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Candidates for Sedgwick County Senate seat diverge on Medicaid expansion, other issues

Voters in Senate District 28, which includes parts of south Wichita and Derby, will choose between two veteran legislators with very different views on Medicaid expansion and a number of other topics on Nov. 3.

Incumbent Mike Petersen, a Republican, first began serving in the state Senate in 2005. State Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat, has served in the Kansas House since 2003. The race to represent Petersen’s district is often close, with the incumbent winning by increasingly narrow margins since getting nearly 58% of the vote in 2004. The district’s voters supported President Donald Trump in 2016 and Gov. Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race.

Neither candidate responded to a series of questions from The Journal about the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicaid expansion and number of other topics. But in an interview on former legislator John Whitmer’s Wichita radio show, Petersen expressed opposition to Medicaid expansion because it would make it harder for the elderly and disabled to get the services they need.

Voters in his district “want to know that we’re going to protect Medicaid,” he told Whitmer. “We have folks that understand that there’s waiting lists for our elderly to get home and community based services. There’s physically disabled that are on waiting list. Mentally disabled. To expand it out to where it’s open to 18-64 year-old, able-bodied working folks when we haven’t taken care of the most vulnerable folks among us, that just doesn’t make sense.”

Ward is a longtime supporter of Medicaid expansion. He says on his website that “expanding Medicaid brings millions into the Kansas economy while providing health services for needy Kansans and shoring up strapped hospitals and clinics all around Kansas.”

Petersen also expresses concern about state government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that local officials should be able to make the final decision on what restrictions are implemented in their communities. Ward has supported Kelly’s efforts to contain the pandemic and has criticized Republicans for politicizing the fight against the virus.

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

Kansas Senate District 28

Mike Petersen (Republican) and Jim Ward (Democrat)

Mike Petersen

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:

  • Industrial electrician

  • South Sedgwick County resident for more than 55 years

  • Husband to Shelby and father of two sons

  • Public servant for 15 years

  • Member of the Kansas Turnpike Authority Board

  • Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee

Views on Medicaid expansion:

On his website, Petersen says he is “working on reforms that will provide high quality care and lower costs” by adding health care options, containing costs, reducing mandates and simplifying the system for patients and doctors.

Petersen was absent and didn’t vote on Medicaid expansion when it passed the Kansas Senate in 2017. In 2019, he opposed a procedural motion to bring a Medicaid expansion bill up for debate on the floor.

In an interview on the John Whitmer Show on KNSS radio in Wichita, Petersen said:

“They want to know that we’re going to protect Medicaid. We have folks that understand that there’s waiting lists for our elderly to get home and community based services. There’s physically disabled that are on waiting list. Mentally disabled. To expand it out to where it’s open to 18-64 year-old, able-bodied working folks when we haven’t taken care of the most vulnerable folks among us, that just doesn’t make sense.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

In his interview with Whitmer, Petersen said:

“Our state’s pretty diverse. Western Kansas is different than Kansas City. I think people needed to have their own decisions. People will do the right thing. They’re going to be smart and the science keeps showing us more things. We can adapt. Having a one-size-fits-all just doesn’t seem to be the best fit for our state.”

Jim Ward

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

Background:

From his website:

“Jim Ward was brought up right. The oldest of five siblings, his parents taught him that service to others mattered most. When there is so much cynicism in our day to day lives, it is refreshing to know that Jim does what he does because he enjoys seeing good things happen to good people.

He put himself through law school, started his own law practice, and was a prosecutor for Sedgwick County where he helped put away dangerous criminals. He worked to improve our schools while serving on the Wichita school board and then served on the Wichita City Council. He did this all before he was 33 years old.

For the past 17 years, Jim has been a forceful leader in the Kansas legislature. During the Brownback years, Jim fought to limit the damage, then stepped up to lead in setting things right again.

He helped return state government from near bankruptcy to sound fiscal status. He worked to deliver sufficient and fair funding to our state’s public schools and helped stop the stealing from our state’s highway plan.

He believes good paying jobs come from nurturing businesses and believes state government must be a partner in making that happen. He believes Kansas families should have the tools they need to achieve the American dream, and fought to restore the child care tax credit and mortgage tax deduction.

One of the reasons Jim likes to see good things happen is that he has two grown children, Zach and Emily, and wants to leave Kansas in as a better place for them and for the rest of us.”

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Ward says on his website that expanding Medicaid “now” is one of his key priorities:

“Jim Ward introduced the first bill to expand Medicaid in Kansas and will continue to fight for it. Expanding Medicaid brings millions into the Kansas economy while providing health services for needy Kansans and shoring up strapped hospitals and clinics all around Kansas. He believes Kansans deserve a strong healthcare system and the opportunity to see a doctor when they are sick.”

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Ward has been supportive of Gov. Laura Kelly’s efforts to address the pandemic. He has been critical of Republican efforts to rein in the governor, most recently on Twitter in September when Republican legislative leaders would only extent the state’s disaster declaration if Kelly gave assurances she wouldn’t close businesses across Kansas a second time.

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