt tightening on the part of the schools should be in order when tax revenues are short.

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?

Clearly, we need access to broadband all across the state. Having state government help facilitate this is something that needs to be done.

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

There has been an overreaction coming out of the Governor’s office. It is a tough situation, but things are not the same everywhere in the state. Empowering local units of governments (requesting state assistance as they see fit) is the way to go.

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

I don’t think it is a binary choice between stopping the spread and having a strong economy. Both need to happen.

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?

Things have and are going to continue to change. We need to look long and hard at what changes need to be made. Most of the changes need to happen at the local level.

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? 

Peaceful protests are fine. Rioting is not. We need to maintain law and order. Fully funding law enforcement needs to be a top priority.

Ryan Holmquist

ryan holmquist kansas house

Please briefly introduce yourself.

Ryan Holmquist, life-long Saline County resident, teacher at Central High School, 5th generation farmer.

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

My top priority is reducing the sales tax on groceries and making our tax system more fair for working Kansans.

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 would work with all stakeholders to ensure that our economy continues to grow. Hard-working Kansans are being stretched to the breaking point by dismal economic growth, an unfair tax system and a lack of affordable child care and health care. I will advocate policies that help working Kansans by expanding the child care tax credit, expanding Medicaid and working to reduce the sales taxes on groceries.

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

The problem with health care is that thousands of working Kansans are being penalized for working and are thus excluded from Medicaid when their job offers no health insurance. A healthy Kansas workforce is essential to maintain our economic competitiveness.

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

The problem is a lack of certainty about the future. Should the GOP succeed in eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions thousands of Kansans will find themselves without any coverage and Kansas refusal to expand Medicaid has put health care out of reach for too many working Kansans.

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.

We need to ensure certainty for those who have pre-existing conditions and expand Medicaid for those hard-working Kansans who lack health insurance. Government must work with health care providers, nonprofits and hospitals to ensure that Kansas has a healthy workforce.

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.

It’s simple, the legislature should expand Medicaid to help working Kansans get the health care they desperately need.

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?

The federal government needs to ensure that people put out of work due to no fault of their own are supported during the recession caused by the pandemic. Expanded unemployment should be passed immediately as well as expanded tax credits for those shouldering the responsibilities of working in essential jobs. The state should help small businesses by extending the time frame for filing and paying property and sales taxes as they work through the cash crunch the pandemic has caused.

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 would work to eliminate the countless loopholes we have in our tax system that enables billionaires to shield vast amounts of their income from tax.

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 and federal government should work with public/private partnerships to expand high speed internet to underserved areas. 

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?

Kansans, like all Americans now understand how a public health threat is an economic threat. We have to be ready to confront such a threat early and quickly, before it rages out of control and threatens our economic security.

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?

Kansans deserve to feel safe in their communities. We suffered through the Brownback experiment that resulted in slashing prison budgets, riots at Kansas prisons and 18 y/o high school dropouts being hired to guard dangerous prisoners. We have a responsibility to ensure that corrections officers are safe at work, and aggressively combating COVID-19 in prison is essential. Kansas community leaders have successfully partnered with law enforcement to ensure that Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful and productive. Black Kansans should not fear for their safety when interacting with law enforcement and I will work with everyone to ensure that our communities remain safe. 

 

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