In a variation on the usual candidate forum, those attending a candidate meet-and-greet event Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kansas, talked more to the candidates than the candidates talked to them.
Broderick Crawford, event moderator, told those in attendance to go and talk to the candidates themselves in a sort of “speed dating” format. First, there were short presentations about the community’s problems such as health, housing and income. Then, candidates had two minutes each to speak, followed by individual meetings with those in attendance.
“I want each of you to spend at least three minutes at each table,” Crawford told the audience. “Hold the candidates accountable.”
The candidate meet-and-greet event was held Tuesday night at the Faith Deliverance Family Worship Center, 3043 State Ave., Kansas City, Kansas, where the Rev. Harold Johnson, who is also a Unified Government commissioner, is pastor. Sponsors included Community Health Council, Econ Avenue, Historic Northeast-Midtown Association, KC United, NAACP KCK Chapter, NBC Community Development Corp., Northeast Economic Development Corp. and Unity with a Purpose.
Although there are only a little over 20 days remaining until the Nov. 6 general election, only two of the contested races on the ballot had all of the candidates present. Those contests were state commissioner of insurance, where Nathaniel McLaughlin, of Kansas City, Kansas, is the Democratic nominee, and Vicki Schmidt of Topeka is the Republican nominee; and state representative, 36th District, where Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore is the Democratic nominee and Chiquita Coggs is the Republican nominee. Event organizers said all candidates were invited.
U.S. representative, 3rd District
Sharice Davids, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative, 3rd District, from Shawnee, said, “We need a government more reflective of what our experiences really are.”
One of the things that’s missing from Congress right now is people who know what it’s like to have to work the entire time they are in college, what it’s like to be a first-generation college student and what it’s like to be raised by a single parent, Davids said.
“A lot of us know what that’s like,” Davids said. But many in Congress have no idea what it’s like having to make hard decisions about health care and how they are going to get into school, she added.
“I know what that’s like and I’m tired of people in Congress making decisions about things that affect us, when it doesn’t affect them,” Davids said.
The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-3rd Dist., of Overland Park, did not attend the event.
Chris Clemmons, a science teacher at Rosedale Middle School who lives in Shawnee, is the Libertarian nominee for U.S. representative, 3rd District.
“I care very greatly and very deeply for my community,” Clemmons said. “I’m watching decades of failed policies affect our communities every day, from the drug war that’s ripping apart our inner cities, to quite a few other things the federal government is doing today.
“I’m staring down at my child’s future with $21 trillion in national debt and no way to pay it back,” he said. “We’re looking at pushing trillion-dollar deficits next year and into the future. And things aren’t looking like they’re getting any better.”
If voters are tired of the federal government telling them what they can and can’t do, what health care they can and can’t have, and watching people being locked in cages for nonviolent crimes, then he is their candidate, he said.
Governor and lieutenant governor
A debate with the top three candidates for governor was held at lunchtime Tuesday in Wichita, and only one of those candidates, Greg Orman, an independent, made it to the meet-and-greet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee, was represented by Dr. Cindy Lane, former superintendent of schools in Kansas City, Kansas. Kris Kobach, the Republican nominee, did not attend. Two other candidates on the ballot, Jeff Caldwell, a Libertarian candidate, and Rick Kloos, an independent, attended the Kansas City, Kansas, event.
Caldwell, from Leawood, said a lot of the issues Kansas are facing stem from budgetary problems, and the state is $3.2 billion in debt, having borrowed against pensions and unfunded liabilities.
“We are facing huge astronomical tax increases in the future if we do not get our budgetary problems handled immediately,” Caldwell said.
“I am running for governor of Kansas to first pardon all nonviolent cannabis offenses,” he said. He estimated that would save the state $20 million a year. He said he wanted to fully legalize cannabis to fund schools.
He also said sports betting needs to be legalized. Almost all states surrounding Kansas have approved either medical cannabis or full legalization of cannabis, he said. Missouri will consider it in November, and legislation is proposed in Nebraska, he said.
Caldwell said one of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s failures was to tackle the budget with legislators prior to cutting taxes.
