Abel, Boyer often find common ground
Carlie Abel was dressed for a day of door-to-door campaigning last week with a pair of cut offs and work boots.
"They're good walking shoes," Abel said. "It's a big district."
The footwear reinforces the image Abel, a union carpenter by trade, displays on his campaign sign with his last name and a hammer over the words "to fix it." It's all very Democratic and working class.
After studying the district, the Eudora candidate for the Kansas House has decided to focus on the western half of the narrow 38th District, which follows Kansas Highway 10 as it winds from western Shawnee and Olathe to Lawrence. The district was carved out of neighboring districts during the Legislature's redistricting process last session and, therefore, has no incumbent.
"(Some) think it's a Johnson County race, and it's not," he said. "Conservatives don't do as well in Lawrence as they do in this neck of the woods. Hopefully that will help. I hope it doesn't hurt me."
During the nearly three months he's spent walking door-to-door, from the sprawling suburbs of Lenexa to older neighborhoods in small-town Eudora, Abel has gained an appreciation for the scope of communities he could represent, including De Soto, which falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
"It almost seems like they don't think they're part of the big picture in Johnson County," he said.
Republican Rob Boyer, on the other hand, is at home with Johnson County's entrepreneurial spirit. The retired Air Force officer lives in the exclusive Cedar Creek subdivision of Olathe and runs his own business, a local franchise of the document recycling company Shred-It. Should he be elected, Boyer said he would seek appointment to the House Economic Development Committee.
"As a representative, I would play an active role in K-10 economic development. I plan to work with the local chambers of commerce and work to bring good economic development to Sunflower."
Boyer said his stance on the state's role at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant would be determined in part by the race for the Johnson County chairman position between County Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh and Charlotte O'Hara.
"O'Hara said she doesn't support any development west of K-7," he said. "There is no doubt if the Johnson County Commission has no interest in developing Sunflower, I will do everything I can at the state level to get it developed and turned over to productive use."
Despite their dissimilar roots, the candidates find much common ground in the current campaign. Debate on the perennial social issue of abortion and gun control measures ended with Boyer's close victory over conservative Shawnee Republican Shannan Nelson in the August primary. Abel and Boyer support gun ownership, but oppose concealed carry law. Abel is pro-choice, while Boyer made the distinction that he opposed abortion as a form of birth control, but rape, incest or health of the mother were a different story.
This year's legislative and gubernatorial campaigns are being staged during a recession that has the state's tax collections producing much less than projected. The shortfall which Boyer said was now estimated to total $800 million for the current fiscal year and how it affects funding for public education was the key issue of the campaign and will dominate the coming legislative session, the candidates agreed.
"Anybody running for office both sides of the spectrum they need to address this issue," Abel said. "When they start up in Topeka, they need to know they need to roll up their sleeves."
Abel has priorities he wants to protect during the coming debate. The 10-year veteran of the USD No. 491 Board of Education wants to protect the current level of education funding while ensuring the needs of the elderly and disabled are met.
"I just don't think the school districts can afford too many more cuts," he said. "I think we need to improve services, not cut services."
Boyer would like to see state funding for K-12 funding increased, but he conceded in the current budget crisis his job might require him to hold the line on proposed cuts.
"I don't think we should solve the state budget shortfall by taking money out of education," he said.
The state needs to be frugal and efficient, Boyer said. But he questioned how simply cutting the budget, which in effect eliminates positions and makes fewer employees do more work, accomplishes that goal.
As a first-time candidate, Boyer said he lacked knowledge of state government that would allow him to identify cost-saving measures. He will try to identify those in the coming years. In the meantime, he said the state might have to look elsewhere for solutions.
"Nobody wants a tax increase," he said. "If one is necessary to fund education and other necessary programs, we have to have the courage to do that."
Abel said he, too, would vote to raise taxes, but added "slightly."
One source of revenue for schools Abel said he would support is an Internet sales tax, because it would raise money from an untapped source that puts small brick-and-mortar businesses at a disadvantage.
Abel said he thought the state was also suffering the aftereffects of tax breaks handed down when the economy was good. If "sin" taxes become an issue again, Abel said he'd like to see alcohol take its turn because tobacco took its turn.
If new forms of gaming were used as a way to bring money in to the state, Abel said legislation should include the stipulation that profits would be earmarked for education and the elderly and the disabled rather than for economic development.
"I think a lot of people always thought that it was promised to go to education," Abel said. "I think they were deceived when they voted on it."