Michael O’Donnell: Government the problem, not the answer

07/24/2012 5:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:11 AM

From what he sees as a Wichita City Council member to what he sees in Topeka and Washington, Michael O’Donnell says government has overreached.

“In many cases, government is the problem, not the answer,” he said.

He plans to push for states’ rights that limit Washington’s influence if he’s elected to the Senate to represent District 25 in central-west Wichita, O’Donnell said. He faces Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf in the primary; the winner will compete against the Democratic primary winner and Libertarian Dave Thomas in November.

O’Donnell wants fewer requirements from the Department of Education and fewer regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, which he said hurt business.

“States should be able to craft our own environmental standards,” he said. “Instead, we have bureaucrats I assume have never set foot in Kansas crafting our regulations.”

Sometimes pushing Washington away can mean less federal funding. And some environmental rules are national because pollution can travel. But O’Donnell says the state needs to find ways to make that less of a burden on businesses.

His main target isn’t so much the physical environment as the economic one.

He said he generally likes the income tax plan signed by Gov. Sam Brownback earlier this year. The plan reduces rates on individual income and eliminates income taxes for farms and a wide variety of businesses. But O’Donnell said he wants to make Kansas more competitive in the region by lowering corporate taxes.

He also said he would push for a law that freezes property taxes for people when they reach age 65.

O’Donnell didn’t have specifics on how state or local governments might have to cut spending or find new streams of income to make that work.

“But I believe we can make it work,” he said. “We’ll cut if needed. It’s a quality of life issue.”

A commitment to taxpayers

O’Donnell’s small-government views have made him one of eight candidates supported by groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, that hope to make the Senate more conservative and more receptive to Brownback’s ideas.

He said his political views were largely forged growing up with a father who is a Baptist pastor and mother who is a teacher and Bel Aire City Council member.

He spent his early years in south Wichita. His family moved to Bel Aire after he finished first grade to be closer to Sunrise Christian Academy, where his mother works. O’Donnell graduated from the academy. He attended Baptist Bible College for a year before starting on a degree in history at Friends University. He graduated in 2007.

When he was 20, O’Donnell took his first official step into politics, running for mayor of Bel Aire. He finished second in a field of four. He took a job as an advertising account executive with Clear Channel and split time between living in a home he rented from Grace Baptist Church in southwest Wichita, where his father is a senior pastor, and his family’s home in Bel Aire.

At age 22 in 2007, he ran for Wichita City Council. But questions arose about his true residency. He was registered to vote at his parents’ house in Bel Aire when he filed for the Wichita seat, although he said he considered his home to be the house behind Grace Baptist Church.

A panel made up of the Sedgwick County elections commissioner, district attorney and register of deeds disqualified O’Donnell from the race.

Last year, he ran again for the District 4 Wichita City Council seat in southwest Wichita.

He beat Joshua Blick, who was supported by Mayor Carl Brewer, with 51 percent of the vote.

O’Donnell criticized Brewer’s endorsement of Blick, and the animosity between the two has surfaced frequently in debates at City Hall. O’Donnell has often been on the slim end of 6-1 votes to provide taxpayer-backed incentives for business developments.

O’Donnell, a 27-year-old whose birthday is the day before the Aug. 7 primary, also works for Wink Hartman’s portfolio of companies, including Hartman Arena.

One of O’Donnell’s most prominent votes was against a package of subsidies aimed at helping developers build the Ambassador Hotel and parking garage downtown.

Although proponents promoted the proposal as a way to produce construction and service jobs in Wichita, O’Donnell said he felt it was too much taxpayer risk compared with the jobs that could result.

“I do not believe taxpayers should be held accountable for whether a business fails or succeeds, whether it’s General Motors or the Ambassador Hotel,” he said. “We don’t share their profits, why should we share their loss?”

O’Donnell also voted against an incentive package in partnership with the state to give Hawker Beechcraft $2.5 million in return for retaining at least 3,600 jobs. At the time his opposition focused on discrepancies in how many jobs the contract would require Hawker to keep – the company and city officials promoted it as 4,000, although the contract dictated it only had to keep 3,600.

But O’Donnell said the company’s poor financial standing also played a role, and now he said he feels justified as the company works through bankruptcy – although he said he prays for a positive outcome and wants the company to be successful.

“My commitment to the taxpayers is of far greater importance than popularity,” he said.

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