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Phelps finds self in battle

11/1/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Eber Phelps hasn't experienced anything like it.

Before an interview with The Hays Daily News last week, Phelps, D-Hays, pulled out a half-dozen attack ads in the form of mailers sent out to voters by the Kansas Chamber PAC and the Kansas Republican Party.

Phelps, who serves as the House Minority Whip, first was elected in 1996 in the 111th House District after Hays Democrat Delbert Gross decided not to seek re-election.

"I've never had an opponent since 2000," said Phelps, who grew up in Hays and works in sales and marketing for Glassman Corp. "I've never seen a negative ad campaign in Hays in any race like this."

As of Oct. 25, Phelps has received $25,065 in campaign contributions, while Republican challenger Sue Boldra has $21,950 in contributions. Those totals do not include political action committee money supporting either candidate.

A Kansas Republican Party mailer said Phelps voted to cut $100 million in education funding. Phelps said the cut came from the governor, after the legislative session in 2009. He said there is a governor's allotment, where money can be cut, but not added to the budget.

"Nobody voted on it, for it or against it," Phelps said of the cut in funding. "But they put it in (the mailer); it's false."

Sharon Wenger, principal analyst for the Kansas Legislature research department, confirmed the governor cut the budget after the 2009 legislative session.

"Mr. Phelps would not have voted on it," Wenger said.

Phelps, who said he has made education a priority in his time in the Legislature, found it ironic to be accused of cutting funding.

"My forte in the Legislature has been public education and extends to higher education and career technical education," he said. "So, for somebody to say I voted for $100 million in cuts would be like saying Don Bickle doesn't support Fort Hays athletics, or Bob Schmidt doesn't support Fort Hays State."

Phelps said when he's campaigning, Brownback's tax cuts are on voters' minds.

"Interestingly enough, for those who don't think the general population really pays attention, you should go door-to-door with me," Phelps said. "That question was asked over the last few weeks a number of times.

"People say. 'If you eliminate the income tax, where are you going to get the money?'

"Light bulbs should go on. We've got two other sources to tax, one being sales tax and the other being property tax. Probably the easiest to implement for a community is to raise mill levies through your local units of government."

Low-income Kansans will feel the brunt of the income tax cuts, Phelps said.

The state sales tax, which was raised to 6.3 percent in 2010 to protect public schools and social service spending, is scheduled to drop to 5.7 percent in July. Brownback has said it might need to stay at 6.3 percent in anticipation of a temporary dip in revenue due to the income tax cuts.

"I voted for it, but also voted for the sunset on it, which is to take place in 2013," Phelps said. "That was a promise I made. ... For them to come now and say they want to remove the sunset, keep it in place, I don't think you're going to get a lot of support from me."

Phelps said the Legislature in the next session needs to address the income tax cuts.

"Probably the first thing that needs to happen when the Legislature reconvenes, they need to address the income tax bill that was passed and reel it in," he said.

As for his accomplishments during his time in office, Phelps said he was proud of his record on education and transportation programs, and also pointed to water conservation efforts when he served on the Hays City Commission and was mayor of Hays.

Phelps said he differs from Boldra on education issues.

"I fully understand our school finance formula. I understand it's constantly a work in progress," he said. "We can change the weightings, we can tweak it, that's what's been done for a number of years. It works when it's funded.

"My opponent says it's antiquated and it's old and needs to be replaced, and that we need school reform," he added. "I beg to differ."

Phelps also wondered why Boldra -- who ran in the Republican primary for Congress in 2010 and announced her candidacy for the state Senate earlier this year before dropping out after redistricting -- now is running for a state House seat.

"I'm not sure what her motives are for jumping around like that," Phelps said. "I was elected in 1996. My focus has always been on that level, where I felt I could do the most good for this area.

"I haven't used it for a stepping stone to another office. As a matter of fact, I probably could have pursued the Senate seat, but chose to remain in the House."

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Candidate at a glance

Name: Eber Phelps

Age: 61

Education: Received undergraduate degree from Fort Hays State University.

Family: Wife, Joni.