“It’s time to wake up, to tackle our issues, to look at our budget responsibly,” he said. “I would like to cut the budget responsibly with legislators so it doesn’t hurt the average Kansan.”
Dr. Lane, retired superintendent of schools, represented Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka.
“It’s important for all of us to vote, but to the youth here, you vote, and things will be all right,” Dr. Lane said. “This is about your future.”
Kelly was in Colorado when she and her husband decided to move to Kansas, Dr. Lane said.
“She wanted to raise her family in Kansas because of quality public schools and opportunity for economic well-being,” she said.
“I had the privilege of watching her work over the last eight years in her role as senator,” Dr. Lane said. “She is a no-nonsense kind of person who will truly listen to what the citizens of this state want, and will work across the aisle to make it happen. She is focused and she is determined. She is very much interested in ensuring that the quality of public schools continue. She was instrumental in the last legislative session in making sure we had a constitutionally valid finance formula so our schools , students and teachers had the resources they need to thrive.”
She said Kelly supports quality early childhood education, wants to work with public and private partnerships so all 4-year-old children have access, and also supports resources for technical and higher education so that students have opportunity to access higher pay and demand jobs.
Kelly is in favor of expanding Medicaid, reforming the KanCare system, and was instrumental in making sure the Brownback tax cuts were rescinded, Dr. Lane said. She is in favor of fiscally responsible tax policy, with a healthy budget, and wants to make sure the Kansas tax on food is not the highest state as it is today, she said.
Rick Kloos is an independent candidate for governor from Berryton, Kansas.
“I want to be about the people and I want to see us do politics much better,” Kloos said.
“There’s a perception that we waste money on education,” he said. Kloos said that is wrong. “I would never look at my kids or grandkids and say they are a liability. They are an asset and an investment to our future.” The state needs to support education, he said.
He discussed a nonprofit he started in Topeka, that he runs as a business and a service. The state should also be run as a business and a service, he said.
“I want to make sure we’re not neglecting anybody, and we’re taking care of people,” he said.
Greg Orman, independent from Fairway, Kansas, talked about how he had Democrats and Republicans in his family.
“Something has gone very wrong in our state,” Orman said. “If we don’t change the direction of this state, my two daughters and all our sons and daughters and grandchildren in Kansas are not going to feel inspired to build their lives in Kansas. “
He said he spent his life in the private sector, and is trying to live his version of the American dream.
“I also realize that as we’re trying to help others live the American dream, we don’t pull the ladder up from the other side,” Orman said.
Kansas commissioner of insurance
Both candidates for Kansas commissioner of insurance were present.
Nathaniel McLaughlin, Kansas City, Kansas, is the Democratic candidate for insurance commissioner.
McLaughlin said he had the business qualifications and academic credentials to serve as insurance commissioner.
He has a bachelor’s degree from Winston-Salem State University. He worked 37 years for Sodexho, including management positions, and is now retired.
“I want to advocate for the 350,000 adult Kansans who do not have any type of health insurance,” McLaughlin said.
He said while he is an advocate of Medicaid expansion, he does not blindly advocate it without a prudent review of its financial impact.
“I am against any program that adds a tax burden to the Kansas citizens,” McLaughlin said.
Work, faith in God, respect for his neighbor and his country are his values, he said.
Vicki Schmidt, Topeka, the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner, recalled living in Wyandotte County during the 1970s, and working at a pharmacy here years ago. A state senator for 14 years, Schmidt said she grew up in Wichita and has been a pharmacist for more than 40 years.
She said she became a pharmacist to help people, and helping people is also why she wants to be insurance commissioner.
As a state senator, she said she has protected Medicare for seniors and has made sure children with autism have the insurance coverage they need. She said she would continue fighting for Kansans if elected.
She added she originally ran for the Senate when she found some errors being made in the Kansas medical assistance program, and developed a plan to correct the errors resulting in a savings of $391 million.
“I deal with health insurance every day when I am practicing my trade as a pharmacist, so I am familiar with that world,” she said.
State representative, 36th District
The incumbent, Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist., is the Democratic nominee.
