PITTSBURG — Candidates for the Kansas Senate District 13 and Kansas House District 3 sparred during a candidate forum on Thursday at the Beard-Shanks Law Enforcement Center, sponsored by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and The Morning Sun.

The forum was moderated by Chamber President Blake Benson and proctored by Morning Sun Managing Editor Patrick Richardson.

The candidates, Bryan Hoffman (D-Mulberry), Richard Hilderbrand (R-Baxter Springs), both contending for senate, and Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) and Terry Calloway (R-Pittsburg) running for the state House of Representatives were given three prepared questions and additional questions from the public.

During both of the forums, the candidates were asked in relation to 69 Highway, “If you were elected what assurance can you give residents of district 13/district 3 that you will protect highway transportation funding?”

Both, Senate and House candidates agreed 69 Highway is a priority.

Murnan said the transportation fund has multiple revenue sources and that borrowing from these funds during “Brownback’s tax experiment” did not allow for some of the projects to be done.

“After ending the Brownback tax experiment we were able, this last year, to add some of those items back on,” Murnan said. “They are actually finishing some of the things we started.”

Calloway said there is a big need for Highway 69 to be completed for safety reasons, impact on Pittsburg State University and economic growth.

“I promise you not to vote on any legislation that would compromise Highway 69 funding and I would make that promise to you,” Calloway said. “I am prepared if elected to petition the governor that is elected to honor governor Colyer’s commitment to finishing Highway 69 as you’ve heard weeks ago.”

All four candidates were asked for their opinion on KanCare expansion.

Hoffman said he supports KanCare, and added Kansas needs to bring tax money from the federal level.

Hilderbrand disagreed with Hoffman and said there is no money sitting at the federal government for Kansas to take back.

“The federal government is a trillion dollars in debt, if they are going to give us $2.8 billion to spend on medicaid expansion they are going to take it from somewhere else,” he said. “The most likely place they are going to take it from is Medicare.”

Calloway said he supports affordable health care, “but I also know there is a need to pay for it and thus far there has not been legislation that has been written that was capable of paying for it in the budget that Kansas has to operate.

“I will, as candidate and in office, consider all possible options to make it possible to adopt a KanCare medicaid expansion if it can be paid for.

“Raising taxes is not an option at this point.”

Murnan said she supports Medicaid and KanCare and there have been “revenue neutral” bills in the past which have been vetoed.

Candidates were asked if they feel schools are currently adequately funded.

Hilderbrand said he believes schools are adequately funded and Hoffman said the legislation has taken a good step in adequately funding schools last year.

Murnan said equity and adequacy should be looked at and in the past there have been amendments which could “have made adequate and equitable a realistic thing for every school in the state of Kansas.”

An additional question was asked by the public of the house candidates which referred to mass shootings and what Kansas legislature can do to prevent such tragedies, including the candidate’s position on armed guards and teachers at schools.

Murnan said this is a complex issue with many layers.

“I think the bigger picture is regarding mass shootings and not necessarily school shootings, I’d like to take that on,” she said. “I believe in the state of Kansas over the last nine rounds of budget cuts under the Brownback tax experiment. We cut so many things that shore up good mental health in our communities, and that includes police force training, mental health services, to support services in schools and places where kids are and where individuals with disabilities are.

“We have cut so many things. Is that the reason we have mass shootings? That’s not what i’m saying, I’m saying it’s not all about just having armed guards in certain places, while that is a key component in lots of safety plans, I believe it's a whole tiered effect and I also believe firmly Kansas is a local control state for school districts and we have to take in consideration what school districts and local school boards deem is best for their safety plans for their students based on their needs.”

Calloway, agreed with local school districts having the control for safety procedures, in addition he said “education funding could include blocks for security at K through 12 and university settings” and that school districts should have safety plans mandated by legislature.

The House candidates were also asked what they would do to address homelessness in the community as a representative of Pittsburg.
Calloway said homelessness is not something which could be solved from legislation, it instead is something local politics can take on.
“I believe strongly in supporting in whatever the officiating groups in Pittsburg would be doing to stop the problem and I would support it however I could from the legislature,” Calloway said.

Murnan said homelessness is a complex issue and no one single strategy would work. Murnan said she thinks the legislature could provide supportive housing services through multiple channels including the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability services, through the Department of Children and Families, by changing the billing codes through Medicaid for supportive housing and the Department of Commerce can support housing projects through the existing channels it has had in the past.

As an additional question for the public, Kansas senate candidates were asked if they would support the expansion of the state anti-discrimination law to include LGBT+ citizens.

“Yes,” Hoffman said.  

Hilderbrand disagreed and said, “Everybody should be treated equally, I don't think that it is a special protected class.”

They two were also asked if they support the Brownback-era tax policy and if they would re-implement it.

“The Brownback-era tax policy was a mistake because they didn’t address their spending and they cut too much too fast,” Hilderbrand said. “That was a mistake, everybody knows it was a mistake.  

“A bigger mistake was not going in and correcting that.

“We do have to address one of the bigger things … we need to address our higher property taxes, our high sales tax especially on food those are the biggest things we need to start looking at and addressing.”

Hoffman said he would not support the Brownback tax plan.

“I believe in equal taxes and I’m with him [Hilderbrand] on sales tax on food,” Hoffman said. “It needs lowered, and I think with the budget after they reimburse the Brownback-Colyer Tax plan that we can eventually lower property taxes and sales taxes after we get our budget in control.”

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.