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SPOTLIGHT
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Revisiting last month's candidate forum

Published on -10/11/2012, 10:27 AM

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The Tea Party forum for candidates in September was an admirable effort by the Big First Tea Party to conduct a meeting of the candidates and issues in this election.

The panel was moderated by Roger Ewing of the BFTP, and panelists were Paul Ibbetson of the tight-right Patriot radio, and Randy Gonzales from The Hays Daily News.

The candidates squared off with their opponents, and this column will cover them all in time for the election. I will separate the events of that evening in two columns in an effort to cover the material.

The Ellis County clerk position, sought by Butch Schlyer and Donna Maskus, showed us two varying points of view on the job of county clerk. Butch thinks there is too much infighting and disgruntlement in the courthouse and would hire Maskus as his deputy. He mentioned low morale a few times. Both candidates were conscious of the tea party concerns about illegal voters, and both supported the voter-ID laws without further comment on the issue of discrimination.

Maskus, with 30 years' experience in courthouse operations, saw the implementation of electronic voting, and spoke of fail-safes and backups within the system.

Ibbetson, who's anointed himself the "Conscience of Kansas," was determined to get the party going, but must have been disappointed in the lack of fervor. He questioned the state candidates about civil rights referendums in Hutchinson and Salina concerning the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community.

Specifically, these are ordinances sought to create equity in employment, education and housing for the LGBT community. The anti-discrimination ordinance is a ballot initiative in Hutchinson, but was passed in Salina, although petitioners are asking voters to repeal the ordinance there.

In a blinking Michele Bachmann moment, Sue Boldra perked up like a cheerleader and broadly announced "We're all Americans!" and explained we need to get rid of labels, and she doesn't want a special category for the LGBT community.

Sue was the biggest disappointment of the evening. I thought she had promise, since she was a teacher for so long, I thought she would have a handle on social issues, but she doesn't. She could not field my questions on discrimination, education or legislation that infringes on women's health care.

She was the essential tea party cheerleader -- all shout, no substance. She had the slogans down but could not defend the ideas behind them. She was unaware of the gun legislation already on the books and couldn't come up with one ordinance that restricts our gun rights today.

She had her hands spread wide in front of her when she proclaimed, "I am pro-life and pro-guns!" but did not know any of the five anti-abortion bills that have been to the House since 2010. She didn't do any homework at all since last year's tea party caucus, when I asked her the same questions.

State Rep. Eber Phelps was represented by an empty chair as Ewing tried unsuccessfully to emulate Clint Eastwood's performance in a bit of showmanship to wake everybody up.

In the Ellis County Commission 2nd District race between Dennis Pfannenstiel and Barb Wasinger, I had familiar territory. Both figures have been in the public in front of real issues concerning the wind farm, property taxes and abatements, and county spending. It felt like old home week. I watched these two during the zoning kerfluffel with the wind farms.

They maintain their positions from that time, although Barb has softened her stance somewhat by qualifying her final statements with "the majority rules." While Dennis would eliminate the county administrator position and save the taxpayers' money, Barb thinks that position is "a work in progress" and would keep it. Dennis did not think county spending was out of line, that we are provided services, and Barb thought "the challenge is to find the needs of Ellis County." I thought, if she doesn't know the needs by now, she won't find out soon.

I watched the 3rd District commission seat candidates Dean Haselhorst and Ron Adams square off on county spending. Both candidates thought money could be saved in county expenditures, although Haselhorst saw cutting costs as an ongoing practice and Adams saw it as a matter of elimination of services and tax abatements.

Neither candidate saw any environmental issues in the county, but that seemed disingenuous to me, playing to the crowd.

Haselhorst supports a mill levy increase, and in the time -honored tradition of county works, mentioned the possibility of Old U.S. Highway 40 as a sand road. Adams innocently supposes taking away tax abatements would solve the problems of the county budget. Haselhorst had a plan that included phasing out or replacing equipment to save on costs. I had to give this one to Haselhorst, because he knew more about the public works and gave concrete ideas on saving money.

The most pleasant surprise of the evening were the two candidates for the Senate 40th District seat. Incumbent Ralph Ostmeyer and Allen Schmidt worked together in Topeka and showed an admirable, mutual respect when they faced the panel.

Ostmeyer believes redistricting failed but did not elaborate on how or why. He admits Kansas is at a crossroads, but again, without specifics.

Ostmeyer spoke in broad generalizations, he wants to cut wasteful schools, lower taxes and control spending, but the listener was left to determine what those measures would look like in reality. His voting record is public information.

Schmidt spoke confidently about population migration in the state, noting 20 percent of the population is elderly. He is concerned about fracking and is wary of the cure-all of raising property taxes. Both men spoke of issues outside the accepted party review, although neither spelled out any solutions.

In all, the forum was a pleasant evening. There was an atmosphere of genuine interest, and I truly appreciated the time and effort that went into the meeting. The candidates were given equal time and allowed to expand their answers if they desired.

The fact that I was surprised, amused, conflicted, disgusted and disappointed all in the same evening means it was a fair and balanced political event.

Mary Hart-Detrixhe is a lifelong resident of the prairie and Ellis County. Her work can be found at www.janeQaverage.com.

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