A lifelong resident of Wyandotte County, she formerly served as chief of staff for former Mayor Carol Marinovich. She is business director of the University of Kansas hospital. She served as chairman of the board of Wyandotte Economic Development Council, and was on the board of Wyandot Mental Health. She was first elected in 2010 to the state representative position.
She said her passion was to serve the community of Wyandotte County.
“The issues are so difficult, and the Statehouse is in difficult shape these years after eight years of Sam Brownback,” she said. “We have to pass Medicaid expansion, once and for all, we have to put more money in the school finance plan, we have to take care of some of those children’s and seniors’ programs that have been decimated over the past few years.”
Rep. Wolfe Moore said they have to make sure the culture of Washington, D.C., does not come to the state of Kansas. The divisiveness and ugliness is awful, she added. She said she believes in fairness, civility and compromise, and she will put loyalty to Wyandotte County and her state ahead of loyalty to the party.
Chiquita Coggs is the Republican nominee for state representative, 36th District.
Coggs currently works for the state of Kansas as the head of the Board of Cosmetology in Topeka. She is a native of Kansas City, Kansas, who is currently living in Kansas City, Kansas.
She has an associate’s degree from Kansas City Kansas Community College, a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in organizational psychology .
“I have an extreme passion, and that is education, in Kansas and especially here in Wyandotte County,” she said. “All of the issues for the state of Kansas are important,” she added.
Few issues split Kansas politics like the Obama-era expansion of Medicaid.
Unlike 33 other states, Kansas still hasn’t expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The decision would pay for the health care of thousands of people who don’t currently meet the program’s stringent eligibility requirements.
The state’s program, KanCare, pays for the health care of 400,000 low-income Kansans — mostly children, pregnant women, and elderly or disabled citizens. It costs the state more than $3 billion a year.
Currently, KanCare doesn’t cover people who fall into the so-called “coverage gap.” Their incomes are too high to pass the state’s stringent Medicaid eligibility guidelines, but they make too little money to qualify for the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized insurance premiums.
Those benefits are only available to households that make over 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $25,100 for a family of four. Some do meet income requirements, but they don’t meet another eligibility guideline, like being disabled, under 19, elderly or pregnant.
In Kansas, 150,000 people fall into that gap.
They’re not eligible for Medicaid, and if they apply for health insurance through the federal marketplace, they’re on their own with no government financial assistance.
Expansion would allow them to apply for coverage through KanCare, as long as their household incomes are below 138 percent of the poverty line, and regardless of whether they meet other eligibility requirements.
Supporters say that could be a lifeline for the state’s most vulnerable residents and helps them avoid emergency room visits by giving them access to more suitable care.
“This gives them access to not just health care, but the right care,” said Cindy Samuelson, a vice president of the Kansas Hospital Association.
The issue has long been under debate.
Democrats and some moderate Republicans have argued for years that expansion would bring more health care dollars into the state economy, creating medical jobs and filling a coverage void that could keep the doors open at small, rural hospitals.
Conservatives continue to resist. They argue expansion squanders federal tax dollars and saddles Kansas taxpayers with an obligation to pay for an increasingly large share of that government health insurance.
“As much as we all want to try to provide a solid safety net for people, we have to weigh that against other priorities in state government,” said James Franko, vice president and policy director of the Kansas Policy Institute.
A bipartisan majority in the Legislature voted in 2017 for expanding Medicaid, but then-Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it. Brownback, a Republican, said in a statement that he opposed the bill in part because of its cost and because it didn’t require recipients to work.
Gov. Jeff Colyer, also a Republican, served as lieutenant governor in Brownback’s administration and has followed his lead in supporting Medicaid work requirements and opposing the Affordable Care Act — including expansion.
The 2018 governor’s race will decide the issue in Kansas for years to come.
Medicaid certainly won’t expand if Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach wins the race. Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly has promised to sign a bill approving expansion in her first year. Independent Greg Orman also says he supports expansion.
“The governor is extremely important,” said April Holman, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, who advocates for expansion. “If we don’t have a governor who supports expansion, we probably would have a similar result to what we have had in the past.”
Here’s what you need to know about each candidate’s stance.
