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Here’s what divides candidates running for Manhattan area state Senate seat

Tom Hawk, the incumbent state Senator, and Craig Bowser, the Republican challenging his re-election bid, would both represent District 22 from a home base of Manhattan. But beyond that, there are great differences between the two candidates’ positions on many issues.

Hawk supports expanding Medicaid and thinks the COVID-19 has been overly politicized. He sees the “need for consistent and courageous leadership at all levels — federal, state and local” but that hasn’t always happened.

“Ultimately, health becomes a personal responsibility, but the resources to get health care must be widely and readily available,” Hawk wrote in response to questions from  The Journal. “I am praying we get through this, either with a vaccine or effective treatments, or both and that we contain it well enough now not to overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers.”

Bowser opposes Medicaid expansion, telling The Manhattan Mercury that the program is broken and that he prefers finding other ways to increase access and decrease cost. In terms of the pandemic, Bowser told KSN-TV that he opposes state government implementing another shutdown that would close businesses to halt the spread of the pandemic.

“We need leaders who are focused on giving people and businesses the information, tools and resources to be safe without imposing more mandates that would further hurt our economy. Overall, we have to trust Kansans to make the right choices and I believe each family should be able to determine what precautions are safe and adequate for themselves,” he said.

Hawk was elected to the Kansas Senate in 2012 after serving three terms in the Kansas House. The district includes all of Riley and Clay counties and parts of Geary County, including Fort Riley and a part of Junction City. It overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 and Democrat Laura Kelly for governor 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 Senate District 22

Tom Hawk (Democrat) and Craig Bowser (Republican)

Tom Hawk

Tom Hawk Kansas Senate

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am Senator Tom Hawk, District #22, serving Riley, Clay and Geary Counties. I am a retired teacher, counselor, and school administrator. Supporting public and higher education, along with early childhood programs have been one of my key legislative priorities. I have both an education and business background and apply those experiences and skills to my work as Ranking Member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Family and community are also very important to me. My wife Diane and I have four grown children and four grandchildren. I have deep roots in my community and my district and have enjoyed serving on many local boards and civic groups during my time in Manhattan. 

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

The State Budget will be my top priority this coming year while in office. I am currently serving on the Governor’s SPARK Steering Committee to determine the best places to put the $1.25 B of federal CARES money. The pandemic and its impact on local businesses, our health care system, and state and local budgets, along with my role on Senate Ways and Means, places this as a top priority when the Legislature returns in January. I hope to use the knowledge I have gained in SPARK work and my business background to help us recover from the budget impacts from 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.

The state budget affects so many different segments at every level of Kansas — local, regional and state. My duty, if elected again, will be to set the best priorities possible and balance a difficult state government financial situation. Prior to Covid-19, we had made great progress in stabilizing our budget with adequate revenues and the funding of key areas, such as K-12 Education (ending litigation lasting several years) and creating a new 10 Year “Eisenhower” Transportation Plan. I hope we can keep the turnaround going, use the Federal assistance wisely, and quickly regain a strong state-wide economy. We are making a huge push on “broadband expansion” with SPARK funds ($60M) and I believe continuing that effort with some limited state funding and federal grants can make our state stronger and position us to come out of this recession much faster and better than the 2008 recession. To do that, we must work in a productive, bi-partisan way with our Governor and set realistic and attainable budget and program goals. 

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

It is a combination of too expensive, combined with much uncertainty, especially with the pandemic. It is also a lack of access to insurance for too many. Medicaid expansion would help access and benefit the state’s economy. It would also be a help for providers and local hospitals. 

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

Medicaid expansion would be the single biggest state effort on government involvement should we be able to pass it in the coming Legislature. Expansion does not solve all problems, however. Congress needs to stabilize ACA, keep health care affordable, retain coverage for pre-existing conditions, and stop the gridlock that is making our current system too unpredictable. Again, the pandemic has put great stress on our nursing homes and if we get another spike, even greater stress on our local hospitals, especially our rural hospitals. Many of our rural hospitals are partially supported by local governments and I have concerns about that continued support if there is not some federal help with another Federal Stimulus Package.

