by Mary Rupert
In the Democratic primary on Aug. 2, incumbent State Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., faces opposition from Gwendolyn Thomas.
Both formerly worked in the mayor’s office at Kansas City, Kan., City Hall, although under different administrations.
Both were at a candidate forum July 12 sponsored by Business West, business neighborhood organizations and Kansas City Kansas Community College.
Rep. Wolfe Moore has served as state representative since 2011. She serves as ranking minority member of the General Government Budget Committee, and serves on the Appropriations Committee, Taxation Committee, Joint Committee on Special Claims against the State, and served on the 2015 Special Committee on Taxation. Since 2005, she has been the business director for the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
Rep. Wolfe Moore has over 20 years of community service. She was the chief of staff for former Mayor Carol Marinovich for 10 years, and helped with recruiting key businesses to Village West, as well as helping to create a network of neighborhood organizations.
She has served as chairman of the board of the Wyandotte County Economic Development Council and board member of the Wyandot Center. She also serves as a state director of Women in Government. She is a graduate of Bishop Ward High School, holds a bachelor’s degree in social welfare from the University of Kansas and a Master of Social Work from KU.
In her campaign announcement in March she talked about working together across party lines to achieve results.
“Things are not good in the state of Kansas,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said at the forum. “Our state is essentially dead broke. We have countless problems that need to be addressed.”
Because of the state’s tax plan, the state is starving mental health, schools, universities, senior programs, and not making necessary payments to the state’s retirement system, KPERS. “We have to change this,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said.
Thomas, who serves as vice chairman of the Wyandotte County Central Democratic Committee, is the former professional assistant to former Mayor Joe Reardon, and the former administrative assistant to the Unified Government commissioners.
She said being a part of that administration has resulted in knowledge of the nation, state and local governments. A Bishop Ward High School graduate, she currently she is completing a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication at Park University.
She has been an active volunteer for the Heart of America Veterans Stand-Down, Boys and Girls Clubs, Providence Hospital’s Gala, the Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mt. Carmel Redevelopment Corp and other groups.
Thomas is in favor of school funding and equality, increased public safety, access to mental health programs, a decrease in Medicaid cuts, and preservation of neighborhoods.
“I want to bring about change,” Thomas said, adding that she was the only one who could bring about change.
When asked what was her solution to the state’s budget problems, Rep. Wolfe Moore said, “We have to change the 2012 tax plan. I don’t know how anyone can think that that tax plan is working, and yet people still say it does. That has been a disaster for the state of Kansas.”
The governor’s tax plan was supposed to create jobs and bring jobs to the state of Kansas, but anything but that has happened, she said. Job growth and personal income growth is down, she said.
Thomas said the state would have to get back to the basics, figure out how to bridge the gap, and make the community more involved in the process. Even though the Republicans created the mess, the Republicans got the state out of the school finance mess recently, she said. She will support the purpose and mission of Democrats, but said if Democrats and Republicans work together, they could accomplish a lot.
Thomas said she believes funding should be increased for public education. Wyandotte County is considered to be an impoverished area. “It’s desperately needed,” she said.
She said she is paying for her own tuition to get a degree at college, and if some kind of assistance was available, she would love that aid.
Rep. Wolfe Moore said the equity portion of the school finance issue was tackled successfully in a special session, and it was reassuring to see the Democrats, Republicans, moderates and conservatives come together to do it. “I just hope that that’s a sign of what could happen in the future,” she said. If the Supreme Court rules the schools are not adequately funded later this year, it will be something that the Legislature will have to address, she added.
Colleges and universities are victims of the tax plan, and universities and colleges have had to raise their tuition, she said.
“People are being squeezed out,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said. Now college and higher education are almost unaffordable, she said.
Also, if Kansas tuition becomes too steep, the universities and colleges will stop attracting students from outside the state, and students who usually go to colleges here would choose other locations outside the state, she said. It all comes back to fixing the tax plan so Kansas can afford to provide the funds that are needed to keep higher education healthy in the state of Kansas, she said.
In answer to a question, Rep. Wolfe Moore said she was not opposed to The Woodlands. Years ago everyone was sad when it closed, she said. However, it is a different time now, with magnificent development in the western part of the community, she said. She said she would like to see a development plan or some promises that will happen if that is developed. “The last thing I would want to see is sort of a shoddy, half-thought-out racino at The Woodlands. It has to be first class. It has to fit in with the rest of our community. If I could be assured that that was the case, I would absolutely be for it,” she said.
