Dick Kelsey has been a pastor, owner-operator of a treatment camp for drug- and alcohol-addicted youth, and an eight-year member of the Legislature.
But he says theres one thing he wont be a rubber stamp for somebody elses agenda.
And that has put the conservative Republican senator from Goddard in an unaccustomed position lumped in with Senate moderates targeted by a conservative insurgency, led by Gov. Sam Brownback, that seeks to remold the Senate in the image of the more reliably pro-Brownback House of Representatives.
And that, Kelsey says, is the big difference between him and his opponent in the Aug. 7 Republican primary, Rep. Dan Kerschen of Garden Plain. Kerschen replaced Kelsey in the House when Kelsey won election to the Senate in 2008.
Our voting records are similar, but Ive been much more vocal about things where I see a problem that needs to be addressed and I am determined to try to have things done right, Kelsey said. Sometimes that comes in conflict with different groups, they want you to be silent I believe that we need to lead and you have to lead by speaking out.
Speaking out has been a hallmark of Kelseys style in his two terms in the House and one term as a senator.
In this years session of the Legislature, Kelsey clashed openly with the governor on two major issues: taxes and the governors plans to privatize home-based services for people with developmental disabilities.
Brownbacks tax plan eliminates taxes on income from farms, sole-proprietor businesses, limited liability companies and companies organized under Subchapter S of the federal tax code.
Kelsey whose signature line is that he never voted for a tax or fee increase said he opposed the governors plan because it was too generous to people like himself who have a lot of investment income and too stingy to wage-earning workers.
Kelsey offered his own tax plan that would have cut rates while eliminating exemptions that have been implanted in the tax code over the years.
I basically was taking the fair-tax approach and using consumption tax as the foundation of our tax system, Kelsey said. Mine was revenue-neutral, did not cut the government out of a lot of revenue, whereas his (Brownbacks) addressed strictly income tax and the tax paid by sole proprietorships partnerships, things of that nature. I reduced the corporate income tax, he did not. I thought that was interesting since the chambers (of commerce) are opposing me. They didnt actually get the real relief that I would have given them in my plan.
Kelsey also said the tax code is filled with exemptions that dont make sense. For example, two Rotary clubs, west Wichita and Shawnee County, are exempt from sales taxes by state law while every other Rotary in the state has to pay, Kelsey said.
I eliminated a lot of exemptions because theres a lot of ridiculous exemptions in the sales tax system that we have, Kelsey said. There are probably hundreds of examples where one group pays sales tax, another does not and my belief is either everybody or nobody should get a particular exemption.
Kelsey also opposed the governor on a part of the plan to reform the state Medicaid system by shifting administration of services for the poor and disabled away from state government and into private-sector managed-care, a program known as KanCare.
Kelsey didnt oppose the governor on the medical part of the plan, but he did stand with advocates for the developmentally disabled who opposed extending managed care to the home- and community-based service programs that provide clients with training and assistance in daily living. The advocates were concerned that managed care might not be flexible enough to meet the diversity of needs in the disability population.
Kelsey publicly urged Brownback to proceed with caution, testing the program in one or two pilot projects before extending it statewide.
We do not want to destroy something that is very good in the hope that well get to something better, he said in a rally on the Statehouse steps in April. Lets test it first, not try to whip it all through at one time and find out it doesnt work.
The Legislature ultimately settled on a one-year delay in implementing the part of the KanCare plan that had drawn objections from the disabled and their supporters .
Kelseys maverick stand on taxes has hurt his standing with the Political Action Committee of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, which recently funded a mass mailer supporting Kerschen. The mailer was essentially identical to ones that supported the primary opponents of Sens. Jean Schodorf of Wichita and Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick.
It also brought down his rating by the National Federation of Independent Business, which supported the Brownback tax plan. According to that groups scorecard, the tax vote was the only significant vote where Kelsey and Kerschen took opposite sides.
But Kelsey did beat out Kerschen for the endorsement from Kansans for Life, a coveted endorsement in the pro-life precincts of western Sedgwick County.
If Kelsey survives the challenge from Kerschen no Democrat filed in the district he is planning to put his name in play for Senate majority leader, the No.2 position in leadership behind the Senate president.
Kelsey said he thinks that recent events might give him a leg up in bringing together the moderate and conservative wings of the fractured Republican Senate caucus.
I think I could be effective at bringing different people together, Kelsey said. I have good relationships with all the senators, good personal relationships and I think thats very important. I think I know how to make an organization run effectively. Having been a pastor, I know how to shepherd things through diverse groups.
Now semi-retired, Kelsey has sold the business operation of his Kings Camp treatment center. He continues to own the property, which he leases to the new operators and also manages other properties including his Red Barn, a meeting facility southwest of Goddard.
Kelsey started his career as a pastor for churches in Indiana and then ran a private school for 12 years. He came to Kansas in 1987 and bought Kings Camp in 1990.
He served as pastor of a small church in Garden Plain for three years and served 12 years as executive director of the Wichita Alliance of Evangelical Churches, now known as Heartland Transformation Group.
I worked with about 150 churches and we did a lot of legislative things, pro-life things, pro-family issues, things like that, he said. I started going to Topeka in 1988.