If there are two things that Rep. Dan Kerschen wants you to know about his effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Dick Kelsey, its that Kerschen is 100 percent anti-abortion and that he thinks the incumbent shouldnt criticize Gov. Sam Brownback as much as he does.
He (Kelsey) pledges to be conservative and pro-business but yet he criticized the tax plan, vocal criticism of the plans and the governors activities, to I think just highlight himself, Kerschen said. He claims to be a work together person. In his ad he says that he works together to get things done. How do you get things done when you spend most of your time in front of a camera criticizing the governor?
While their voting records are similar, Kerschen said ambition is a major difference between himself and the sitting senator, specifically Kelseys hope of becoming the Senate majority leader if he wins re-election. The majority leader is selected by other Republican senators.
Dick is willing to vote both ways to get what he wants and thats a leadership position, Kerschen said. Hes assured everybody hes going to be majority leader well, (depending on) what group wins the Senate, how do you plan on doing that and getting the votes. Anytime youre focused that much on yourself, I dont think thats such a good idea.
The winner of the primary is unopposed in the November election.
Kerschen, who for four years has served as a state representative from Garden Plain, is reaping support from efforts by Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to replace Republican senators and break a narrow moderate GOP majority. But Kerschen said reapportionment was the biggest factor in his decision to challenge Kelsey in the 26th Senate District.
Federal judges who drew new legislative district maps last month put Kerschen in the same district as his close friend, Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie.
I room with the guy (in Topeka), Kerschen said. I couldnt have campaigned for that seat with the enthusiasm I wanted to.
Kerschen and Kelsey are both conservative, but Kelsey broke with Brownback over the governors tax plan, which eliminates state income tax on income from farms, sole proprietor businesses, limited liability companies and corporations organized under Subchapter S of the federal tax code.
Kelsey said he felt the plan was unfair to wage-earning workers and proposed his own tax plan relying more heavily on taxes on goods and services and eliminating special-interest exemptions.
We definitely disagree on that, Kerschen said. He has pushed that tax plan for three years now and it never got out of committee. I dont know exactly what the votes were, but its going nowhere.
In this years legislative session, the governor and more conservative House outmaneuvered the Senate, passing a bill that Senators had approved as a placeholder to open negotiations on taxes. The House took that action after a compromise bill appeared not to have enough votes to pass the Senate.
Of the plan that did pass, Kerschen said Its good enough, I would say, its a start. It isnt perfection but we spend three months crafting a plan and this was a by-product of that. The choice was that or no plan. There were those who wanted to have no plan.
Their differences on the tax vote gave Kerschen a 92 percent rating by the National Federation of Independent Business while Kelsey got a 67 ratings that have become a staple of Kerschens stump speeches.
Kerschen was stung, however, when Kelsey landed the endorsement of Kansans for Life, the states largest anti-abortion group. Both candidates have 100 percent ratings from the organization.
Kerschen was particularly irritated by a Kelsey mailing trumpeting the endorsement and criticizing Kerschen for not signing a pro-life petition by the Kansas Coalition for Life, a smaller anti-abortion group headed by former Sedgwick County Republican chairman Mark Gietzen.
The coalition group is pushing for a heartbeat bill that would forbid abortion as soon as a fetus heartbeat could be detected, usually seven to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. Kansans for Life has not embraced that as part of its legislative agenda.
Kerschen said hes as against abortion as anybody but felt the heartbeat bill was a distraction from Kansans for Lifes agenda of more incremental steps toward ending abortion.
He (Kelsey) got the (Kansans for Life) endorsement because hes the incumbent, Kerschen said. Fine, but dont tell me Im not pro-life because I didnt sign one of Mark Gietzens petitions, for sure.
Kerschen and Kelsey both voted for a one-year delay in Brownbacks plan to privatize home and community-based services for the disabled.
The plan, part of Brownbacks efforts to reform Medicaid under a new umbrella called KanCare, had significant pushback from supporters of people with mental disabilities, who argued that managed care might not have the flexibility to respond to clients diverse needs.
But Kerschen said he arrived at his decision to vote on the delay for different reasons, saying he had talked to service providers who said theyd need the extra year to make the program work.
They were not bashing the governor, saying this is terrible, Kerschen said. And thats what Dick is doing. He is making a point to make the governor look bad with KanCare. Dick is targeting the governor for that issue and is relentless about trying to embarrass him and make that whole program look bad when weve got buy-in on the rest of it.
Kerschen said the answer for people with disabilities is the same as for everyone else jobs.
He points with pride to his support for Employment 1st, which affirmed a state commitment to assisting the disabled in finding employment and established a commission to monitor progress.
If youre serious about helping the people with disabilities the Employment 1st law can make it so that can happen and were for helping those people get off of Medicaid and get back to work, Kerschen said.
Kerschen says the disability issue illustrates the different style that he and Kelsey bring to the Legislature.
You dont get people to go cooperate with you by bashing them in front of the television and then go in the back room and say well lets get something fixed, Kerschen said. When I disagree I go to the parties and we have a negotiation, I dont insult them and make them look bad in public.
Ive talked to the governor a number of times. I dont make a display out of it. Hes been available and willing to listen. (Lieutenant Gov.) Jeff Colyer, the same way. I give them credit for that.
While Kelsey frequently speaks on the Senate floor, Kerschen rarely goes to the well to address the House.
I go down there when its important to go down there, when its an issue that needs to be addressed and you need to say something about it, he said. There are plenty of those who go down to grandstand and weigh in on every single issue.
I think the secret is you have to be able to pull in the votes. Not to be self-centered about the deal, but Ive been told that when I speak at the well, we can bring the votes on important issues.