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Ostmeyer: Taxes are top priority

11/2/2012

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

For Ralph Ostmeyer to remain as the sitting senator of the massive 40th District, he realizes the need for a good showing in its newest addition.

And Ostmeyer said that means garnering at least 40 percent of the vote in Ellis County -- the district's most populous and most Democratic-leaning county.

To be sure, there are more Republicans than Democrats in Ellis County, but nearly a third of the voters are independents.

"If I can keep 60 percent of the old district, I think I can win," he said.

But he's aware a Democrat opponent has invigorated some voters in outlying counties, such as Rawlins County.

"I had a couple people say the Democrats are real excited," Ostmeyer said.

Ostmeyer's been spending time in Ellis County, in Hays, Victoria and Ellis, walking the streets and knocking on doors.

"I'm not planning to do real well in Phillips County," he said. "I don't see any way I can win Ellis County."

The reason for that, he said, is the three-way split.

But he figures he'll do well elsewhere, such as Sherman County.

"I'll be surprised if I don't get 70 percent of the vote there," he said. "If I do poorly in Ellis County, it's going to hurt me. I would be happy with 40 percent in Ellis County."

Getting around the district has been something of a challenge, he said, also facing the specter of planting wheat and harvesting the crops surviving the drought.

"The primary was really tough on me -- being a farmer," he said.

In his 12th year in the Legislature -- two terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate -- Ostmeyer said he's happy with the campaign.

It's been a friendly campaign as well, running against Allen Schmidt, an Ellis County Democrat who served as the senator for the 36th District.

Ellis County was folded into the 40th by a panel of federal judges after the Legislature failed to complete redistricting.

Ironically, Ostmeyer and Schmidt worked together to preserve the 36th, only to see them both thrown into the same district, pitting two incumbents against each other.

For Ostmeyer, the most pressing issue awaiting the Legislature when it returns in January is the tax bill.

"I don't know how we're going to address that," he said.

But he knows legislators and Gov. Sam Brownback will be sitting down to talk about it, and how it needs to be fixed.

Legislators last year passed a bill that essentially did away with income taxes on some business interests, but the struggle to approve something resulted in a flawed bill.

"He got something much more than he asked for," Ostmeyer said of the bill eventually passed by the Legislature.

Since then, concern has been voiced about the effect it might have on property taxes.

But Ostmeyer 's in favor of ending most of the 1-percent sales tax approved several years ago when the state's budget was in a free-fall.

"I've already told him the sales tax will come off," Ostmeyer said. "That's my vote."

Four-tenths of 1 percent of the sales tax would stay in place, supporting a transportation bill that was folded into the budget-supporting measure.

While the drought will hurt, he's not yet sure what effect horizontal drilling will have on the economy.

"They claim that's a good one," Ostmeyer said of a horizontal well drilled recently north of Grainfield. "That's all they will tell me, it's a good well."

On schools, Ostmeyer said he continues to battle against cuts and consolidations.

"I've stood on the Senate floor, and every time they bring that up, I say don't talk consolidation. We've already done that. We're doing too many things right out here."

While he said there are bits and pieces of the state's education formula that need to be fixed, he thinks most of it is OK.

"We need to concentrate on the classroom more and less on the building," he said.

Ostmeyer also said he's not a puppet for Brownback.

"I'm not going to rubber stamp anything," he said.

Yet he thinks as a Republican, he'll be a better fit.

"I see myself as having a leadership ability," he said of rising up the ranks in the Senate, perhaps gaining a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

And he's not troubled by what likely will be an overwhelming Republican majority.

"We have to be humble."

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Candidate at a glance:

Name: Ralph Ostmeyer

Age: 69

Education: Attended Fort Hays State University.

Family: Wife, Kay; sons Terry, Troy and Jeff; and daughters Cindy Schrader, Chris Niblock, Shirley Elton and Jennifer Ostmeyer.