PITTSBURG, Kan. — This November, Rep. Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg) will face a challenge for her seat in the Kansas House of Representatives from Republican Charles (Chuck) Smith, who previously occupied the same seat representing Pittsburg and Chicopee from 2015 to early 2017.
"What I’m trying to do is give Pittsburg a voice," Smith said in a recent interview. "You know in Topeka there’s 84 Republicans and there’s 41 Democrats, so the Republicans control everything. So you know, Pittsburg needs a voice and unless you’re part of that 84, you don’t have a voice, because the Republicans actually don’t need your vote. And I think I’d give Pittsburg a voice and I think I’d give them a positive voice."
Murnan, for her part, also discussed her reasons for running for reelection.
"It has been an honor to serve the district for the last four years," she said in an emailed response to questions from the Morning Sun. "Due to the pandemic, the next two years will be difficult for our state and I want to be part of the solutions that move Kansas forward in economic development, health care, education, and fiscal stability. I enjoy digging in, learning the details of our state’s challenges, and working with others to craft solutions. Our community needs a representative that understands the issues, but more importantly is willing to work with whoever it takes to make good policy that supports our citizens."
Smith also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the lasting impact it will likely have.
"Money’s always the biggest issue," he said.
"You know, the schools need money, the seniors need money, preschool people need money, highways need money, so everything needs money, and I’m just afraid that the state is not going to bring in the revenues that we have been because of this virus. So you know, the budget’s going to be a very crucial situation," he said.
"The virus is a horrible thing and I think it’s hurt the whole country, and I just hope that we can get back to a little bit of normalcy. I hope we’re able to go back to school this fall and I’m hoping we’re able to compete athletically and academically at school, and we just need to get back to some type of normalcy, because right now it’s just really chaotic."
Murnan stressed the importance of bipartisanship in solving problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"As we transition from the COVID-19 health and economic emergency to a more prosperous Kansas, the Legislature will need to address the impact of COVID-19 on our citizens, our businesses, and our economy," she said. "This will not be an easy task nor will it be done quickly. The work is going to be difficult and should not be partisan. We must use facts and data along with information gathered from our communities to stay focused on bringing our citizens and our state out of this difficult time."
Smith also discussed the need for cooperation across the aisle, but characterized Murnan as "far left" while positioning himself as center-right.
"I’ve known my opponent for a long time and she’s not a bad person, she’s a good person, but she’s on I would say the far left, and I’d say I’m in the middle-right," he said. "And so I mean there’s a big difference between us two, you know, on what we believe and our values."
When he first went to Topeka "I thought I was far-right, but after I got up there and I saw my voting record, I wasn’t far right, I was middle-right. And I really believe that everybody, you know, needs to be listened to, so even though I’m on the right I really believe in listening to the left and getting their ideas. … And I’m really willing to work with them, so I think we just need to work together."
Smith also noted his conservative position, however, on issues such as abortion.
"I’m a right to life person, and they tried to pass an amendment which gave all the people of Kansas a chance to vote on it, and the Democrats voted unanimously not to let the people of Kansas vote for it," he said. "I’d let the people of Kansas vote for it, I think it would make us a better state and that’s something I would do."
Like Smith, Murnan pointed to her voting record as evidence of her support for solving problems by working with both parties.
"My record shows that I advocate for Southeast Kansas in Topeka and support common sense, bipartisan solutions," she said. "My hope is that the voters of the 3rd District will consider my broad set of experiences serving our community, my focus over the last four years on constituent services, and the drive I have to work hard and learn every day. The next two years are going to be critical for our state, and it would be my honor to continue advocating for Southeast Kansas in Topeka."
Smith, for his part, said the choice between himself and Murnan should be an easy one for voters.
"We’re different types of people and we believe in different things," he said.