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 stability and predictability for our citizens, providers, and our institutions. It will take more resources to give us the care we need, but we must also make it more affordable and at the same time accessible. Focusing on a wellness approach by expanding Medicaid could lead to some long term cost savings if done with the right focus. I would also like to see Congress enact legislation to bring down drug prices.

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 lay the failure to pass Medicaid Expansion at the feet of leadership. The majority of legislators supported it and a compromise program made by the Governor and the Senate Majority Leader was available for a vote, had leadership not blocked that. I am in favor of looking at our rules so that measures could be brought to the floor with a lower threshold when a Committee is blocking a good idea that a majority of the body supports. 

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?

Serving on the SPARK Committee and seeing several of the programs, both from our CARES dollars and other federal dollars has shown that government has a key role. We are currently taking applications for loans and grants to help small businesses and several other programs have provided substantial help to small businesses. I also believe staying on our State Transportation path and the jobs that it creates is a critical part of our recovery. I am also a member of the “Future of Higher Education Council” and our deliberations have pointed out several of the changes we need to make to better educate our Kansas workforce. Recruiting businesses and providing them with a well trained workforce is a key component of our recovery. If we should face another increase in unemployment due to a later winter spike, we must fund our Unemployment Trust Fund. That can be done with low/zero interest federal loans, but we need to avoid all of the domino impacts if our unemployment rate spikes again like it did this spring. Hopefully, we are able to provide federal and state support to our businesses and keep people working so that does not happen.

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 think we have to maintain a budget at an adequate level to provide basic services in most of our agencies. We have to keep essential government services operational and functional. My priorities remain K-12 education and avoiding further litigation, higher education, our state transportation plan, mental health services, and supporting our stressed health care and adult care systems. I do not see us raising taxes in this economic situation. A refundable income tax credit for sales tax on food is a good idea and should be considered if affordable. The Governor has a “Tax Advisory” group meeting now and I am eager to see what their recommendations might be and would hope the Legislature would fully explore all possibilities. Regarding K-12, we are obligated under court order and Article 6 of the constitution to adequately fund our schools. I support continuing to do that while still funding the essential and basic services of state government. 

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?

Again, as a member of SPARK, I requested and supported the plan to put $60M into broadband expansion. I also supported the bill and budget that put $5M in this year, before the pandemic, to start a program of broadband expansion. There are some additional federal grants for rural expansion that should be available over the next five years. Leveraging these dollars with public/private partnerships is the fastest and best way for us to move ahead in this critical area. 

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

Covid-19 is serious business. The impact of Covid-19 and the regional responses have varied in different parts of the state. I am disappointed that too many people have not done some of the basic things to contain the virus and flatten the curve. I remain vigilant and am hoping we will not overrun our hospitals and ICU’s. I believe we are going to have to work harder at this to contain the spread and not hurt our business and education recovery efforts. 

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

I think we have to do both health safety and economic recovery simultaneously. It is critical to stop the spread and deal with the health crisis, or our efforts to shore up the economy will not work well. I believe better and faster testing could help this effort greatly and encourage much needed personal responsibility. We have had great discussions on this in both SPARK and the “Future of Higher Education Council.” We must continue to find new ways to adapt.

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?

The frustrating issue is that it has become too political. The second issue/lesson I see is the need for consistent and courageous leadership at all levels — federal, state and local. That has been a mixed bag. Ultimately, health becomes a personal responsibility, but the resources to get health care must be widely and readily available. I am praying we get through this, either with a vaccine or effective treatments, or both and that we contain it well enough now not to overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. If that does not happen in the next few months, I hope we can buckle down as a state and find the balance to keep our businesses and economy functional and our illness and death rate as low as possible. I realize that we are always building a new normal, even in non-pandemic times, but usually with a slower paced process. Should we have to live with this longer, I hope we can find a good, workable, acceptable “new normal”. One positive for me has been connecting with my neighbors on a regular weekly chat in our circle or someone’s driveway, with social distancing. This is the kind of neighborhood connection most of us were too busy to create prior to the pandemic. I also see us being more proficient with at home working and the use of Zoom and Microsoft Teams tools. I believe this will be a positive part of the “new normal” post Covid-19. As far as changes, we need to be better prepared with “disaster planning”, have more PPP available, continue to have plans to use state industries to produce some of our critical emergency supplies, and work much harder on our bi-partisan cooperation skills the next time around.

