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A SW Kansas Senate district impacted by COVID-19 goes to the polls

No Kansas Senate district is home to more Hispanics than District 38, about 45% of the overall population and 39% of the voting-age population. And no part of the state thus far has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic more, at least in terms of case rates per 1,000 people, although there have been relatively few deaths. The southwest Kansas district includes both Dodge City and Liberal, two meat-packing industry cities where plants have experienced outbreaks.

What impact, if any, the region’s shifting demographics and pandemic-related will have on the region’s politics remains to be seen. About 70% of the district’s voters supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 and Kris Kobach carried the governor’s race with 55% of the vote  in 2018. The current senator, Bud Estes of Dodge City, won his first-term with 75% of the vote four years ago.

Estes describes himself as a “common sense, principled conservative” who favors pro-life legislation and opposes restrictions to gun rights. The Dodge City Globe recently reported that has declined to participate in a Smoky Hills PBS candidate forum because Estes is hospitalized for an undisclosed health issue. The newspaper reported that Estes’ last public appearance was July 23. 

Edgar Pando, a Dodge City attorney, is the Democrat in the race. His priorities are rural health care, education, agriculture and criminal justice reform, which he considers most important for improving life in southwest Kansas.

The two notably differ on Medicaid expansion. Pando supports expanding Medicaid. Estes has voted against it in the past and told a legislative forum earlier this year that anticipated shortfalls in state means “there’s no way we can think about doing that, there’s too much that needs to go into that.”

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 38

Bud Estes (Republican) and Edgar A. Pando (Democrat)

Bud Estes

Background:

From his website:

  • BORN IN DODGE CITY, 1946
  • RAISED IN BUCKLIN, KANSAS
  • GRADUATED FROM FORTS HAYS STATE UNIVERSITY, 1968
  • JOINED FAMILY BUSINESS, BUCKLIN TRACTOR & IMP, 1968
  • SECOND JOB AS CITY MARSHAL AND FORD COUNTY DEPUTY, 1970-71
  • BUCKLIN CITY COUNCIL 1972-1976
  • MAYOR OF BUCKLIN, 1976-1990
  • FARMED AND RANCHED 4000 ACRES OF DRYLAND + 13 CIRCLES, AND COWS AND CALVES, AS WELL AS BTI
  • ONE OF THE OWNERS OF BTI (BUCKLIN, GREENSBURG, NESS CITY AND PRATT)
  • ONE OF THE OWNERS OF “BTI WIND” AND “HARVEST THE WIND NETWORK” ( DEALERS IN THIRTY-FIVE STATES)
  • GENERAL MANAGER OF THE BTI NESS CITY LOCATION
  • BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF DCFB RAILROAD
  • PRESIDENT OF BUCKLIN COMMUNITY BAND
  • PRESIDENT OF LIONS CLUB (4 TIMES)
  • OFFICER AND BOARD MEMBER OF BUCKLIN ALUMNI ASSOCIATION SINCE 1996
  • DIRECTOR OF DODGE CITY ROUNDUP SINCE 1989, SERVED AS PRESIDENT ONE TERM
  • SERVED ON THE FORD COUNTY PLANNING COMMISION
  • SERVED ON NEW JAIL COMMITTEE
  • WAS AN OFFICER AND MEMBER OF THE BOOTHILL CHAPTER OF FHSU ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
  • SERVING ON THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE FORT HAYS STATE UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION
  • SERVING AS A DIRECTOR AND MEMBER OF THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE OF THE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION AND MEMBER OF THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE
  • SERVING AS PRODUCTION MANAGER OF THE LIVING LAST SUPPER DRAMA ( FOR PAST 11 YEARS)
  • LIVE AT 1405 ELBOW BEND, DODGE CITY
  • HAVE 3 SONS (KU GRADS) AND 1 DAUGHTER (OU GRAD)

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Estes voted against a bill expanding Medicaid in 2017. He passed on a procedural motion to bring a Medicaid expansion bill up for debate in 2019.

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Estes is one of a few lawmakers who have personally experienced the challenges of COVID-19.

