Kansas legislators have referenced the cooperation between Democrats and Republicans during the 2018 legislative session. The past two years they’ve worked together to fix the Kansas budget crisis after eight years of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax experiment.
Two candidates are competing this general election for the open seat in the Legislature’s House of Representatives 110th District.
The district includes the counties of Norton, Phillips and Rooks; Hill City and a small slice of Graham County; and a portion of rural Ellis County, as well as Ellis and Catharine.
Incumbent Republican candidate Ken Rahjes is running against Stockton Mayor Kim Thomas for the district seat.
Among the pressing issues next session, legislators face the continued fallout from Brownback’s tax plan, which cut both services and revenues, then patched the severe shortfall by taking highway and state pension money.
That, in turn, cut local funding and drove up property taxes, according to studies by the nonpartisan Kansas Center for Economic Growth, Topeka.
One key issue now is expanding Medicaid, which the Legislature voted for but which Brownback vetoed and which Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach also rejects. Medicaid serves 425,000 people in Kansas, but another 150,000 would be included with expansion.
Rejecting Medicaid expansion has cost Kansas an estimated $2.9 billion in federal money to reimburse rural hospitals and health care providers serving poor people.
Legislators from both parties also plan to tackle the acknowledged KanCare calamity. KanCare is Brownback’s program that has tried unsuccessfully to use private companies to administer Medicaid.
For their views of these issues, Rahjes and Thomas answered questions from The Hays Daily News. Rahjes’ answers are below. Thomas’ answers published Friday.
Tell us about your background, where you live, your family, where you’ve worked and what qualifies you as a good candidate for commissioner.
I was raised on a diversified family farm and ranch outside of Agra, where I live today with my wife of 28 years. Growing up in rural north central Kansas, I learned the values of work, stewardship, loyalty and trust from my family members and neighbors. I attended Colby Community College and Kansas State University where I studied agricultural communications. I am also a graduate of the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program.
I understand small business, and currently serve as President of Authentic Ag Inc., an agriculture communication company, which features: AgView.net and the AgView Radio Network where we broadcast agri-business updates on radio stations in Kansas and Nebraska on a daily basis and operate and update the AgView.net website and related social media platforms with stories important to agriculture and rural interests. Together with my wife, Lori, we also own the Kansas Ag Report television show, which is broadcast across the state on Saturday mornings and I can be heard daily in southwest Kansas on the radio stations of Southwind Broadcasting L.L.C. based in Garden City.
I began working as a broadcaster in high school and have always had an interest in telling the story of rural America. I have also served in the financial services industry and as a Congressional agricultural aide, in addition to spending a number of years working on the family farm and ranch.
Although my career has taken me to several communities across the state and region, my roots have always remained firmly planted in agriculture and in Phillips County.
My wife, Lori (Hoopingarner) Rahjes, is originally from Manter, and together we have four children: Will and his wife Jena (Bowman), Grant, Sarah and Matthew.
My wife and I are members of the First Presbyterian Church, Phillipsburg. I was raised in a family that believes community service and giving back is just something we are called to do. I am a member of the Phillips County Farm Bureau (past president), Phillipsburg Rotary and Phillipsburg Chamber and Main Street, and in the past have served on numerous community organization boards.
Currently as a member of the House of Representatives, I serve as vice chairman of the Water and Environment Committee and am a member of the Taxation Committee and Transportation Committee. Previous committee assignments include Agriculture, Children and Seniors and General Government Budget. I believe this gives me a good working knowledge of many aspects of state government. You can find out more at kenforkansas.com
Would you fix the privately managed KanCare program, and, if so, how?
There are several aspects of KanCare that are not working as projected. In my time in the Legislature, I have questioned some of the customer service that is received through privatization. I look forward to working with the new governor and new Legislature to find the best program possible to meet the needs of every Kansan.
Many rural hospitals are in danger of closing. Would you vote to expand Medicaid to increase revenue to Kansas hospitals and to offer insurance coverage to many Kansans who are currently without? If you don’t favor Medicaid expansion, what do you suggest for Kansans who can’t afford quality healthcare?
At this time I remain opposed to Medicaid. With the uncertainty of the federal government's roll in health care, I have concerns of the long term future of a federal-state partnership. My concern continues to be that the cost projections are under what true costs will be and how will we pay for it? What has not been widely discussed is the actual cost of Medicaid expansion to Kansas, which is projected to be upwards of $65 million. This does not account for any possible influx of citizens from other non-participating states, as well as those who would be forced out of their current insurance plans into Medicaid. I am always open to genuine discussions of how we move forward with protecting the rural critical access hospitals in our district as well as the state. I am encouraged by the outreach of Hays Med/The University of Kansas Health System to Western Kansas hospitals, to work cooperatively in caring for patients.
Should immigrants working in Kansas be allowed citizenship. What process do you advocate to either aid or prevent that?
Immigration reform must take place at the federal level. The system, as it is now, is broken. Agriculture and many other industries rely on a diverse labor force. I look forward to working with our federal delegation on finding a solution that works best for Kansas citizens and our economy.
Do you favor replenishing KDOT for money diverted during the Brownback administration, and ensuring KPERS is fully funded? If so,how? As we see parts of the Kansas economy grow, these two issues need to be near the top of our priority list. In past legislative sessions, I was a strong vote in support of making the required contribution to KPERS. It is a contract we have that must be honored. As we build a state budget, taking care of our employees must be one of the cornerstones. Efforts began last year to reduce fund transfers out of KDOT. With the T-Works program coming to an end, one of the major challenges in this upcoming session will be approving a new long-term transportation plan. And looking at it right now, there is no easy answer. Sweeps and budgeting gimmicks are no way to run state government long term, but may be necessary in the short term.
Do you support a reduction or removal of the state sales tax on food? Please explain why or why not.
I'm in favor of a reduction of the sales tax on food, as this impacts all Kansans. As our economy grows stronger, we need to look at doing this incrementally, so as not to create a revenue shortfall. Last year I proposed a phase-out over five years of the sales tax on food, by utilizing other tax revenues coming in due to a strengthening economy. There may be numerous attempts to eliminate the sales tax on food, however we need to make sure that anything that moves forward is carefully thought out.