By Charles Redfield
For years, the MainStream Coalition, a group that works to combat extremism in Kansas legislative issues, has focused its efforts in the communities in northern Johnson County where it was founder. On Thursday, MainStream made its first foray into southern Johnson County politics.
MainStream held a forum featuring elected officials and the directors of advocacy groups at the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, 12895 Antioch.
“This was our first one out here,” MainStream Executive Director Brandi Fisher said. “We had almost 200 people here.”
The people attending were happy with the election results that saw more moderate Republicans and Democrats elected to the State Legislature. Last week’s results mean moderate Republicans and Democrats together will have more votes than conservative Republicans in both the Senate and the House. Fisher said that MainStream backed six candidates in the general election and four of them won.
The program featured three people representing organizations that want to be involved in the Legislative process. Annie McKay, formerly of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, is now directory of Kansas Action for Children.
“We have a lot of work to do and we need to get people involved,” she said. “(A recent) poll said that 70 percent of Kansans think the state is going in the wrong direction…There been a lot of lost opportunities for little kids because of the budget cuts.”
McKay noted that there is an opportunity in the 2017 Legislative session for real tax reform.
“A start is to get back to where we were before the 2012-2013 Brownback tax plan,” she said.
Sheldon Weisgrau from the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas talked about the problems that have come up because of the cuts to health programs like Medicaid and KanCare.
“People have been waiting to enroll and payments have been delayed to providers,” he said.
He noted that some of the funds were not sent to providers because the patient had died.
“We have had big changes (with this election) and hopefully we are going to go in the right direction,” he said.
Weisgrau warned that United States Congress might go to block grants for Medicaid and Medicare. He warned that block grants usually don’t come with a lot of strings attached, which raises concerns about the quality of care delivered.
Jennifer Crow, who represented Kansans for Fair Courts, reported that Kansans rejected conservatives’ efforts to oust a number of Supreme Court justices, retaining all.
The big key according to the panelists was tax reform.
“The hard reality is that it all depends on tax reform,” McKay said. “It’s going to hard to get back where we were before.”
“Education and tax reform will be the most important items to be addressed (in the 2017 Legislative session),” he said.
McKay asked Fairway Republican Representative Melissa Rooker to talk about education funding. She was re-elected for her third term in the House earlier this month. She said that she expects a decision from the Kansas Supreme Court before the Legislative session begins in January. And the decision will likely say that the schools need to be funded better than they are now.
“We could go back to the old formula or we could come up with a new formula,” she said. “This will require new funding for education. We need patience and understanding because it won’t happen overnight.”
You can see a video of the forum in its entirety below: