PITTSBURG, Kan. — State Sen. Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), who is running for U.S. Senate, visited Pittsburg Tuesday for a "lawnchair chat" with potential voters at Lincoln Park, where she answered audience questions and discussed her positions on a range of issues.
One question came from Pittsburg Mayor Dawn McNay, who asked about the federal response to COVID-19.
"We need leadership from our federal level," Bollier said. "We need consistent messaging. This virus is real. It is hurting people, and in order to get our economy back on track we’ve got to follow public health guidelines, and in my opinion that starts with people who are in office or running for office modeling that behavior, just as you’re doing right now."
Bollier has criticized her opponent, U.S. Rep Roger Marshall (R-KS 1st. District), for not wearing a facemask at times and for campaign events where she has said Marshall did not do enough to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.
In response to a question Tuesday from the Morning Sun about COVID-19 policy, Bollier also criticized Marshall for his position — or lack thereof — on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.
"He did not vote for or against — he didn’t even come — for the HEROES Act that would have gotten money to our cities, to our schools, to our businesses, and those people are hurting now and need the help," Bollier said.
Although the House of Representatives narrowly passed the HEROES Act in May, the $3 trillion package did not pass in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it "an unserious liberal wish list."
In response to a question from a member of the Pittsburg State University Democrats, Bollier said criminal justice reform should be a priority.
"But in the interim as we work on all kinds of criminal justice reform another thing to add to that would be decriminalizing marijuana," Bollier said.
Asked by the Morning Sun whether she supports recreational or medical marijuana legalization at the federal level, Bollier said marijuana should first be removed from the government’s list of "Schedule I" drugs so it can be studied appropriately.
"If we want to make it a medication it needs to go through the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] process," she said. "If they decide to do it differently, I’ll just have to look at that. I will be clear, I’m a doctor, I don’t encourage people to smoke anything. But point being, if there’s a place for it then let’s find it and let’s do that, but we need to do it like every other pharmaceutical in this country. We have an FDA to do that very thing."
Bollier, who ran as a Republican in previous state legislature races before switching her party affiliation in 2018, has positioned herself as a moderate. In an ad released in May, Bollier’s campaign quoted Kansas City Star descriptions of her as a "sensible centrist" and a "leading moderate voice."
In a guest editorial published in the Star last week, however, Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) disputed that characterization, writing that "Barbara Bollier is running an alternate reality campaign." Denning wrote that Bollier does not reach across the aisle and is not a moderate, and that from 2010 to 2018 "she called herself a Republican on the ballot while proceeding to support hard-left Democratic policy, voting with Democrats 90% of the time in Topeka."
In response to a question from an audience member Tuesday who said most Kansans are conservative, Bollier said she disagreed.
"I don’t think most Kansans are as conservative as you might think," she said. "Some are. Some of them are pretty vocal about it. But I would say most Kansans are in that bell-shaped curve right in the middle."
One area where Bollier staked out a position Tuesday that was closer to a middle ground between the two parties than those proposed by some Democrats who are generally viewed as the furthest to the left within the party was healthcare.
On the issue of healthcare, "we as a country need to move to a public option buy-in," Bollier said. "You will hear that I will be following Bernie Sanders into Medicare-for-all. I do not believe that will work in the state yet. It won’t. I mean the point is people — so many people — like their healthcare, and those that do, they should be able to keep it. I really believe that."
Asked by the Morning Sun about Sen. Denning’s claim that she is not a centrist, Bollier said her record spoke for itself.
"I have a strong and long record of voting with a Republican and Democratic coalition to get the right things passed for the state like ending the Brownback tax experiment, funding our schools, expanding Medicaid and the like," she said.
Asked what specific issues she would potentially side with U.S. Senate Republicans on, however, Bollier said she would "have to find out what they’re bringing forward." She again brought up healthcare as an example of her platform being centrist.
"I would hope they would be for things like bargaining through Medicare for prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies," she said. "Now, my opponent voted no, but many of his Republican colleagues did vote for that. I think that’s a very good place that we could find common ground."