Sitting at his Wichita home this week, Om Chauhan presented a 1984 hardware store receipt for a pair of pliers that cost $7.61.
The story goes that during the mid-1980s, the U.S. Department of Defense spent $700 on the same tool. Chauhan, then a civilian engineer with the Air Force, said he testified several times to Congress about wasteful spending in the military and the need for a systematic audit of expenses.
Now, he hopes to bring that same critical eye to Topeka.
Chauhan, a Democrat, is running for the state House District 87 seat now held by Raj Goyle, who is running for Congress. Chauhan's opponent is Republican Joseph Scapa. Neither has held political office.
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Chauhan, 69, is a retired engineer who manages single-family rental properties.
As a candidate, he emphasizes the need for a systemic review of the expenses linked to school funding.
From 1993-94 to 2008-09, state aid per pupil rose by 118.6 percent, said Chauhan, citing a report by the Kansas Policy Institute, which describes itself as an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions. The report used numbers provided by the Kansas State Department of Education.
The Kansas Supreme Court declared the state in violation of constitutional mandates on financing K-12 education in 2005, leading the Legislature to phase in an increase of more than $800 million in aid over four years, beginning with the 2005-06 academic year.
Chauhan said he doesn't "see a relationship with spending and school (test) scores. I'm committed to funding education, but we have to go and figure out the problems in the management system."
If elected, Chauhan wants to create an audit team of education experts that would review school district expenditures with the intent of finding efficiencies and services that have been duplicated. He also proposed canvassing teachers to see what they need in the classroom.
"My idea is try to get some bipartisan support and analyze the entire (educational) system, based on what we need and what we really don't need," Chauhan said. "We can save millions on that."
In order to improve classroom performance, Chauhan said the state could tie funding to a mandate that requires all districts to develop an educational growth plan.
In terms of job creation, Chauhan said Kansas should concentrate on three particular steps: offer tax incentives for new businesses, eliminate regulations that hamper the growth of businesses, and sponsor job re-education programs.
If jobs in the aircraft industry are being eliminated, the state should look to work with private industries that are growing, like wind and solar energy firms, he said. The state could compensate those businesses to create job re-education centers.
So far in the campaign, Chauhan has developed a fundraising lead over Scapa, raising $18,675 through July 28, while Scapa had $11,675.
Chauhan was a registered Republican for three decades, but switched parties in June.
He was thinking about switching parties after the primary, he said, depending on which candidates emerged. But Goyle, a longtime family friend, told him he should switch earlier if he wanted to run for this seat.
He said he does not align with people on the fringe of either party.
"Some of these extremist right-wingers kind of ruined the name of the party — same with Democrats (who are extremely left-wing)," Chauhan said. "I'm a moderate person. I'm fiscally conservative and socially moderate."
In running for the state House, Chauhan said he wants to give back to a country that offered him many opportunities.
He emigrated from India to the U.S. in 1966 and has lived in several different places since. He has lived in Wichita since 1984.
"I have achieved my dreams," Chauhan said. "I think it's time for me to give something back."