Local GOP candidates discuss guns, education standards at county forum

photo by: Peter Hancock

Rep. Ken Corbet of Topeka, answers questions during a GOP candidates forum Tuesday night sponsored by the Douglas County Republican Party. Rep. Tom Sloan of Lawrence, left, his challenger Jeremy Pierce, and Rep. Connie O'Brien of Tonganoxie, right, were among the other candidates participating.

Republican candidates running for the Douglas County Commission and local seats in the Kansas Legislature generally agreed in supporting Second Amendment gun rights, but they differed on whether the state should require people to be trained before they’re allowed to carry concealed weapons, especially in public buildings.

And with the notable exception of Rep. Tom Sloan of Lawrence, all those running for the Legislature said they supported repealing the Common Core education standards and expanding “school choice” initiatives such as private school vouchers and independent charter schools.

Those were among the major topics Tuesday night during a GOP candidates forum sponsored by the Douglas County Republican Party.

“I am absolutely pro-Second Amendment,” said Echo Van Meteren, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City in the 3rd Senate District. “I believe that every individual should have the ability to protect themselves, hunt and do whatever legally they would like to do.”

Rep. Connie O’Brien of Tonganoxie, whose 42nd House District includes part of Leavenworth County and eastern Douglas County, said she has supported allowing former law enforcement officers to carry weapons without a permit.

“And it’s very important that we as citizens have that right too to protect ourselves,” she said. “As you see in this day and age, you never know when you might be a victim.”

O’Brien’s challenger in the GOP primary, Jim Karleskint of Tonganoxie, did not attend Tuesday’s forum.

Rep. Ken Corbet of Topeka, whose 54th House District extends into southwest Douglas County, and Jeremy Pierce of Lawrence, who is challenging Sloan in the 45th House District, went even further.

“The Second Amendment protects the rest of them, and that’s the way this country was set up,” Corbet said. “The bad guys are going to have guns wherever they go, and they’re not going to worry about training. And I believe Kansas is above the curve when you can carry open and concealed in this state without a permit. We may be the only capitol in the country where you can have a concealed weapon in the Statehouse.”

“I believe the Second Amendment is a natural right that predates and preempts the Constitution,” Pierce said. “Even if we didn’t have the Second Amendment, we would have the right to protect ourselves.”

But a few candidates said the state may have gone too far last year in repealing a requirement that people undergo a gun safety training course and obtain a permit before being allowed to carry concealed weapons.

“Possibly we need to re-look at the idea of people, when they first get their concealed carry permit, that they all take the test,” said Meredith Richey of Perry, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence in the 2nd Senate District.

“I support the Second Amendment. I own pistols, rifles and other guns, and I know how to use them,” Sloan said. “Having said that, I also opposed the concealed carry without going through the training. That’s a safety issue. It’s a safety issue for the person carrying the weapon, and it’s a safety issue for the rest of society.”

The state’s gun laws will also have an impact on city and county governments where, beginning next year, governing bodies will have to allow concealed weapons inside public buildings unless they provide adequate security measures to prevent anyone from bringing weapons inside.

The two Republicans running for the 3rd District Douglas County Commission seat both said they have concerns about that.

“I do have concerns about some public offices, especially the city and county commission rooms, simply because there are unstable and irate people that tend to come in,” said Michelle Derusseau.

Her opponent in the primary, Jim Denney, said he shared those concerns, but he still supports the current law.

“I think the Kansas Legislature, as I understand it, has done a reasonable job in saying, ‘if you can guarantee that nobody is going to carry in a gun, then OK,'” he said.

Education policy

The Statehouse candidates were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the Common Core education standards that the Kansas State Board of Education formally adopted as the “Kansas College and Career Ready Standards” in 2010, and most said they want the standards repealed.

But few seemed to realize that the state board is already in the process of revising and updating those standards for English language arts and math, and that they will be amended next summer.

Richey, Van Meteren, O’Brien and Corbet all said they support repealing those standards, arguing that they represent a form of federal intrusion into state education policy.

“I think the biggest problem is that the feds are involved in education in this state,” O’Brien said. “And I think this is more of a local control issue.”

Pierce, however, said he believes the Common Core standards represent an even bigger threat.

“I believe it’s patently wrong to have some of these agendas that are put forth by Common Core such as some of these 72-gender stuff that you see and some of the alternative lifestyle ideas that parents should really be introducing to their kids, not their math teacher,” Pierce said.

The Common Core standards in English language arts and math actually make no mention of human sexuality or alternative lifestyles. Facebook now allows users to choose from 71 different gender identities, but these have nothing to do with Common Core education standards.

Sloan was the only GOP candidate to defend the Common Core standards.

“It was the State Board of Education that initially adopted them,” he said. “The Lawrence school district has looked at them and spent millions of dollars preparing teachers and students and their curriculum for it. More importantly, I’m not seeing that students will be harmed. The change from rote memorization … to more applying what you learn is the future.”

Sloan was also the only GOP candidate at the forum who said he opposes expanding school choice programs like private school vouchers and independent charter schools. All the other Statehouse candidates at the forum said they support those initiatives.

“A public school must accept every student – those who are high achievers; those who are not,” Sloan said. “It’s nice to say that the money should follow the student, and the parent can then determine where the money is spent. But keep in mind that if public schools are going to be the places for the higher-cost, special-needs kids, you’re still going to be spending lots of money there.”

The primary elections will be held Aug. 2. Advance voting in the primaries begins July 13.