2020 Voters Guide: Topeka mayor, Kansas state treasurer vying for U.S. House seat in 2nd Congressional District
photo by: Contributed, File Photos
Topeka mayor Michelle De La Isla and Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner will be facing off this year in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District — a seat that was decided by less than 1% of the vote in the 2018 midterms.
De La Isla, a Democrat, and LaTurner, a Republican, are vying for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Rep. Steve Watkins. Watkins, whom LaTurner unseated in the Republican primary in August, faced several scandals in his first and only term in Congress, including allegations of voter fraud that led to his being charged with three felonies.
LaTurner, at 32, is the youngest statewide elected official in the United States. He served in the Kansas Senate for several years before his election as state treasurer in 2016. De La Isla, 44, served for several years on the Topeka City Council before being elected mayor of Kansas’ capital city in 2018.
The only public poll profiling the race thus far, conducted in August shortly after the primary, showed De La Isla within the margin of error against LaTurner, trailing by only four percentage points.
Neither the De La Isla campaign nor the LaTurner campaign returned inquiries from the Journal-World seeking an interview for this story. However, an examination of the candidates’ campaign websites shows stark differences in where they stand on key issues:
LaTurner’s campaign website offers little information about his immigration views, but it does appear to endorse one of President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement proposals — the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The section of the website titled “Protect Our County, Build The Wall” doesn’t offer any specifics beyond the mention of the wall in the title.
“The safety and security of our nation will be among my top priorities,” LaTurner’s website says, adding that “Protecting American interests abroad and at our borders is critical to a free and prosperous society.”
According to the Kansas News Service, LaTurner believes that guest worker programs can provide enough legal immigrants to meet America’s labor needs, and that the nation should still work to block illegal immigration.
De La Isla, on her website, says she views immigration reform as a way to help the economy and enrich American culture. While her website says that “Our border must be secured,” she is against a border wall and opposes family separations at the border. Her website also says that any immigration reform proposals should include a path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already in the U.S.
“Every county in Kansas relies on hard-working immigrants who not only grow our local economies, but also make our communities stronger and more vibrant,” her website says. “We should simultaneously work on securing our borders, while providing fair and efficient pathways to citizenship, and access to work programs for migrants without criminal records.”
Agriculture is one of the most important issues for many Kansas voters, given its prevailing influence on the state’s economy and job market.
De La Isla offers a three-pronged plan for representing the state’s agricultural interests: more financial relief to farmers than was provided in a short-term bailout in July; diversifying Kansas’ portfolio for exporting crops after recent trade and tariff wars with China; and investing in industrial hemp production.
“In Congress, I will advocate for sustainable economic, social, and environmental solutions that will support farmers, food processors, and manufacturers,” De La Isla says on her website. “We must continue to meet the world’s need for food without compromising the ability of future generations to farm and meet the needs of their communities.”
LaTurner, meanwhile, says he’ll fight for Kansas to always have representation on congressional agricultural committees.
“Agriculture is a critical part of the history and future of Kansas. It is important for us to protect our farmers and ranchers by keeping regulations low, finding new markets for trade, and promoting investment in precision Ag and (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology,” he says on his website. “I will fight for the best interests of Kansas agriculture in Congress. Our farmers and ranchers will know they have a voice in Washington.”
De La Isla and LaTurner have strikingly different views on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reporting by the Kansas News Service.
LaTurner said the federal government responded well to the pandemic early on by limiting travel to China. But De La Isla said the federal response didn’t go far enough. She said the U.S. should have closed its borders sooner and made more of an effort to secure personal protective equipment, and she also said the government didn’t do a good job of communicating with the public about the crisis.
Moving forward, LaTurner told the Kansas News Service he wanted to see tax cuts and less federal regulation to help the economy recover from the pandemic. De La Isla, meanwhile, called for increasing access to health care and virus testing. LaTurner opposes mask mandates, while De La Isla supports them.
Other issues to note
On the issue of race relations and policing, the candidates both said police officers needed to be held accountable for their actions, the Kansas News Service reported. LaTurner added that while people have the right to protest, he opposes violent protests and looting. And De La Isla said that it’s possible to support both police and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Neither candidate delves too deeply into social issues on the campaign websites, but De La Isla does call for widely increasing access to affordable health care, while LaTurner says he wants to overhaul the welfare system by enforcing work requirements for those receiving benefits. LaTurner’s website also says that he supports setting term limits for members of Congress.
Advance mail ballots can be sent beginning Wednesday, and the general election takes place on Nov. 3.
— The Kansas News Service contributed to this story.