Six candidates, including Lt. Gov. David Toland, spoke at a seven-county forum Sept. 11 as the election season begins in earnest.
The forum was held in the Prairie Band Nation Old Bingo Hall near Mayetta and was organized by the Democratic party chapters in seven counties including Jefferson County.
Speaking to a crowd of about 60 people filling the bingo hall, Toland touted the progress of the Gov. Laura Kelly administration.
“We drove up and there was a lot of road construction. We were dodging those construction barrels, those orange cones and it gets easy to forget that just a few years ago, under Sam Brownback’s administration, there was no road construction going on,” Toland said. “Because he had drained the state highway fund to pay for the damaging effects of his tax experiment.”
Toland also emphasized the economic gains Kelly secured during her term, like a less than 3% unemployment rate.
“And Gov. Kelly and I are proud to be running on our record, whether it’s about fully funding our public schools four years in a row, whether it’s about having a 10-year transportation plan that is causing all those construction sites around the state, or whether it’s about connecting 55,000 households and businesses to high speed internet in the last 18 months,” he stated.
The $4 billion deal bringing a Panasonic battery plant to Desoto would have been impossible under the Brownback administration, Toland said.
“Now we’re landing $4 billion investments like Panasonic with 4,000 direct jobs and another 4,000 coming with the suppliers. That’s happened in less than four years. We have been able, under Gov. Laura Kelly’s leadership, to turn this ship around in Kansas,” Toland continued.
Toland warned the crowd that a win by Republican nominee and Attorney General Derek Schmidt would return Kansas to the policies under former Gov. Sam Brownback that he said devastated Kansas’ economy and infrastructure.
“Sam Brownback is Derek Schmidt’s mentor. He learned the trade of politics from Sam,” stated Toland. “And from a public policy perspective, there is nearly zero difference between Sam Brownback and Derek Schmidt.”
Kansas State Treasurer Lynn Rogers, who assumed the role after stepping down as Lt. Gov. for Laura Kelly, said electing him is important because of his experience in the financial field.
“We’ve got to have somebody that understands all of those banking intricacies, so that we are doing the right thing and keeping Kansas on the right path,” Rogers said. “Very few Kansas legislators today have any banking experience; I had one that actually asked me what an interest rate was. And that’s scary.”
As the State Treasurer, Rogers served as a trustee for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. Rogers said the work at KPERS is important to the economy of the state. “We put $1.8 million back to our beneficiaries and we want to make sure that we continue to do that.”
Rogers also went on the offensive against his Republican opponent, Steven Johnson. “My opponent again likes to talk about how he saved millions of dollars for that, but voted, over the Brownback years, for 15 different times to delay payments to KPERS. Well, I guess my mom always taught me that if you break it, you really don’t get credit for fixing it.”
Reverend Mark Holland, who is running for U.S. Senate against Republican Jerry Moran, used his time to emphasize his bona fides in government.
“My name is Mark Holland, I’m the former mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, former commissioner in Wyandotte County. I’m a third generation United Methodist pastor, fourth generation in Kansas, all in Wyandotte.”
Holland said his first two churches, in Wathena and Elwood, were in towns smaller than the high school he attended.
“I learned in a small town that we all want the same things,” Holland said. “We all want meaningful work. We all want opportunity for our children. We all want to live in a community we’re proud of. Washington, D.C., could learn something from our communities, that what holds us together is more important than what tears us apart.”
The Jan. 6 insurrection by armed supporters of former President Donald Trump inspired Holland to run for office.
“I got into this race because I watched Jan. 6 play out on TV. And then I watched our senator’s response to it. Jerry Moran refused to hold the President accountable. He seemed to be fine not even investigating Jan. 6 and a week after voting not to investigate Jan. 6, he asked for an endorsement from Trump. I don’t know how to spell quid pro quo, but I know that’s exactly what it looks like. Friends, we need to hold Jerry Moran accountable. He votes extremist, he gets a pass for being a moderate. Smiling does not make you a moderate,” Holland said.
Jeffrey Howards, who is the Democratic nominee running for the Kansas Board of Education’s first district, said his experience in education makes him the best fit for the office.
“I’m an old Marine, 20 years,” Howards said. “Another career 20 years later in civil service. Between the two, I’ve got about 25 years as an educator.”
Howards condemned the plans of his Republican opponent, Danny Zeck.
“Republicans are trying to take over local school boards. Educators, you’re aware of this, and they’re rolling back the clock,” Howards said. “My opponent’s platform literally is to roll back the clock. Remove the electives from the curriculum and teach only the basics — reading, writing and arithmetic. Take the clock back 20, 30, 40, 50 years. It’s electives like science, technology, health, life skills. These are ‘corrupting the children.’ We can’t teach those things. Only reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach ABCs, it’s only A, B, C. Don’t use the letters L, B, G, T, Q, they’re forbidden.”
Howards said attempts at suppressing childrens’ knowledge of science, trying to hide them from ideas through banning books, won’t work due to the ability to search from any smartphone or computer.
“What’s going to happen is, they’re going to graduate and walk out the school door and be unprepared for life,” Howards said. “It’s the responsibility of teachers, it’s their job to prepare the kids for life. To do that they need the freedom to teach”
Jeanna Repass, who is running as a Democrat in the Secretary of State race, would be the first African-American elected to statewide office since 1882.
Repass said the system for registering businesses in Kansas is outdated and that it would take 15 minutes to explain every issue. Repass said current Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s plan for fixing the system in April does not cut it. “Be leery of anybody who wants to fix something 60 days before an election when they’ve had four years.”
According to Repass, the Secretary of State’s job is to protect Kansas elections. “This has nothing to do with being a Democrat or Republican, African-American. I’m a Kansan that believes deeply that without our voice, we don’t have a democracy.”
Repass warned that without someone committed to protecting democracy as the Secretary of State, the freedom of elections could be in danger.
“When you have a President of the United States asking a Secretary of State for 11,780 votes, folks, we’re going backward,” Repass said. “And thank God Brad Raffensperger, a Republican but an American, said, ‘Sir, we don’t have those.’”
The Democratic nominee for Kansas’ Big First Congressional District, Jimmy Beard, began his time by welcoming Jefferson County to the district.
“I’d like to welcome all of the new counties to this gerrymandered Big First District, Jefferson, and we got to our Lawrence folks back there. So welcome to the Big First. My name is Jimmy Beard and I’m running for the U.S. House of Representatives.”
In his speech, Beard said marijuana should be an individual liberty like tobacco or alcohol. And that Kansas farmers should be able to benefit from the growing industry. Beard also emphasized the need to keep farmers’ interests in mind while tackling the climate crisis. “We need someone at the table helping Kansas farmers and negotiating a solution that works for us. We have no one at the table right now. And I will be that person at that table.”
If elected, Beard said he wouldn’t just follow the party line like Republican Rep. Tracey Mann. “I was asked just last week, when I’m in the House, am I going to be an AOC Democrat or a Pelosi Democrat? And to hell with that, I’m going to be a Kansas Democrat.”
Beard said Mann won’t vote for bills that help Kansas, but will campaign on the benefits of them. “He wouldn’t vote for the Inflation Reduction Act but he’ll tout the improving economy. As your representative, I will vote for the bills that help Kansas. I don’t care what the party line is.”