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Candidates for Hutchinson House district offer up very different priorities

The incumbent running again in House District 102 wants to use his platform to elevate the “voices of poor and working class families” that often get left out of the conversation.

“Specifically, I’ll continue to try and secure Medicaid expansion and preserve investments that benefit the average Kansan, rather than give our limited state resources to the increasingly wealthy,” says state Rep. Jason Probst, a Democrat, who is running for a second full-term in a district that represents the south part of Hutchinson.

His opponent, Republican John Whitesel, opposes Medicaid expansion and has his sights set on reducing the size and cost of state government. Whitesel did not respond The Journal’s questionnaire about election issues. But he outlined some of his views to the Hutch Post, an Eagle Radio news website.

Whitesel told the Hutch Post he would like to see spending cuts made across the board.

“If you make a cut across the board,” he told the site, “then you can put things back into the things that matter most. Where those things are would of course, be negotiated, but, you’re never going to get specific cuts, because you’re never going to get enough people to target any specific area to cut.”

The district supported Donald Trump for president in 2016 by about 17 percentage points but backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor in 2018 by 14 percentage points. It one of just nine Trump-supporting House districts in the state with Democratic representation. Five Senate districts also backed Trump in 2016 but go into the Nov. 3 general election with Democratic senators.

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 House District 102

Jason Probst (Democrat) and John Whitesel (Republican)

Jason Probst

Jason Probst Kansas House

Please briefly introduce yourself.

My name is Jason Probst, and I’m the Representative for the 102nd district in the Kansas House of Representatives. I’ve lived in Hutchinson nearly all my life. I have two grown children, and two granddaughters. 

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

Broadly, to bring to policy discussions the voices of poor and working class families that is often left out of the conversation. Specifically, I’ll continue to try and secure Medicaid Expansion and preserve investments that benefit the average Kansan, rather than give our limited state resources to the increasingly wealthy. 

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.

Leaders need to lead, and we are not really seeing much of that now. Instead, we see far too many people running for office who work to exploit the public’s fears and worries about a changing and chaotic world. I will do what I have always tried to do: Treat people with dignity and respect, and work to better understand each other so we can begin to heal the deep wounds that are causing so much turmoil. 

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

It’s so complicated that it’s hard to pick one answer.

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

Healthcare is heavily regulated, so less could help on that front. Yet the government should have more involvement in cost containment and helping more people find access to care. 

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 a multi-pronged approach to healthcare – one that includes public and private solutions. When the country spends upwards of 20 percent of GDP on healthcare, yet still has an unhealthy population, I think the government has a vested interest both curbing costs and increasing access to care. 

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.

In 2019-2020, the legislature and the governor worked out a good plan that expanded Medicaid and covered the cost with a provider fee that hospitals found acceptable. Entrenched political posturing kept this from passing. Then more than 200,000 people lost their jobs and their insurance due to the pandemic. Medicaid Expansion has been shown in other states to be a basic protection that helps keep people out of the spiraling despair of poverty, allowing them to more quickly find stability and growth for their families. 

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?

I would like to see more support and investment for small business and startups. This is where the bulk of job growth occurs, and it’s the area most affected by Covid-19 and subsequent efforts to contain the virus. 

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?

In 2018, Kansas gave away more than $9 billion in various tax breaks and exemptions. We have raised sales taxes to pay for income tax cuts. We have pushed the burden of taxation and funding core services to our local communities. We must preserve investments in those things that secure future growth for our state – including education, infrastructure, and healthcare. Each of these areas will require examination for efficiencies, or to see if we should modernize our operations – but at the core we must make these investments to protect capacity for future growth. 

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?

We’ve made a good start with two separate programs that can be used to fund broadband expansion – through CARES and the transportation plan. But we need to continue to make those investments. In a time when people have been asked to work and educate their children from home, broadband is no longer a luxury item. 

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?

