The race between Republicans for Kansas’ 10th Senate District is a study in contrasts.
Tom Wertz of Lake Quivira has spent his life in the corporate world and has never held public office. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee lists her occupation as “state senator.”
Wertz supports inclusion of funding for the arts in the Kansas budget; Pilcher-Cook says such a plan sets up “perverse incentives.” And Wertz says “no” on checking citizenship papers while Pilcher-Cook would allow police to ask for papers if they suspected the person is an illegal immigrant.
The two will square off in the Aug. 7 primary, with the winner facing Democrat Mark Greene, of Shawnee, in the November election.
Pilcher-Cook, 57, has been known for her conservative views during her tenure in the state House and as senator. She supported Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to make huge cuts in the state income tax and has been a vocal opponent of abortion.
Wertz, 63, has been critical of many of Pilcher-Cook’s stances, saying her votes will result in inadequate funding for education and higher property taxes.
The tax bill is a prime example, he said. The Legislature passed a bill that reduces the top income tax rate from 6.45 percent to 4.9 percent in 2013. There are conflicting forecasts of how much revenue would be lost. Statehouse analysts projected hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits by 2014. Supporters argue that resulting economic growth would pay for much of the tax cut.
Wertz said the bill, which Pilcher-Cook supported, will “cripple education and human services.” The state needs a balanced mix of income, property and sales taxes to pay for essential services.
“Recent cuts in income tax mean our property tax will grow. Property taxes represent a substantial burden to our aging populations desiring to stay in their homes,” he said.
Pilcher-Cook wrote in a Star questionnaire that she does not think increasing the sales tax will be necessary, if the income tax is phased out. On her web site, she proposes reducing both property taxes and the sales tax, with total elimination of the sales tax on food. Pilcher-Cook did not return a reporter’s phone calls and was not interviewed.
The two are also markedly different on some immigration issues. Wertz said he would not vote to repeal a law allowing in-state tuition for undocumented Kansas high school graduates working toward citizenship. “It makes sense to offer this benefit to Kansas resident students who have met the criteria to qualify,” he said.
Pilcher-Cook does not agree, saying in the Star questionnaire, “This law is not fair to legal citizens.”
According to her web site, Pilcher-Cook escaped an abusive relationship 20 years ago and went to college while raising three young children on $15,000 a year, later becoming a software engineer for Reuters Financial Information. That experience strengthened her belief in self-reliance and small government, the web site says.
Wertz has been a captain in the U.S. Air Force and a lawyer and executive for gas pipeline and utility companies. Most recently, he earned a master’s in education and student taught at Bishop Miege and Turner high schools. Wertz cites his experience in business and education as advantages in the race.