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In low-key race for Johnson County Senate seat, one difference stands out

In a race where both candidates sound similar themes of reasonableness and comity, Medicaid expansion stands out as an issue that the candidates running to represent Senate District 11 clearly disagree on.

State Rep. Kellie Warren, who unseated incumbent John Skubal in August’s GOP primary, voted against Medicaid expansion in 2019 while a member of the Kansas House. She’s prefers better serving those who already eligible and has expressed support for free-market affordable health care options. Former State Rep. Joy Koesten, who Warren defeated two years ago in another GOP primary, is running as a Democrat and supports Medicaid expansion. She calls the program “critical to the people of Kansas.”

Koesten acknowledges that even if she and others aligned with her viewpoint win in November, Medicaid expansion could still continue to face plenty of hurdles that keep it from becoming law. Conservative Republicans dominated the several key August primary races, shifting the likely-majority party to the right, no matter what happens in the general election.

“We know we will be facing a much more conservative legislative body, even if many Democrats win in November,” Koesten said. “The only way to resolve the debate is by building relationships and coalitions across party lines, with as many legislators as possible.”

District 10 has tilted Republican in the past, supporting Donald Trump for President by about 5 percentage points in 2016. But it also backed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor by an even greater margin two years later. The district includes parts of Leawood and Overland Park as well as parts of two Johnson County townships.

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 11

Kellie Warren (Republican) and Joy Koesten (Democrat)

Kellie Warren

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

Background:

From Warren’s website:

“I’m a proud parent of four kids, three of whom are in Blue Valley K-12 schools, and one in college. My husband and I know all about the Shawnee Mission schools, too, since we grew up in Overland Park, and graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School.  After high school I then went to and graduated from Cornell University, and came back to Kansas for KU Law School. Having grown up here, my husband and I knew that when it came time to raise our family, this is right where we wanted to be.

Like you, we’re here for the lively neighborhoods, the good schools, and good job opportunities. My law office is right near home in Leawood, and is close to our kids’ schools. As a parent, I’m involved in the schools and community. I enjoy coaching our daughters’ sports teams, getting involved in our son’s outdoor activities, participating at church, serving on my kids’ schools’ PTO Boards, and spending time with our family and Eisenhower “Ike,” the family dog.

As a lifelong Republican, in 2018 I ran for and was elected to serve as your State Representative, District 28. As a current Representative, I have resolved the school finance crisis, been a leading voice regarding property tax reform, worked to lower your utility bills and food sales tax, preserved access to quality healthcare, and voted to uphold a culture of life. I am excited about this opportunity to represent and serve our community in the Kansas Senate. As we face unprecedented challenges, we must have Senate leaders who will be focused on getting Kansas back on track and get our economy roaring. In the Senate I will continue my record of bringing reasonable solutions to the problems facing Kansas – no matter the subject. As an attorney, finding reasonable solutions is what I do. I’m a trusted problem solver.

Using facts and the law, I work to reach a principled outcome. This usually means that neither side gets everything that it wants, but at the end of the day, they all agree that the resolution was reasonable. I’m concerned that special interest groups are politicizing our schools, and moving us towards unacceptable outcomes, where parents are so politicized that they will no longer work together to keep our schools world-class. I don’t want that to happen in our schools, or in our state.

I believe that government functions best when reasoned resolutions are reached. No more bickering and false rhetoric, particularly in these times. Like I do as a Representative, I will rise above that and speak the facts and the truth, and bring reasonable fixes to Kansas.

Views on Medicaid expansion:

Warren told The Shawnee Mission Post that she opposes Medicaid expansion over the summer.

More recently, she told The Post:

“All Kansans should have access to affordable health care. There are a number of steps we can take to achieve this. It starts with preserving Medicaid and improving it so those who are already eligible and in line to get services can obtain them. I have a friend who is eligible and would apply for benefits, but does not because the wait for services is so long that services are not accessible.

We must address that issue and devote the resources necessary to shorten the waiting lists. For able-bodied adults, who are the Medicaid expansion population, they should not be removed from their private insurance, but more affordable choices should be offered, Kansas should expand the array of choices available so they can obtain affordable coverage for themselves and their families.

Views on COVID-19 pandemic:

Warren told The Shawnee Mission Post over the summer about her views on the state’s role in addressing the pandemic.

“We all want Kansans to be safe. Lives and livelihoods across Kansas must be protected. Our state is diverse in its population density, and our businesses. It’s not one-size-fits all. Therefore, the role of state government in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to inform the public about the virus risks, and educate Kansans about responses. Kansans across the state, when well-informed, should be able to use that information and determine what measures to take. Healthcare professionals, hospitals, restaurants, gyms, hair and nail salons, schools, and industries across the board asked for more local control on the issue, and asked the state legislature for assistance in safely re-opening when we were in Special Session in June …

State government should not be in the business of deciding which businesses stay open, or how they operate, and which close and ultimately fail. We can all make decisions about risks when well-informed, and therefore, state-wide, across the board mandates generally are not a reasonable response.”

