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SPOTLIGHT
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Martin impresses at candidate forum

Published on -10/26/2012, 10:06 AM

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I arrived at the September Big First Tea Party shindig right on time, but it had already started. Only just. I missed the meet-and-greet, but Roger Ewing, the organizer for the BFTP, was talking about the rules of the forum, so I didn't miss any candidates.

I made it a point to eliminate all expectations upon arriving in the parking lot at Thirsty's. My motto for such things is "know what you don't know." Understand that you cannot know the experience before you've had it. Go with the flow, and keep an open mind. I freed myself from expectations.

Panelists were Paul Ibbetson, the Patriot radio personality who styles himself "The Conscience of Kansas," and Randy Gonzales from The Hays Daily News.

The tea party is proud of its Christian bias and does not hesitate to open with a prayer. The woman who rose to the occasion beseeched the Heavenly Father to "drive the wrong-thinkers from us." The confidence in her voice was sincere.

She couldn't be talking about me, I thought. I'm a pretty good thinker, mostly optimistic and kind. I give everyone the benefit of a doubt or two.

I was particularly interested in the 110th District race, since I did not know either candidate, and this part of the evening was the most interesting.

In the District 110th House of Representatives race, Phil Martin and Travis Couture-Lovelady head off for the state seat. This seat has been given a position in the limelight over the last two years as political tensions rose in Topeka between the tea factions and, well, everybody else.

Couture-Lovelady has worked for Jerry Moran, Sam Brownback, Sen. Pat Roberts and Ron Estes. He has several conservative endorsements, such as the Kansas Farm Bureau. His websites read like a college resume, and he has affected the polish and slogans of the tea party. At 29, TCL has been given the stamp of approval of the Kansas Tea Party and the current administration.

Paul Ibbetson fielded a question about civil rights ordinances in Hutchinson and Salina that concern equity for the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community, specifically, whether the candidates supported these ordinances.

Couture-Lovelady did not treat the question as relevant. He parroted the tea phrases easily, dismissing the question with a comment about law already on the books.

Except there are no state anti-discrimination laws regarding sexual orientation or gender from the state of Kansas. The tea party sees LGBT referendums as a threat to society, and Travis seems to have taken an uninformed, noncommittal line on the issue.

Martin, on the other hand, showed reasonable compassion about civil rights. He recognized that people have rights that need to be protected. It sounds simple, but Travis did not have that equanimity.

Martin's demeanor defined him as a thoughtful person, giving credit to the democratic system in this case, allowing that the voters would decide issues where they were brought to ballot. Every state candidate was asked this question, but Phil was the only candidate that night with the courage to speak honestly.

In the biggest question of the night, Randy Gonzales from The Hays Daily News asked about education spending. How much and where will you cut school spending?

Travis again toed the party line with a bit of bad logic. He said a 45 percent increase in spending did not equal a 45 percent increase in scores. It was a good sound bite even if it was inaccurate. School spending is not only about test scores. It's about keeping the doors open and the lights on and a hundred other things, and yes, altogether, spending influences scores.

Martin looked at the big picture of funding, and would not commit to targeting any one thing, but would focus on cutting waste and redundancy and viewing the education budget with flexibility, so mandates and requirements were met with efficiency and with an eye toward conserving public resources.

Travis was weak on facts. He does not want consolidation or to close rural schools, but he does support cuts in spending. He did not elaborate past that non-sequitur.

When asked later about rolling back tax cuts if the state mandates to fund schools are imposed, Phil Martin offered that a half-cent sales tax would be less painful than property tax increases, and we could put a time limit on those kinds of taxes. Martin noted, "If the courts decree it, we're going to have to find the money."

Couture-Lovelady could not answer the education finance question. Instead, he rattled off the litany that the tax cuts keep us competitive and then changed the issue to the activist judges.

The odd thing about that is Kansas has no activist judges. Name one judge and his activist cause, and I'll recant that statement. You can't, because the state judiciary is pretty well balanced. "Activist judges" is another tea party dog that just doesn't hunt.

Ibbetson wanted the candidates to commit to a stance on gun laws. At one point, Mr. Ewing said he thought the county clerk should have a gun. Some of the tea people are against safe zones like hospitals, schools and rest homes. They see it as a right to carry their guns out in the open anywhere they want.

Travis again went for the party slogan, "Safe zones don't make us safe." Like his party, Travis thinks those stickers on the doors of public establishments are an infringement of a citizen's right to carry a weapon.

Martin was honest about his stance. He respects our Second Amendment rights in general but thinks "safety is prudent." He is concerned with the negligence of a public policy that does not protect the public. He reasonably asserts that public safety is paramount to any issue in gun legislation.

I had to give this contest to Phil Martin for his sincerity and thoughtful consideration of the issues. This candidate has real value in experience as an educator at Fort Hays State University and served the people of Ellis for eight years as a city councilman and two years as city clerk.

Phil Martin knows the Plains and the issues we confront every day. He knows the people and is informed, because he's hoofed it through the district and talked to constituents. His answers had study and thought behind them, and even when I disagreed, I knew he'd done the work to discover the intricacies of the issues.

This is not a man on a leash, as so many party candidates are. Phil Martin is a man that would listen and understands that no issue can be boiled down to a black and white, pat answer. This man doesn't have any slogans. He has wisdom.

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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