Local candidates discuss education, voter ID at forum

Incumbent county commissioner Ron Wells speaks at the candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters on Oct. 9, 2016, in response to his opposition Levi Smith on the issue of creating a mental health crisis center for Riley County. The forum was held at the Manhattan Fire Department. (Mariah Stadel | The Collegian)

Local candidates running for elected office touched on a recurring theme Sunday afternoon: how to deal with the unpopular state government.

Candidates running for the Riley County Commission, Kansas House districts 51 and 66 and the Sixth District of the State Board of Education gathered at the Manhattan Fire Station headquarters Sunday afternoon to discuss issues facing their constituents.

Aaron Estabrook (I), a board member of USD 383 running for the BOE spot, said Topeka lawmakers need to figure out a way to budget for education in order to keep schools going at an acceptable level.

“We were forced to make cuts and let go of 12 great teachers because of people in Topeka,” Estabrook said. “I would include the state Board of Education in that for not being a stronger advocate for us.”

Dena Horst (R), a retired school teacher from Salina and current state BOE member, is running for reelection. She also said that funding issues have hurt local schools.

“If we’re going to ensure that Kansans lead the world in student success, we’re going to have to have more funding,” Horst said. “But that means we also have to work with legislators.”

In the 66th district race, Sydney Carlin (D), currently holding the seat, slightly differed in opinion about the Kansas voter ID law currently being reviewed in federal court compared to challenger Stan Hoerman (R).

“I have no problem showing your driver’s license to prove that you are who you are when you go to the polls,” Carlin said. “But I think we are going a little far when we are required to use proof of citizenship documents that are very hard for certain people to get.”

Hoerman said he did not see an issue in the law.

“I don’t think it’s that much of a problem to prove where you are born,” Hoerman said. “Illegal aliens come in, there might be 20 of them using the same Social Security number. Social Security don’t care, they’re collecting all this money from the 20 with the same number and they know they’re not going to have to pay out.”

In the 51st district, Ron Highland (R) is running to keep his seat against challenger Adrienne Olejnik (D). On the topic of education funding, Olejnik said too much time has been spent without creating a solution.

“We have wasted four years knowing that public education funding has been an issue, yet we’ve done nothing about it,” Olejnik said. “At the end of the day, what’s important is that kids get one chance at a good education and are we going to provide that or not?”

Highland said that he would not act without having more information about the money spent on education.

“Is it being spent wisely?” Highland said. “That’s the question we have to ask ourselves. I have been looking at research, looking at different ways that we might fund the schools and make it not temporary, but make it permanent.”

The current school funding formula was ordered to be revised by the Kansas Supreme Court earlier this year as it was found to spend less on some school districts than others.

Ron Wells (R), the incumbent District 3 County Commissioner, is running against challenger Levi Smith (D). Transparency of the county commission was talked about heavily by the two candidates.

Currently, the county meets Mondays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That time is often when most people work and cannot attend, Smith said.

Wells said that attempts made at changing the meeting time resulted in no one attending.

“We’ve tried everything, ” Wells said. “I don’t think everyone here wants to go down and sit in a meeting for eight, nine hours. Not for routine business. If there was something special, then I’d say we have (a night meeting).”

Smith said he disagreed and did not feel like the commissioners had done enough to try to increase transparency.

“We have not tried everything and we ought to,” Smith said. “Rather than hide behind the veil of, ‘Oh, we’ll have zero attendance,’ I think we ought to switch up how our meetings are done … It’s 2016. We can very easily, using an iPhone or anything, film and put up county commission meetings on the internet.”

The last day to register to vote in Kansas is Oct. 18.