More recently, she told The Post:

“The state government’s response overall was quite good. The executive orders, by in large, were meant to give various entities – such as the courts and our schools – flexibility and they did that.  I also applaud the extension of deadlines related to taxes and the like, and bi-partisan legislation signed by the governor that gave counties across Kansas local control over the response to the pandemic.

The biggest controversy surrounded the stay at home orders. They certainly were appropriate in March, to give time for us to get our arms around the pandemic. However, as time wore on, the definitions of essential and non-essential were frustrating, and transparency in data and processes was lacking, leaving many business owners unable to open and thousands of Kansans unemployed.  There were also severe issues with the unemployment system and it took too long for many Kansans to receive their benefits. I worked with many frustrated businesses and unemployed Kansans to get them the benefits and resources they needed.

Ultimately, it was good news for Kansans when the governor and legislature came together during the special session to work out our differences and pass a compromise bill. That bill provided more checks and balances, gave much more control to local governments, and provided businesses more certainty. I applaud the governor for her work on that bill and voted yes.”

On the Black Lives Matters protests:

Here’s what Warren said when The Shawnee Mission Post asked her about whether action ” is needed in the Legislature to ensure that all Kansans are treated fairly at the hands of police and government institutions in the wake of the racial justice movement.” She was also asked: “Do you believe Kansas records and meetings laws guarantee sufficient transparency?”

“As a member of the Kansas House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, an attorney, and a Kansan, I do believe it is important that the Kansas legislature continue to review our laws to ensure all Kansans are treated fairly. When a specific law is demonstrated to not treat all Kansans fairly, appropriate action should be taken.

On the question of transparency, I do believe government should operate as openly as possible and shine the light of day into the process of governing. The public is benefitted from access to their government. After all, it’s your government.”

Joy Koesten

Joy Koesten Kansas Senate

Please briefly introduce yourself.

As an educator, a researcher, and a small business owner, I decided to run for office again for one simple reason. To make sure we keep Kansas moving forward. When I served in the Kansas House, I proudly voted to end the devastating Brownback tax experiment so we could fund our schools, rebuild our mental health system, and stop robbing KDOT just to pay the bills. We’ve worked too hard to begin restoring our state and we can’t go back! My caucus involvement during my time in the Kansas House, reflects my passionate advocacy for disenfranchised, marginalized, and vulnerable segments of our community as co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus, founding member of the Early Childhood Caucus, and member of the Women’s Caucus. I grew up in a family business and know first-hand the challenges that small businesses face, even in the best of times. When my husband and I founded our business in 1996, our company culture valued shared decision-making and investment in people. While I’m no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the firm, I remain committed to helping small business owners survive this difficult time. Now more than ever we must think outside the box to ensure our economy is robust enough to keep businesses strong, protect the prosperity we’ve enjoyed, and create reserves for unforeseen future events. Public education has been the center of my professional life for over three decades. With a PhD in Communication Studies, I have served on the faculty at Washburn University and all three campuses of the University of Kansas. I’ve also taught in our public schools and at JCCC. More importantly, I understand that the needs of the workforce must be front and center to develop talented workers when we emerge from this crisis. I stand ready to work with employers and educators to create a pathway to success for all. I am a long time advocate for mental health funding, because our family knows the heartbreak of watching someone you love struggle with mental illness and addiction disorders. Our oldest daughter struggled with anxiety, depression, and addiction for well over a decade. It was only after her second suicide attempt that we finally understood that the core driver of her struggle was rooted in a childhood trauma she had kept secret for over twenty years. It took another three years to get her into a suitable treatment program, in another state, and then another two years for her to get back on stable ground. On July 12th, 2019, Leah celebrated 7 years in recovery. She is an amazing woman who leads a full-filled and productive life. We are grateful for every single day. Leah is one of the lucky ones, she survived. But it shouldn’t have been this difficult for her or for her family. We should have been able to understand her struggle sooner. We should have been able to talk more freely with friends and family about what we were going through. And, we should have been able to find adequate treatment right here at home much sooner. We now know, we can improve and save lives with research, education, and treatment. And, I will continue to be a strong advocate for expanding access to mental health and addiction recovery treatment. I know that no public servant can serve every interest in a diverse state. Rather than push a political agenda, I operate in the spirit of negotiation and cooperation, working across party lines to get things done and represent the needs of my constituents. 

