Candidate forum: Kansas 2nd Congressional District
The three Democrats running for the chance to oust U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, say that to move the country forward on a number of important issues, change is needed in the Republican-led House.
Scott Barnhart, Robert Eye and Tobias Schlingensiepen face each other in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary for the state’s 2nd District congressional seat.
The district, realigned by judicial order after the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback failed to approve a redistricting plan, now includes all of Douglas County. For the past 10 years, Douglas County has been divided between the 2nd and 3rd districts.
The 2nd District covers much of eastern Kansas and includes the cities of Lawrence, Topeka and Leavenworth. The new district reduces the 13 percentage point edge in Republican registered voters over Democratic registered voters to a gap of 9.5 percentage points. Previously in District 2, 41.7 percent of voters were registered Republicans; 28.8 percent are Democrats; and 28.7 percent are independents. Now, 39.8 percent are Republicans; 30.3 percent are Democrats; and 29.2 percent are independents.
But even with Democratic-leaning Lawrence and Douglas County fully in the 2nd, the district is an uphill climb for Democrats against a Republican incumbent.
“It’s time to return a balance to the United States House of Representatives, and in order to do that we need to change the majority, and we need to elect Democrats in order to do that,” said Eye, a 60-year-old attorney from Lawrence.
Schlingensiepen, a 48-year-old minister on leave from the First Congregational Church in Topeka, said, “Without overcoming the politics of obstruction in Washington, we’re not going to be able to get back to opportunity for all.”
Barnhart, a 39-year farmer from Ottawa, said he was fighting for the small farmer and businessman.
“You know, the little guy always gets forgotten,” he said.
Eye may be best known to many Lawrencians as one of the lead attorneys for opponents of the South Lawrence Trafficway. He has been active in environmental issues for years.
Barnhart has run unsuccessfully for several elected offices in recent years.
And Schlingensiepen has entered several recent political frays. He spoke against Brownback’s proposal to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit, and he delivered petitions seeking the removal of House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, after O’Neal forwarded an email that referred to President Barack Obama and a Bible verse that said, “Let his days be few and brief.”
Last year, he helped form a coalition to fight Brownback when the Republican governor proposed shutting down the Kansas Neurological Institute.
The candidates outlined their positions on several topics during recent interviews and public forums.
On the issue of the economy, Eye said upgrading the nation’s infrastructure would put people back to work and increase income. He said Kansas is the “Saudi Arabia of wind” and should be the national leader in wind energy but isn’t because Republicans in Washington play political games with the production tax credit that is aimed at encouraging wind investment.
Eye said he became an attorney to help people, and has been working as an activist and advocate on issues for 30 years. That, he said, will allow him to hit the ground running if elected.
Barnhart said that since the 1970s, large conglomerates have taken over agriculture to the detriment of rural America. He said he wanted to work on reversing that trend “to allow the family farmer to come back.”
Schlingensiepen said removing the “politics of obstruction” would free American entrepreneurs in the fields of renewable energy and other areas. He said Jenkins votes the way Republican leaders tell her to vote.
“Kansas needs a voice, not an echo,” he said. He said he has spent his entire career listening and responding to people and can bring together folks from diverse backgrounds.
All three candidates said they support federal health and insurance reforms under the Affordable Care Act, although they said more work needs to be done to contain rising health care costs. Jenkins has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Those ACA repeal votes are simply examples of more obstructionism, Schlingensiepen said.
“We need to build on what’s good (in the ACA), and we need to solve the problem of rising health care costs,” he said.
Barnhart said he can’t afford health insurance and knows many farmers who leave the occupation to take jobs so that their children are insured. He chastised House Republicans for repeatedly voting to repeal the ACA without voting on a replacement law.
Eye said health care in the United States “should be a right, not a privilege.” Eye calls the ACA a historic piece of legislation, adding, “It is a step in the right direction but is certainly not a complete solution.”
Immigration, campaign finance, voter ID
All three candidates blamed federal policies for the problem of undocumented immigrants.
Eye said the movement of millions of undocumented workers from Mexico was caused by the North American Free Trade Agreement; Schlingensiepen said the same corporations that exploit cheap labor are working against immigration reform; and Barnhart said Republicans talk about closing the border but then vote for policies that encourage illegal immigration.
The three candidates also support more campaign finance disclosure and criticized unlimited and secretive donations.
In the campaign finance reporting period running from April 1 through June 30, Schlingensiepen reported raising $37,100, and Eye raised $14,200. Barnhart reported no contributions. Meanwhile, Jenkins, who is seeking her third term, reported raising $350,000, with $210,000 coming from political action committees and $140,000 from individuals.
The Democrats also spoke against new restrictions on voter registration and participation.
“The entire issue of voter registration has been utilized to take attention away from other important topics and interest,” Schlingensiepen said.
Barnhart called the issue “smoke and mirrors,” and Eye said “voter fraud was a solution looking for a problem.”
When asked about what priorities they would have if elected, Eye said he wanted to work on making the tax code more progressive and ensuring that military veterans receive the assistance they need.
Schlingensiepen said he wanted to improve constituent services, and Barnhart said he would like to serve on committees dealing with agricultural issues.
While President Barack Obama is not popular overall in Kansas, the Democratic candidates said they supported him.
Barnhart said he didn’t vote for Obama but has since become a supporter, saying that he appreciates Obama’s resilience in getting health reform passed despite pressure from many sides to abandon the effort.
“I kind of like that about that guy,” he said.
Schlingensiepen said Obama has done an admirable job in the face of opposition.
Eye gave Obama a C-plus or B-minus, saying that while he didn’t agree with him on everything, such as subsidizing fossil fuels, the president was handed many problems “after a disastrous eight years” of President George W. Bush.
Robert Eye, Democrat
Age: 60 (DOB: Dec. 12, 1951)
Children: Two stepchildren
Religious affiliation: No preference
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from Kansas State University. Law degree from Washburn University.
Experience: In 1984, ran unsuccessfully as an independent for governor. Serves on the boards of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. Member of the Citizens Climate Lobby and Sierra Club. Most of his legal practice has been in environmental, civil rights and employment law.
Quote: “The path that I see our country taking, particularly in the House of Representatives, is not sustainable. The further concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands undermines the basic fundamentals of democracy.”
Tobias Schlingensiepen, Democrat
Age: 48 (DOB: Nov. 24, 1963)
Married: Wife, Abigail
Children: Eight children, ages 10 to 31, between he and his wife
Religious affiliation: United Church of Christ
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from Kansas University; the equivalent of a Master of Divinity from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet, Bonn, Germany.
Experience: Senior minister on leave from First Congregational Church, Topeka; volunteer chaplain with the Topeka Police Department; community organizer working on keeping Kansas Neurological Institute open.
Quote: “I believe our nation is strong. A bad economy can’t beat us. We can create new jobs, educate our children, give workers a fair deal, and care for the elderly and vulnerable without bankrupting ourselves, but we have to choose better priorities.”
Scott Barnhart, Democrat
Age: 39 (DOB: March 9, 1973)
Religious affiliation: Christian
Education: Attended Butler County Community College; Kansas University; finished degree in chemistry and physical science education at Emporia State University.
Experience: Former full-time substitute teacher in Lawrence; taught seventh-grade science in Basehor-Linwood; returned to farming in 2001. Ran unsuccessfully for state House in 2010 and state Senate in 2004.
Quote: “I’m just a middle-of-the-road guy. I’m not far left, far right. I’m right in the middle. I can see the issues from both sides, and I would like to see Congress start enacting legislation that benefits the middle instead of the millionaires on one side and billionaires on the other side.”