Kelly voted in favor of the Medicaid expansion bill that went through the state legislature in 2017. Her position hasn’t changed.
On her campaign website, Kelly promises to “advocate for and sign legislation to expand Medicaid in her first year.”
Kelly cites rural hospital closures as a major reason to expand Medicaid.
Rural facilities, such as the recently shuttered Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott, often struggle to cover operating costs while treating areas with higher-than-average proportions of elderly, poor and disabled residents.
In a statement, Mercy Hospital cited “declining reimbursement, especially from government payers which make up the largest source of revenue” as a major reason for closing.
Medicaid expansion isn’t a perfect solution for the problems faced by rural hospitals, said Diane Rowland, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Most of them are small, most of them have some economic challenges in terms of being able to even recruit adequate staff and physicians there, because of the medical shortages that plague rural areas,” she said.
Rowland says funds from Medicaid expansion could, however, greatly improve the financial stability of vulnerable hospitals, increasing treatment options for people in rural areas.
“We’ve seen far fewer rural hospitals close and expansion states than in the non-expansion states like Kansas,” Rowland said.
Kelly also argues that Medicaid expansion would create new jobs in the state’s health care industry.
Samuelson said hiring new doctors, nurses, administrative staff and other workers can have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy.
“That nurse is going to also shop at the grocery store, and get gas, and utilize the bank, and have a home, and all these other things that stimulate other jobs in the economy,” she said. “Maybe they’ll have kids in school and there’s another teacher.”
Orman also supports expanding Medicaid for economic reasons.
The independent candidate told the Kansas News Service he wants to encourage recipients to work by ensuring they’ll still get Medicaid at higher income levels.
“We send a terrible message to people in Kansas who are working and not making a lot of money, which is, ‘If you get sick, quit your job,’” he said. “Ultimately, we need to be building pathways to allow people to improve their lives, not creating these very perverse incentives.”
A platform paper published on Orman’s campaign website argues that expanded Medicaid could attract workers from out of state.
“Someone making $13 per hour in a family of three in Colorado gets healthcare coverage as part of their decision to work in Colorado,” Orman’s paper reads. “That same person in Kansas gets no health care coverage unless an employer provides it. Given the shortage of workers in Kansas, this puts us at a significant disadvantage.”
Holman said more medical coverage could also attract employers to the state, and not just in the health care industry.
“Employers want to be in communities where there is a hospital and where there is care that would be available to their employees,” she said.
Orman’s platform describes a way to pay for the state’s share of the cost of expansion. The federal government has promised to pay 93 percent of expansion costs in 2019, and will pay 90 percent of costs in 2020 and beyond.
Orman proposes covering the remaining 10 percent through taxes on the health care industry, which he expects will bring in larger profits due to expansion.
Kobach joins his Republican colleagues in opposing Medicaid expansion, calling the policy too expensive and unrealistic.
His campaign website does not have a section for health policy, but Kobach has mentioned his opposition to the Affordable Care Act in numerous speeches. He’s promised to ask President Trump for waivers to exempt Kansas from Obamacare requirements.
“The better approach is to do something smart, and look at whether we can spend that money effectively,” Kobach said at a debate at the Kansas State Fair in September.
Kobach says he wants to integrate KanCare with a payment system called direct primary care, sometimes called “concierge medicine.”
Direct primary care patients pay a monthly or yearly fee for unlimited primary care visits and reduced prices on medications and lab testing. Orman also supports the idea of allowing KanCare recipients to choose the option of direct primary care.
Kobach, however, has not addressed how KanCare would cover needs like nursing home payments and home care, which comprised 39 percent of KanCare expenditures in 2016. Direct primary care doesn’t cover emergencies, hospitalizations or specialized care, which don’t fall under the umbrella of “primary care.”
The Kobach campaign has not responded to repeated requests for further information on the plan, although Kobach told the Kansas News Service that he plans on testing the idea with a pilot program in one county or region before expanding it statewide.
“I anticipate it would create a significant amount of savings and it would be very favorably received by the KanCare patients who use it,” Kobach said. “Where direct primary care has been used in the private sector, the doctors love it and patients love it.”
Nomin Ujiyediin is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @NominUJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.