Views on criminal justice:

Estes is one of more than 50 lawmakers who has signed a letter organized by state Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican, expressing support for Kansas law enforcement officers and decrying “unhealthy disregard for our law enforcement professionals in various areas of the country.”

Edgar A. Pando

Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Edgar Pando and I’m a lifelong citizen of Southwest Kansas. I was born in Liberal, Kansas and moved to Dodge City when I was 9 years old. After graduating from Cimarron High School I attended the University of Kansas for degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Law. After graduating Law School, I began working as an attorney in Dodge City and continued to practice law as a candidate for State Senate. Throughout my legal career my focus has been on public service and my practice areas have included assisting survivors of domestic violence, providing legal assistance to the elderly, and advising local governments. In the community I am involved as a Board Member and Finance Committeeman for the Dodge City YMCA and am a Commission Member on the Dodge City Planning Commission.

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

My campaign has had four major priorities from day one: Rural Healthcare, Education, Agriculture, and Criminal Justice Reform. Those priorities haven’t changed and I continue to believe those four policy areas are the most important for ensuring life in Southwest Kansas is improved.

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.

There is no perfect answer, but my number one concern as an office holder will be to maintain outreach to those that live in my district at all times. I can never truly know what issues are affecting those in my district if I am not actively looking for input. By reaching out to people and listening to the specific challenges they are facing (regardless of their party affiliation) I can better connect and represent the people of the district.

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?

There’s too much nuance to be able to choose any of the answers above. Until the necessary reforms are implemented, we are going to see increases in government involvement in some areas and decreases in involvement in others.

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 should be more affordable and more accessible. In Kansas, Medicaid expansion gets us closer to where the state needs to be by ensuring access to affordable healthcare to working Kansans that are priced out of healthcare right now.

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 don’t believe the data shows that there is any need for continued debate. Kansas needs expansion and has needed it for years. We are hurting the citizens of our state by not moving forward with a program that is both readily available for implementation and effective at providing help to groups of citizens that need the help. Additionally, my outreach to rural healthcare providers has made it clear: they want and need expansion in order for rural hospitals and clinics to be able to continue to provide quality services to rural citizens. If elected, Medicaid Expansion is one policy that I will vigorously advocate to have implemented in our state.

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?

Most of the economic recovery efforts we have seen so far have been at the federal level. As we move forward our state may need to analyze which Kansas-specific industries are in need of economic recovery assistance and focus on those industries as opposed to a blanket set of policies.

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?

One area that I don’t believe should ever be compromised when it comes to budget decisions is K-12 education. When budget shortfalls occur, legislators are forced to make adjustments based on how and where the shortfalls occur. It’s difficult as a candidate to speculate what actions should be taken in a hypothetical shortfall, but I do believe certain services are too important to compromise and K-12 is one of them.

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?

Even pre-pandemic, expanding access to broadband in rural Kansas was an absolute necessity. To oversimplify things: the state needs to prioritize working with providers to make sure access to broadband is a reality for rural Kansans.

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

Most places have done the right amount in terms of limits.

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?

I would love to see politicians and citizens take an apolitical approach to scientific data and emphasize reliance on peer-reviewed research. Overall, I believe our response was better than most of our neighbor states and I am hopeful that our economic recovery will reflect that fact as well.

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? 

Legislators should use this moment to gather stakeholders together to identify ways to finally improve the system and then actually follow through on the suggested reforms. As one of my campaign priorities, criminal justice reform is one of the policy areas I believe needed attention in our state even before the issues that events in 2020 have spotlighted. It’s not easy to summarize all of the issues that need to be looked at by legislators in order to improve the system. Sentencing reform, mental health reforms, increasing rehabilitative and work programs in prisons and jails, reforms to police training, and limiting qualified immunity are all parts of the equation for addressing criminal justice reform. We need data-driven approaches to each of these areas coupled with ensuring that stakeholders at the local level are brought into the decision-making process to achieve meaningful and effective reforms. Data-driven changes without local input may result in unintended consequences that could’ve been avoided. Considering that the general public has an interest in reforms, now is a great time to begin moving forward with overdue reforms.

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.