Two incumbents vying for the House District 116 seat say their legislative records – especially how they voted on the 2012 income tax cuts – should give constituents a clear idea of whom they want to represent the newly redrawn district.
Democrat Vince Wetta and Republican Kyle Hoffman found themselves campaigning against each other after federal judges handed down a redistricting plan that combined parts of their House Districts 80 and 116 and eliminated others.
Hoffman said he sees their mutual incumbency as a strength because it gives voters a chance to evaluate the candidates on their voting records, rather than betting on a challenger’s ideas.
“In some cases it’s actually easier running against an incumbent. … I have a record. He has a record, and we can look to those records,” said Hoffman, who calls himself as a social and fiscal conservative.
Wetta, a self-described moderate to conservative Democrat, agrees the matchup hasn’t caused problems with his campaign.
“The only problem is that we have to run against each other,” said Wetta, whose old district shifted to no longer cover northwestern Sumner County, including Wellington, where he’s lived for nearly five decades. “We didn’t want it – neither one of us wanted it – but nobody asked us.”
District 116 covers Barber, Comanche, Harper and northwestern Sumner counties.
The general election is Nov. 6.
Hoffman, a 41-year-old farmer, rancher and gas station owner, is seeking his second term. He is a resident of Coldwater in Comanche County, where he grew up.
Wetta, 66, is running for his fourth term. He is a retired BNSF Railway conductor and engineer.
The pair, who served together on the House agriculture committee, say they like each other – are friends, even – but that did not influence either’s decision to seek the seat.
Among issues both candidates said were integral in the campaign is the outcome of this year’s income tax bill.
Wetta, who voted against the measure, said the numbers don’t add up. He’s concerned the plan will hurt schools and cause a hike in property taxes because the cuts are too deep. “It’s not fair,” he said. He added he hopes the bill works and brings in thousands of jobs, but he remains skeptical.
“What I worry about most is that we are going to hurt the most vulnerable people in Kansas: the young, poor, the elderly, the disabled, the developmentally disabled,” he said.
Hoffman, meanwhile, backed the plan, which he calls “friendly to wage people” and small businesses.
“I really firmly believe that, over the next several years, it is going to change the way businesses perform in Kansas,” he said. “I think it’s exactly what we needed at this time.”
Each candidate says that if elected, he plans to seek less restrictive measures on Kansas gambling so some organizations – churches and fraternal organizations, for example – could resume raffles and other fundraising activities currently prohibited by law.
Each said funding education for the mostly rural district also is a priority.
Hoffman said he also would focus efforts on changing water policies to protect resources dwindling from drought and on changing regulations that impede businesses, including those in the energy industry.
He also said he supports construction of a much-debated 895-megawatt coal plant – a Sunflower Electric Power project – in the southwestern Kansas town of Holcomb. Its construction is stalled in court amid allegations that the plant would violate environmental policies and pose a health risk to humans.
“We have to get Holcomb built. It should’ve already been built,” he said.
Wetta said he would work to address concerns about property taxes and other matters brought to his attention by constituents, and he plans to focus on transportation, including railroads.
He also said he’s upset about the state spending money on projects out of funds earmarked for other purposes, such as gambling and alcohol addiction and transportation.
“Stop robbing the transportation fund to pay for the Capitol dome and everything else,” he said.
Both face representing new voters. Hoffman, however, says the district’s Republican majority and multi-county makeup give him an advantage over Wetta.
Of the district’s 15,069 voters, more than half — 7,823 — are registered Republicans, according to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office. Slightly more than 3,000 are Democrats and 4,151 are unaffiliated, while fewer than 100 are Libertarians or Reform Party members.
Hoffman said he is used to representing a large, multi-county district.
Wetta, who told The Eagle in June he worried that redistricting would make campaigning tough, says he has been very well received among the voters he seeks to represent.
“I worked on the railroad out there for 30 years, and I know all of those towns, and I came from a small town.
“It’s been a lot of fun, really,” meeting voters in the new areas of the district, he said.