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? 

Our first job of legislators is to listen, learn and not to overreact by passing poor legislation. We need to be informed, and I believe our Executive Branch and Agency Heads have worked hard to do that. We seemed to have contained our prison outbreaks of Covid-19 as of the last report. I think it is our obligation to allow peaceful protests and to use the legislative process to hear and look for solutions to legitimate grievances. I do not support violence or acts against property. I recognize that bad actors can attach themselves to legitimate protest movements. One of the roles of government is to provide for citizen safety. We have seen nationally too many examples of the abuse of power where citizens were not safe. Nor can violence and looting be condoned. I share the concerns of the BLM protestors and local law enforcement who both suffer when nefarious groups and individuals use a well meaning, peaceful protest to create chaos. We must find a way to balance that, maintain safety for our police officers and our citizens, while protecting our first amendment rights to peaceful protest. It could be an interesting year in the Judiciary Committees (and other Senate and House Committees) as we look at the causes, solutions and hopeful legislative balance to this issue! 

Craig Bowser

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

Background:

From his website:

“Craig Bowser was raised on a ranch in a small rural Kansas community. His mother, a single mom of four, raised her family while also earning her master’s degree in education. Dedicated to giving back, she then went on to help individuals in her community achieve their GED or high school equivalent. She never complained and she never gave up. Her sacrifices and passion for public service taught Craig the value of education and perseverance. Values he would keep with him throughout adulthood.

After graduating high school, Craig worked his way through his undergrad at Emporia State University where he earned his Bachelor of Science in business. Continuing his education, Craig decided to pursue his master’s and graduated with his MBA from Washburn University in Topeka, KS.

Following the values instilled in him from his childhood, Craig joined the U.S. Army Reserves where he served for 24 years. After completing multiple combat tours in Iraq, Craig used his G.I. Bill to earn his doctorate in strategic security. During his time in the military, Craig served as a civil affairs officer, working with political leaders and citizen groups where he was instrumental in establishing freedom and democracy. Craig helped to facilitate the first free elections in Iraq in 2005. He was awarded the prestigious Meritorious Honor Award from the U.S. Department of State.

Craig Bowser has not only served as a leader in the Army but has also held leadership positions in a variety of companies and industries such as transportation, utilities, nuclear, and agriculture. Today, Craig Bowser is the Chief Executive Officer for a Manhattan-based 501(c)3 organization that helps transitioning military veterans enter the agribusiness workforce. Craig and his wife Erin live on a small farm and are active in the Baptist church.”

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Bowser told The Manhattan Mercury that “rather than expanding the broken KanCare (Medicaid) system,” he would focus on finding other ways to increase access and decrease cost.

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Bowser told KSN-TV that he doesn’t believe “it’s the state government’s place to tell businesses whether or not they can be open.” The responsibility for dealing with the pandemic lies with individuals.

“We need leaders who are focused on giving people and businesses the information, tools and resources to be safe without imposing more mandates that would further hurt our economy. Overall, we have to trust Kansans to make the right choices and I believe each family should be able to determine what precautions are safe and adequate for themselves,” he told KSN.

Views on economic recovery from the pandemic:

Bowser told The Manhattan Mercury that recovery from the pandemic depends on getting businesses and “giving them the resources they need to begin growing and creating jobs again.”

Views on broadband:

Bowser told KSN-TV that he supports efforts to implement broadband in rural Kansas so “farmers and ranchers have access to high-speed internet.”

Views on criminal justice:

Bowser told KSN-TV that he opposes any efforts “from radicals to ‘defund the police'” and that supporting law enforcement begins providing them the resources and training they need to be successful.

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