Thomas agreed with Rep. Wolfe Moore on The Woodlands. “I could see The Woodlands as something that is beautiful, productive, state-of-the-art type convention center, something that would really get a lot of use and the citizens would truly benefit from,” Thomas said.
Thomas said she would not support a change to the property tax lid that the state has put on local governments and school boards. “Our residents are already feeling the squeeze of the property tax,” Thomas said. Residents feel they are already paying high property taxes, she said.
Rep. Wolfe Moore said she would support a change to the property tax lid law. She said work needs to be done locally on lowering property taxes in Wyandotte County. However, the state has imposed a lid on the local communities, taking the decision away from local communities.
“We elect local commissioners and a mayor to make those decisions,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said. She did not vote for the property tax lid. The law requires local governments to put a tax increase over a certain amount to a vote of the people.
She also said it was hypocritical of the Legislature to put a property tax lid in place, because the state legislators themselves voted in a sales tax without asking constituents.
“I absolutely am for lower property taxes in Wyandotte County, but it’s not the Legislature’s decision, it’s the people that are closest to the problem, your commissioners, your mayor and your school board, that’s their decision, not mine,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said.
When asked about the state’s cuts to mental health services, Rep. Wolfe Moore said she believes funding should be increased. She was given an award from the Association of Community Mental Health Centers in 2012 and 2014 for her work on mental health in Kansas.
“It’s a travesty what we’ve done to mental health,” she said, including what has been done to community mental health budgets and to the state hospital. The Osawatomie state hospital has been a disaster, part of it was closed down and wasn’t able to recertify because of things that were going on, she said.
“Absolutely we need to increase mental health services,” she said.
Thomas said she believes the mental health service funding should be increased. She recently talked to a person who works in the mental health field for 20 years who decided to retire because she felt she could not provide the patients with the care they needed, as funds were being taken away. There needs to be access to mental health care for everyone who needs it, she added.
Thomas said the budget crisis is one of the biggest issues that Kansas is facing. Schools may have to wait for funding, and she believes it is time to take care of the budget crisis. If not, it will be out of reach to change it.
Rep. Wolfe Moore said the largest issues were the tax plan and budget, schools and Medicaid expansion.
“Because we’re squeezing so many other budgets, we’re making some very inappropriate and costly financial decisions,” Rep. Wolfe Moore said.
As an example, she cited a program around since the 1990s, the Senior Care Act, that provided monies for in-home services for seniors. That is the right thing to do, and it helps the state avoid the very costly amount of money they have to give if a senior had to go to assisted living or long-term care and they were on Medicaid, she said. But the program was severely cut.
She voted against drastic cuts that were made to the Senior Care Act, she said. What has happened is that seniors wind up in assisted living or long-term care rather than in their home. It was a short-term fix for the budget, but in the long term it will cost the budget and state of Kansas taxpayers a lot of money, Rep. Wolfe Moore said.
It’s crucial for Kansas to pass the Medicaid expansion plan, she said. About 150,000 persons in Kansas who don’t have insurance now will be covered, she added. That will help the economy, boost jobs, and help people have the health care they need, she said. It makes sense to have a person treated at a doctor’s office for high blood pressure rather than to end up in the emergency room for a stroke, she added.
Thomas said she is running to get more involved in the process and make change. “I do believe that I could be a strong, positive voice for this community,” Thomas said, “one that involves social issues, one that could engage the community more, and one where we can feel like we’re inclusive.”
Rep. Wolfe Moore said Topeka has become more and more like Washington, D.C., and sometimes it seems like the Democrat and Republican dynamics are destroying the state. “I think we have to get a little of that out of the way, and be more concerned about what the issue is, and about the people we’re serving,” she said. She said she has worked very hard on these issues over the past six years.
To see more of the comments, view the candidate forum online, and visit https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMfeRPiOepX3iQS-Y5OCca80njs3sop8W.
The forum is being shown on KCKCC’s cable television station. To see a schedule, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/candidate-forum-to-be-shown-on-kckcc-cable-channel-2/.