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

Clearly these priorities are situated within a global pandemic, so until we mitigate the effects of this virus many other issues will take a back seat. At some point we must address many other issues that face our state: passing Medicaid expansion and improving access to mental health treatment, tax reform, and funding infrastructure – to name a few.

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 biggest issue will certainly be rebuilding the economy, but closely tied to that is ensuring every Kansan has access to affordable health care (including mental health care) and funding our public schools. Without a ready workforce, we can’t rebuild the economy. And, you can’t have a ready workforce without access to health care and robust education. There is only one way to move the state forward and that is to build a coalition of elected leaders who are willing to work together. There are many ways we could strengthen relationships with elected leaders in other counties to achieve common goals. I would begin working on building these relationships on day one.

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?

It’s not involved enough

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.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted what we have known for years, access to affordable health care is critical to the well-being of every Kansan. Medicaid expansion would strengthen our ability to manage this public health crisis and save lives; there is still time to move that forward. So far, we have handed over more than $4 BILLION to other states that have expanded Medicaid while watching rural hospitals close, and Kansans go without access to healthcare. When I served in the Kansas House in 2017-2018, we got so close to passing Medicaid expansion, only to have it vetoed by Governor Brownback. I will continue to fight for Medicaid expansion to provide access to healthcare to all Kansans, while reducing the burden of uncompensated care for all of our service providers. At the state level, we must do everything in our power to make healthcare affordable and accessible to all Kansans. A robust Telemedicine program will help, but without adequate reimbursements from insurance companies it won’t be sustainable. 

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.

As I have argued in earlier responses, Medicaid expansion is critical to the people of Kansas. We know we will be facing a much more conservative legislative body, even if many Democrats win in November. The only way to resolve the debate is by building relationships and coalitions across party lines, with as many legislators as possible. 

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?

Revenues to the State will take a huge hit following the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and we need to be prepared to manage the needs of our citizens with a depleted revenue stream, while balancing the budget. As Senator, I will fight to cultivate new revenue streams and ensure that agencies have the necessary revenues necessary to serve Kansans as we recover. I’ll also fight to maintain a rainy-day fund for emergencies and support responsible budgeting to protect future generations from deficit.

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?

As I said earlier, we must meet the needs of our citizens, while balancing the budget. That may mean a need to address tax reform and to have an honest conversation about finding new revenue streams. As to the question on education, this was an easier question before COVID-19. The funding put into place prior to COVID-19 seemed to put us on the right trajectory across the state. The challenge now will be to ensure we maintain adequate funding as we navigate a challenging budget going forward. I believe that the far-right will do everything in their power to use this opportunity to strip public schools (at all levels) of the funding they need as their first order of business. I’ll fight to make sure we take a very cautious and measured approach going forward. Without adequately funded schools, we simply cannot recover from the damage done by the pandemic. Education is key. None of this is going to be easy and will require collaboration across all levels of government. I’m ready to be part of that collaboration. 

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?

Federal and state partnerships should be created to generate good paying jobs to get internet service across our great state. Eisenhower did it with their highway system, we can do it with broadband. 

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

Too little has been done to stop the spread of the virus.

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

Clearly we all want to get back to work and school safely, so stopping the spread of the virus is the first order of business. People’s behaviors are difficult to modify without strong leadership at all levels of government. We must have a coordinated, comprehensive plan to do both: stop the spread of the virus and get back to work/school.

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’d like Kansans to see that they can come together to find a safe path forward for all of us, and that our kids will be stronger when we approach this challenge with resolve as a community. The way the pandemic is being politicized is exhausting and we have to trust science, data, and our public health officials. That’s the only way forward. 

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? 

Across the globe, people are standing up for criminal justice reform. It’s long past time to rectify the systemic racism and inherent inequities in our communities. And nowhere is this more critical than in our criminal justice system. According to the ACLU, the U.S. population makes up only 5% of the global population, but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population. Over the past 5 decades, our incarcerated population in this country has increased by 700% – that equates to 2.3 million people in jail and prison today. The increase in prison population cannot be explained by population growth or in a rise in crime – in fact, crimes rates of all sorts have fallen dramatically over the years. In spite of that, one out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Think about that for a minute. One out of three. One of every six Latino boys can experience that same fate, while the rate of incarceration for white boys is one in 17. How is it that young boys, all Americans living under the same Declaration of Independence that outlined a bold vision for this county – a nation that demanded equal justice for all – have such a remarkably different fate? As Senator, I will support legislation that eliminates financial incentives for incarceration, enacts sentencing reforms, improves law enforcement policies, responds to the opioid crisis and sensible marijuana reform so that minor possession isn’t a gateway to a lifetime in prison. 

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.

 

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