Two Republican candidates for the 15th District seat in the Kansas Senate discussed their views on the Legislature and spending in a virtual candidate forum Tuesday night. 

KLKC Radio organized the forum, which was recorded in its studio at 1812 Main.

Two candidates, incumbent Sen. Dan Goddard and his challenger, Virgil Peck Jr., are running for the seat that represents constituents in Labette, Montgomery and Neosho counties. The vote in Tuesday’s primary most likely will determine who takes the seat as no Democrat filed for the office. The winner of the Nov. 3 election will take the seat in January 2021.

Goddard, a retired Air Force colonel and former CEO of Great Plains Development Authority, was elected to the Senate seat in 2016, defeating Peck.

Peck formerly served in the Kansas House of Representatives. He is chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party.

Each candidate had a minute to respond to questions and had time at the beginning for introductions and the end to wrap up the segment. The entire forum is available on KLKC’s social media pages, including Facebook and its website.

Among the questions and the candidate responses:

— Candidates were asked if they supported Medicaid expansion and what they would do in 2021 to get it passed. 

Goddard said he supports Medicaid expansion because thousands of Kansans fall in a “donut hole” and do not qualify for insurance. If Medicaid is expanded in Kansas, 26,000 parents, 14,000 essential workers and 15,000 Kansans with disabilities would qualify for coverage. The state has lost more than $4 billion in federal reimbursements by failing to expand Medicaid services. “We cannot afford not to do it.”

Peck didn’t say if he supported expansion. He said expansion would not have saved a hospital in Kansas. He added that disabled Kansans now qualify for Medicaid but some are on a waiting list for services. “They are waiting for their benefits.” 

— Candidates were asked how they could help the state recover from the financial effects of COVID-19. 

Peck said he would control spending. Taxpayers already face a reduction in income and the state needs to reinvigorate the economy. One way to do that is to reduce taxes. “Coronavirus, COVID-19, will be behind us soon enough. We’ve got to put in place things that will improve the economy.” He suggested reducing government regulations on job creators.

Goddard said legislators should stop all enhancements and reduce spending across all agencies. The state needs a balanced budget.

— The Legislature attempted to pass a constitutional amendment this year relating to abortion. The amendment passed the Senate but not the House. The amendment would have essentially overturned a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring that access to abortion is a fundamental right under the state’s Bill of Rights. Candidates were asked if they thought the issue would come up in 2021 and if they would support it or fight it.

Goddard said the issue will come up again and he will co-sponsor again the next iteration of the Value Them Both amendment. He said the high court legislated on the issue rather than making a decision on legal grounds, just as it did on school funding. He said life starts at conception and he would not support anything that takes away from that. He would try to convince the entire Republican caucus to stand firm behind the amendment in 2021. 

Peck said he supports the amendment. “This amendment would not change any abortion laws in the state of Kansas. It would not outlaw abortion in the state of Kansas, even though I would support that,” he said. The amendment simply says the Legislature gets to decide abortion laws, not the Kansas Supreme Court.

— Candidates were asked about the tax lid law that restricts counties and cities from exceeding budget authority beyond the rate of inflation from one year to the next. A budget increase above that rate would require an election. Candidates were also asked if lawmakers should be bound by a similar spending restriction.

Peck said Kansas had a tax lid law until 1999 when lawmakers allowed it to expire. “And I believe that was one of the biggest mistakes the Legislature has made, because property taxes have really significantly increased since that cap expired. I support a tax lid law on property taxes,” he said. If elected, he said he would introduce legislation requiring a vote of the people before taxes are increased. He said he would support a cap on spending by lawmakers.

Goddard said he does not support the tax lid law, preferring local governments to make their own decisions on spending. The current law has exceptions that allow governments to skirt it. He supports transparency in taxation and budgeting and several such bills were approved in the Legislature this year but vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly. The bills will come up in 2021 and he will support them. “That is why we need to have a 27-vote majority in the Senate” to override the veto coming from the governor on bills dealing with taxes and transparency.

— The candidates were also asked if they had a do-over for their most recent elected term, what would they change. 

Peck claimed that Goddard was seen sleeping by his fellow senators and that he didn’t introduce legislation in his four years in the Senate.

Goddard said if he could do something again he would not have fallen asleep. But he learned a lot in his first four years in office and he will introduce legislation if voters grant him four more years. It’s very difficult to bring bills to the floor through the committee structure and vetting process, Goddard said, but he would continue to push legislation through that process. “I will continue to work very hard to bring those to the floor for a vote in the Senate.”

Peck said: “I would work harder to pass legislation to put taxpayers first and allow them to vote on tax increases. Until we do that the budget will not be under control.”

Goddard and Peck also answered questions on the state SPARK task force that’s overseeing the distribution of $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, restructuring state services and why they would be the best person to serve in the Senate.

Peck in closing said he supported term limits, reducing taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants and ensuring disabled veterans receive better care. 

Goddard said he never missed a session or a vote and he would work with other lawmakers to get legislation passed.

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