Socially there are some behaviors and objects that never have been a really good idea. One small example is drinking fountains – it’s this antiquated part of our life that’s been baked into building codes, but post pandemic, it just seems like a really bad concept. I’d like us to look for other examples that could use our attention. Broadly, I think we have to examine our support systems – leave, unemployment, child care, education, healthcare – and see if they are ready to be scaled up when another pandemic or financial crisis strikes.

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? 

We must acknowledge that some of our criminal justice code works to disenfranchise entire groups of people from the American way of life. It removes entire populations – specifically people of color – from our economic system. This creates a feeling of hopelessness and discontent, and so long as people feel excluded from the concept and dream of individual prosperity, our communities, state, and country will never prosper as much as it could. An inclusive system is more robust and wealthier and is better for all of us. But high incarceration rates, barriers to employment, and racial bias rob our economy of its full potential.

John Whitesel

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

Background:

From his website:

John is a licensed insurance agent who lives and works in Hutchinson and fights daily to make sure people are protected when the unexpected happens.

John was elected to the school board where he has fought for the parents and students to implement a better curriculum and better polices that put the parents and voters first and protect the rights of our students. John asks the hard questions to make sure the needs of the parents, students, and the voters come first.

John is also a devoted father. “My goal for running is to make sure Kansas is a great place for my son to live when he grows up.”

My Reasons for Running:

The people in the 102nd district deserve a choice this November. President Trump inspired me to get involved as I saw a man who was not part of the political “elite” take on the system and the career politicians to fight for America. I saw him lower taxes, cut regulations, and create an historic economic boom. I will take that same energy to fight for the people of Kansas to help lower taxes, reduce burdensome government rules and regulations, and increase personal freedoms.

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Whitesel said during a September forum put on Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce that he opposes Medicaid expansion. Among his reasons for opposing it is the possibility

“The federal government might pay for it for a couple years.  But as with all federal  programs, it will eventually lose money and eventually make our taxes go up,” he said.

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Whitesel said during the chamber forum that overspending in state government was a big problem before the pandemic and the pandemic has only reinforced that. He believes that to recover from the pandemic that the state needs to cut spending so it can lower taxes and bring businesses to Kansas.

“We constantly raise the budget, and then we wonder how we’re going to pay for it. One thing we need to do is we need to make cuts and we make big cuts and we may need to make drastic cuts.”

He is also critical of Gov. Laura Kelly’s response to pandemic, characterizing it as a power grab.

On his website, he writes:

“The COVID-19 disaster really opened my eyes to how oppressive and power hungry our government can be. Giant international corporations were allowed to remain open without any plan to protect the health and safety of their employees or customers while local Kansas companies and churches were threated with up to a year in prison and a fine up to $2,500 if they dared open their doors no matter how many of the CDC’s guidelines they followed and no matter how much social distancing they did, and my opponent voted with the giant corporations to keep local, Kansas owned businesses, closed. The Governor did not believe Kansans would be able to take care of themselves and make wise decisions and, instead, substituted her judgement for ours in a power grab that has never occurred on such a large scale.

The damage to our economy will be felt for years as school funding and local emergency responders will likely get the short end of the stick when the money just is not there next year. How many children have to go hungry and how many people have to lose their jobs and their businesses because the Governor thinks her judgement is better than ours? How many single parents have to get evicted and end up on the street for the Governor to continue to get fan mail that she bragged about in one of her press conferences? It is time to protect our citizens from her overreach. This cannot happen again in Kansas.

I believe Kansans are smart enough to understand the risks and be smart when facing any emergency.  I believe people who are at risk, care for those at risk, or afraid should be allowed to shelter in place and take care of themselves in the way they see fit. At the same time healthy people who understand the risks should be able to make the decisions that are in their best interest without fear of being locked in a cage and having their money stolen by executive orders created behind closed doors. It is time to reopen Kansas and let Kansans decide how to live their own lives.”

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