A desire to break through the rancor and get things done in Topeka is a theme that runs through Democratic and Republican campaigns alike in the race for the 14th District of the Kansas House.
Every one of the four hopefuls mentioned frustration with gridlock at the Statehouse as a main reason for running.
In the Aug. 7 primary, Republicans will decide between Janet King of Lenexa and Keith Esau of Olathe. Democratic voters will choose either Roberta Eveslage of Lenexa or Jessica Peters of Olathe. None of the candidates has held elective office before.
Keith Esau, a software engineer, is no stranger to politics. He’s been active in the state GOP since 2004 and was chairman of the Rules Committee for the 2008 presidential state caucus.
He said he’d like to see the state do more to encourage high-tech jobs for Kansans. Esau, who telecommutes for a California firm, said he’d work with companies to find out how to make that possible. “I’d love to see telecommuting flourishing,” he said. “We could keep jobs in Kansas, even if the companies are not in Kansas.”
To that end, schools need to be adequately financed, he said. “For too long, Johnson County schools have been hijacked by a school finance formula that punishes our success,” he said on his website.
Esau would vote to allow an increase in the percentage of money school districts can raise on their own under state law. He’d also support a phase-out of state income taxes, saying such a move would not require high sales taxes because of the growth it will cause in the economy.
Janet King pledged to be fair-minded and listen to her constituents, rather than follow a strict party line. King has most of her government experience at the city level, as a planning commission member and a parks and recreation advisory board member in Lenexa.
King points to education and economic development as her top priorities and is in favor of more local control for schools and communities. On school financing, she said she would support an increase in the local option budget authority. “The ability of communities to tax themselves and control their schools is an important element in building strong communities,” she wrote in a Star questionnaire.
King does not support a phase-out of the state income tax with the emphasis shifted to a sales or consumption tax. “I would be concerned about the regressive nature of a sales tax format,” she wrote.
On her website, she said that local communities should be the ones deciding how much they want from government. “Business opportunities, good neighborhoods, and community services, well-maintained roads and recreational opportunities are priorities for our area, and communities should be given the freedom to meet those needs,” she said.
Jessica Peters, a crisis recovery specialist with Johnson County Mental Health, said if she is elected, she would work to roll back the cuts in education and services. Her No. 1 issue is education. “I believe education kills ignorance,” she said.
Peters said she would like to see education improved through an updated curriculum that combines technology with hands-on experience. And she would restructure teacher recruitment, retention and evaluation to improve the educational climate in the state, she said.
She opposes the income tax plan advocated by Gov. Sam Brownback. She said she would like to see voters more educated about the repercussions of the plan and would advocate against a property tax increase.
Peters also mentioned the divisive political climate in Kansas. “The current political atmosphere silences people and strips them from making decisions for themselves. Instead of speaking for someone, I believe as a politician it is my role to dialogue,” she said.
Roberta Eveslage, a former professor of psychology at Johnson County Community College, is running for a second time for the state House. She was the Democratic nominee two years ago, but lost to Republican Anthony Brown of Eudora. She cites education and health care as top issues in her campaign. “Health care is a major problem,” she said. “It’s too expensive to buy, the governor decided not to prepare for the Affordable Care Act, and a large portion of Kansans don’t have any health care.”
She expressed concern about the implementation of KanCare, a reinvention of Medicaid for Kansans, and said she would support further initiatives for bioscience jobs in the area.
Eveslage also said that schools are not adequately funded because of problems with the formula, unfunded federal requirements and the fact that the teaching population is aging. “Finding teachers in the future will be hard if we don’t have competitive salaries, and we are below the median in pay now,” she wrote in a Star questionnaire.
She said she would support an increase in the amount of money school districts can raise on their own, but pointed out it could result in inequities among districts. School boards have the authority to raise taxes, she said.