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Differences between candidates for Olathe Senate seat extend from budget to social issues

At first glance, the COVID-19 pandemic figures less prominently in Senate District 23 than other races for the Kansas Legislature.

Neither state Sen. Rob Olson nor his opponent, Democrat Wendy Budetti, responded to questions from The Journal about their views. Several of the magazine’s questions dealt with the pandemic.

Olson doesn’t address the topic on his campaign website. Nor does mention of it appear on Budetti’s website. But both candidates did address the topic in interviews with Olathe Chamber of Commerce, which demonstrated the contrasting ways the two candidates might handle state revenues shortfalls from the pandemic while in office.

Olson told the Olathe Chamber that the next few years are going to be difficult for the state budget and that the district needs someone with his experience balancing budgets.

“You need someone that understands fiscal responsibility and how to make the cuts or where we need to find the money to get us back to a balanced budget,” he said.

Olson, first elected to the Kansas House in 2004, has served in the Senate since 2011.

Budetti also addressed the topic in a chamber interview. She said that Kansas is only beginning to grasp how the pandemic will address the state’s businesses.

She says she favors shoring up the state budget to ensure it has the resources needed to weather the pandemic without drastic budget cuts is important.

“I look forward to finding creative ways to increase our revenue by bringing more jobs to our area and making sure we have alternative ways of bringing in revenue rather than slashing budgets across the board,” she said.

Their differences extend well beyond fiscal policy in the wake of the pandemic.

He bills himself as a consistent, effective conservative who supports “lower taxes, small businesses, pro-life values, family values, education and 2nd Amendment rights.”

Budetti has been active in successfully promoting ordinances to protect LGBTQ Johnson counties from discrimination. Her husband, Brett Hoedl, is chairman of the Metro Kansas City Chapter of Equality, and they have five children, two of whom identify as LGBTQ, according to columnist C.J. Janovy at the Kansas Reflector.

She’s also been involved as an active volunteer for Moms Demand Action, saying she supports “common sense” gun reform.

Here’s a look at how the candidates see key issues in this year’s elections based on publicly available information:

Kansas Senate District 23

Rob Olson (Republican) and Wendy Budetti (Democrat)

Rob Olson

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

Background:

From his website:

“Rob Olson has served in the Kansas Legislature since 2005. From 2005-2011, he was a State Representative, and since 2011, he has been a State Senator. He also served on the Water Board for many years. A life-long Kansans, Rob is married and the father of three children and attends Life Mission Church in Olathe. He is also a small businessman. A 4th generation Republican, Rob has demonstrated a strong record in support of education, economic development, lower taxes, traditional family values, and the right to life.”

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Olson has voted against Medicaid expansion or motions that would have advanced Medicaid expansion in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 sessions.

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Olson has been critical in the past of the state’s decisions to limit large gatherings and close K-12 schools. In March, he told the Kansas News Service: “I think we’re closing our state down. We’re creating more panic and more fear. We’re cheating these kids.”

Olson voted in favor of legislation that would rein in some of Gov. Kelly’s emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Views on economic recovery from the pandemic:

Olson has been critical of the state’s handling of unemployment benefits. At one point during the pandemic, the labor department was receiving 150,000 to 200,000 calls per day. Kansans trying to file couldn’t get their calls answered. Olson criticized the state’s labor secretary, who later resigned, for not doing her job.

Views on broadband:

Olson co-chaired a legislative task force dealing with the issue in 2019.

Wendy Budetti

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

Background:

From her website:

“Wendy Budetti is a mother, wife, 15-year Olathe resident, activist, and advocate for all Kansans. Wendy is running for State Senate, District 23 because she believes all Kansans deserve safe communities in which to live and raise their families, quality public education, and affordable access to healthcare. District 23 is fully enclosed with the city limits of Olathe, but it includes homes within the Olathe, Spring Hill, and Blue Valley school districts.

Raised in a politically-aware family, Wendy has always stayed in touch with what was transpiring both at the national and local levels, but the re-election of Brownback in November of 2014 inspired her to get more involved. She became a Key Volunteer for the Johnson County Democratic Party, which led her to become a Precinct Committeewoman and then to her current position as Senate District Leader for Senate 23. She has proudly served in this position for more than a year and has spent two election cycles knocking on doors and organizing volunteers to encourage their neighbors to vote! This position has given her the opportunity to discuss with hundreds of residents of Senate 23 their concerns for our community. It was these conversations that inspired her to run for office.

Wendy was born in Hollywood, Florida, and moved to the Kansas City area as a child. She has lived in Johnson County for more than 30 years and in Olathe for more than 15 years. She and her husband, Brett Hoedl, have five children ranging in age from 13 to 22. Kansas public education is important to their family: Wendy is a graduate of Shawnee Mission East, and Brett graduated from Olathe North. All five of their children have graduated from or attend Olathe public schools. Wendy and her oldest daughter are both proud graduates of the University of Kansas.

Wendy’s involvement with the community extends far beyond party politics. She has served on the boards of several local community groups, including Equality Kansas of Metro Kansas City, Music Theatre of Kansas City, and GLSEN Greater Kansas City. She and her husband are the founders of Johnson County Pride, a 501(c)(3) organization that supports Johnson’s County’s LGBTQ+ community through outreach, community, and celebration. She has also been an active volunteer with Moms Demand Action for three years and has spent many days in Topeka advocating for causes she believes in.

Wendy is currently a substitute teacher for the Olathe school district and an office assistant to a locally-owned construction company. Providing for the needs of others has always been a focus of her work, whether it involves making sure every student succeeds in the classroom or creating the perfect dining experience as a server. Her work history includes a variety of jobs she balanced while providing for her family, including roles in the corporate arena, hospitality, and retail sectors.”

Views on Medicaid expansion:

From her website:

“It is time that Kansas expanded Medicaid so that some of our more vulnerable citizens have access to affordable healthcare. We have forfeited almost $4 billion in federal funds, and the time is now to become the 37th state to expand Medicaid. This expansion will boost economic growth, protect access to care, and cover 150,000 Kansans who are caught in the coverage gap.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

She told the Olathe Chamber of Commerce that shoring up the state budget to ensure it has the resources needed to survive the pandemic is important.

“I look forward to finding creative ways to increase our revenue by bringing more jobs to our area and making sure we have alternative ways of bringing in revenue rather than slashing budgets across the board.”

 

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