Kansas Sen. Barbara Bollier visited with a gathering of more than 80 Democrats and Republicans at Forest Park on Tuesday evening.
Bollier was pleased to see people from both parties present, as she has received support from both political parties across all 105 counties. Recent polling statistically shows a tie between her and opponent Roger Marshall and support for her campaign has been record setting, which she said speaks volumes about what people are wanting in Kansas — “a voice of reason.”
Bollier expressed that she is someone who is willing to stand up to party leadership on either side and say, “This is what the people need,” and follow those value systems. Bollier, who is a physician, said she went into medicine to help make people’s lives better and she has continued that mission through serving in the Kansas Legislature for 11 years.
The former moderate Republican, turned Democrat, said her role model has been and continues to be Nancy Kassebaum, the first woman in the U.S. Senate, who knew how to work across the aisle as well as stand up and say, “It is people, not just party.”
“That’s been what I’ve tried to follow all my years as a legislator,” she said, and it is that ideal that put her at odds with the Republican Party — as it sought to cut public education funding, implement Sam Brownback’s tax plan and oppose Medicaid expansion to help rural hospitals and keep providers in the state. She felt the Republican Party overall was no longer representing her values nor those of her constituents, so she switched parties, and she said she is now proud to serve as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.
“We are at a crossroads in this country. We are at a time when we see things we haven’t seen before and we’re not talking about COVID. We’re talking about people not working together,” she said. “People are excited. They want change and they are willing to invest in it, and that speaks volumes. As I listen to people around this state, I know people want their voice represented with someone who will be willing to work together to compromise. One of the most important lessons I learned as a physician and have brought to my career in public service is to listen, not to just to respond to you, but to understand you, so then I can know what you are thinking and what you need so I can look at the data, collaborate with other people and get a plan together that we can move forward.”
It takes rolling up one’s sleeves, hard work and compromise, she said.
“Compromise is not a bad word,” Bollier said. “It seems like that now in Washington these days, but that’s why we need change.
“We need a steady voice of reason in Washington as Kansans. We need someone who actually follows science. … I would be the fist woman physician elected to the United States Senate and that is a voice that is desperately needed. … The number one issue that I’m hearing from Kansas is health care reform. It has to be affordable and accessible, and I know down here in Southeast Kansas you struggle with that.”
After the Supreme Court put it onto the states to decide of they wanted Medicaid expansion, the Kansas Legislature passed it to help rural hospitals and help insure more Kansans, but the Brownback vetoed it.
“It passed again in the House, and the Senate president stood in the way and said they couldn’t even bring it to the floor for a vote,” Bollier said. “Kansans want and need health care in this state. One of the biggest differences between me and my opponent … I am for making sure people have access to affordable health care in this state. It starts with Medicaid and extends into making sure there is a public option into buying affordable health care.”
Many aspects of the Affordable Care Act are working. For others, private insurance is working. Those who cannot earn enough to buy on exchange need to have a public buy-in option, Bollier said.
“It’s about doing what’s right for the people,” she said.
That was her main point of focus as she answered questions from constituents on how she would address everything from global warming and the need for high speed internet in rural communities.
As far as climate change, she said she would continue to work to decrease carbon emissions up to 50% in the next 10 years, supporting wind energy and other renewable energy sources.
As for high speed internet, she said she knows rural communities needed it yesterday, with demands increased through telehealth, telework and teleeducation.
While huge tax cuts for the very wealthy have created a more than $1 trillion deficit, it has created a crisis in such areas of need as access to broadband.
Questions have started to arise if internet should be like utilities because everybody needs access to it. Bollier said she is not sure of the answer to that, but something has to change.
She said something good President Donald Trump did was approved a grant for Kansas and Oklahoma in the last six to eight weeks to enhance broadband access.
“When I see people doing the right thing, I will compliment them. When I see them doing the wrong thing, I’ll call them out, too,” she said. “Sadly because of COVID so many have lost their jobs that will never come back. I anticipate as a U.S. senator, when I start we’re going to have to have to find ways to get people employed. We may have to have a worker program like we did back after the war. And if we do, let’s invest it in our infrastructure. Let’s get broadband to people. Let’s train people to do those jobs. It’s a way to help people get paid, and a way to stabilize our economy, and it’s a way to build on our infrastructure we have failed to take care of all these years. Out of crisis can come opportunity.”
Addressing what she would do about fake news, Bollier said she wouldn’t contribute to it, and people would not get false information from her. She said she will always speak truth and will not misrepresent, such as Marshall has been doing through his campaign, taking what she says about one subject and attaching it to another subject.
When someone is misinforming people, she will call it out and she said the information is available to prove the truth. Anything she has said about her opponent, she said, is all provided with accompanying documentation to show where he said it, why and how.
Addressing questions about education, concerns were voiced about Trump calling for $85 billion in cuts to public K-12 education, when 10% of funding for K-12 comes from the federal government. Bollier led the elimination of the Brownback tax plan to acquire funding needed for education. Asked her thoughts on school vouchers, Bollier said she is not in support of them for Kansas.
Having served on the education committee for many years, she did very intense research on vouchers and charter schools and what she found is that looking at data, wherever public education is good, like in Kansas which is always in the top 10, it does not work. In some other states, it does work. Bollier said it should be a state decision, not a federal decision. She also voiced her support for community colleges and early childhood education.
Asked her stance on reducing funds for law enforcement to spend on other priorities, Bollier was frank: “We haven’t listened to our friends and colleagues of color mistreated by police. We have not done enough.”
While that needs repaired, she is not in agreement with cutting funds to police, but helping police at the local level with federal funding, which her opponent opposes, she said.
“We need to work on justice reform,” Bollier said. Such efforts would, in part, include banning chokeholds, anti-bias training and assistance for police by offering increased mental health programs. Such programs could help people in the community who should not be considered a problem police need to handle. People with mental health issues often end up in prison rather than getting the help they need, which leads back to the need for increased Medicaid.
“We failed that and we need to stand up and own it,” she said of the present issues.
Bollier went on to address questions regarding her stance on term limits and Supreme Court justice appointments.
She disagrees with people moving into a position at the federal level and remaining there forever. Bollier also supports campaign finance reform.
As for confirmation of Supreme Court justices, she said it is one of the most important jobs she would have as a U.S. senator, and it is important to look at a person’s character, following law and following the Constitution.
“I’ve been hearing from judges and lawyers in Kansas and around the country upset by judges appointed by this administration, saying they aren’t qualified. This is a very, very serious thing. We have to preserve three branches of government … A judgeship should not be politicized, period.”
Bollier said Kansans have the advantage of having someone such as her, who has worked at the state level and built up great relationships and who can and will maintain the lines of communication.
“I’ve been frustrated with federal electeds because here I am a state senator and why aren’t you talking to me? I represent 80,000 people and I have my finger on their pulse, not because I’m a doctor, but because I’m their senator,” Bollier said. “We need to do better. I pledge to you I will keep the communication lines open so we can help solve these problems. You on the ground know best what you need. I want to be able to help facilitate that and make that big government, good government.”
She said many current and former Republican leaders are endorsing her because the know they need someone willing to stand up for the people, willing to work together and someone who recognizes truth.
“That is who I have always been and will continue to be,” Bollier said.
Greg Jarrett with the Labette County Democrats said in the senatorial election there is no electoral college to water down the votes, so every person’s vote counts.
“It’s in our hands, so let’s do it,” Jarrett said.