Senate candidates focus on budget, school funding

Jim Price, left, and Lynn Rogers are facing off in the District 25 race for the Kansas Senate.
Jim Price, left, and Lynn Rogers are facing off in the District 25 race for the Kansas Senate. Courtesy photos

The Eagle is profiling legislative races for open seats in Sedgwick County. Today’s report focuses on Kansas Senate District 25 in central Wichita. To learn more about these candidates or to find out about the candidates in your area, go to The Eagle’s voter guide at Kansas.com/politics.

The race

Democrat Lynn Rogers and Republican Jim Price are battling for the District 25 seat in the state Senate. The seat is open after Sen. Michael O’Donnell decided to run for the Sedgwick County Commission instead.

Democrats see the race as possibly their best chance to pick up a Senate seat.

O’Donnell, a Republican and former Wichita City Council member, won the district four years ago with 46.6 percent of the vote to his opponent’s 45.3 percent after campaign-season revelations that his opponent had a history of bad debts and drug use.

This time, the situation is largely reversed, with Democrats running a local elected officeholder while the Republicans have a candidate with a troubled past.

The L-shaped district includes the Twin Lakes, Riverside and Delano neighborhoods, along with a substantial portion of south Wichita stretching from the Big Ditch to Oliver.

The candidates

Rogers is a recently retired vice president of CoBank Farm Credit Leasing, a financial institution that provides credit to farmers.

He is a 15-year member of the Wichita school board. He hasn’t been challenged in an election since 2009, and he drew more than 70 percent of the vote in the 2009, 2005 and 2001 elections.

He switched his registration from Republican to Democrat in 2015 when he decided to oppose O’Donnell. He ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Price is a construction project manager and defense contractor. This is his third time running for public office. He ran in the Republican primary for House District 88 two years ago, getting 33 percent of the vote against current Rep. Joseph Scapa.

Last year, Price got 15 percent of the vote challenging incumbent Pete Meitzner for a seat on the Wichita City Council. Price said he didn’t campaign actively in the city race but didn’t want to see Meitzner run unopposed.

Price beat William Eveland 68 percent to 31 percent in the District 25 Republican primary to advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

Price was convicted in an armed robbery in Texas in 1990 and for interfering with law enforcement officers investigating his son’s small marijuana-growing operation in 2012. The Kansas Democratic Party resurrected those convictions in a mailer sent to District 25 voters this week, characterizing Price as a “criminal” and calling him Gov. Sam “Brownback’s choice for his next Wichita accomplice.”

Price has said the robbery, which occurred when he was 18, was committed by two hitchhikers he picked up, which was why they were sentenced to 14 years in prison and he served 120 days in a “shock” program designed to turn around young offenders. He has said he was unaware of his son’s marijuana-growing operation until he came home from a trip and found police at his house and that the Butler County sheriff overreacted to what he thought was a father-son drug ring.

The issues

Price said he’s motivated by a desire to see more transparency in the state budget process and school funding. He said the public is confused by the state’s claims of rising spending, set against news reports of cuts in schools and other state services.

“When we put more money into something, are we really hitting the ground with it?” he said. “That’s kind of where I’ve been at over and over.”

He said he wants the Legislature to give more detailed direction on how state agencies and schools spend money “so that we know the people who are doing the hands-on work are getting those benefits.”

Price said he doesn’t think Brownback’s zero tax rate for limited liability companies and similar business entities is working the way the governor and Legislature intended, because many business owners end up not having taxable income anyway after filing their federal tax forms.

He is not specifically seeking repeal of the LLC exemption but said he wants to rework the tax code to lower taxes for all taxpayers.

Rogers is an advocate for increasing school funding. The Wichita district is one of four that successfully argued in the state Supreme Court that state aid to schools was inequitably distributed under Brownback’s “block grant” school funding formula. The question before the court now is whether overall funding is adequate, and Rogers has been in the thick of the fight.

Rogers said he wants to repeal the LLC tax exemption, which he said primarily benefits wealthy taxpayers and has contributed to ongoing budget deficits and instability in government services.

“We’re broke as a state,” he said.

Rogers said he’s not averse to cutting spending to help balance the budget, but “our problem is as a state we’ve never had a discussion about what we’d want to cut … what’s important to us and what are the priorities.”

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas