Thursday, October 30, 2014

Republicans spar, expose GOP rift

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/25/2014

An election shouldn’t come down to political mailers meant to disparage a certain candidate, state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Tuesday night during a candidate forum organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Folks, this isn’t what politics are about,” Finch told the crowd and opponent Bob Fluke, Ottawa, who was seated nearby on stage at the Ottawa Municipal Auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St. “When [outside special interest groups] come in here negative, slinging mud and slandering people, that’s wrong. And that’s not the type of politics you and I ought to be about, Bob, if we care about our kids and our kid’s kids.”

An election shouldn’t come down to political mailers meant to disparage a certain candidate, state Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said Tuesday night during a candidate forum organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Folks, this isn’t what politics are about,” Finch told the crowd and opponent Bob Fluke, Ottawa, who was seated nearby on stage at the Ottawa Municipal Auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St. “When [outside special interest groups] come in here negative, slinging mud and slandering people, that’s wrong. And that’s not the type of politics you and I ought to be about, Bob, if we care about our kids and our kid’s kids.”

But the Republican primary election race for the Kansas House District 59 seat has seen many mailers sent to homes throughout Franklin and Osage counties. The race features Finch, the incumbent, and former teacher Fluke, and will be decided in the Aug. 5 election. Both candidates spoke to possible voters at the candidate forum, as well as to The Herald, to explain their campaigns.

Fluke, who also serves as Franklin County Republican Central Committee chairman, said his reason for running against Finch is because he wants to represent the people, not himself.

“I have no political step ladder to climb,” Fluke said in June when he filed for election. “I just want to represent the people of the 59th District.”

While the two candidates have gone tit for tat, receiving endorsements from various groups in the race, political mailers paid by special interests and political action committees have gotten nasty, Finch said at the forum. Fluke mentioned to The Herald that he wished he knew what was on third-party mailers that endorsed him before they were sent. He also responded at the forum to Finch’s call against negative campaigning, by mentioning an endorsement Finch received from Kansas ValuesInstitute as “totally anti-Brownback.” He said the group consisted of former Republicans who are now Democrats and are trying to move the state in a different direction.

“I’m up here as a Republican candidate, not something else,” Fluke said.

Finch told The Herald he’s about putting people over politics.

“Whether working with family members, coworkers, neighbors or legislators, we have to do more than just disagree if we’re going to get anything done,” Finch said.

EDUCATION

The largest responsibility of the Kansas Legislature is forming the state’s budget, Finch told The Herald, and a large part of the budget happens to be education funding.

Finch voted against a bill that aimed to increase funding to Kansas public schools by $129 million because of provisions added at the last minute that were more beneficial to corporate businesses than funding schools for children, he said.

House Bill 2506 originally was written by Finch and others with the aim of raising funds for schools, and was endorsed by Gov. Sam Brownback, Finch said. But later in the bill-making process, provisions that stripped due process rights from teachers and created corporate tax breaks for companies forced Finch to think twice about his position on the legislation that ultimately came up for a vote, he said.

“The bill [that eventually passed] took more money out of classrooms than the House bill [that was endorsed by the governor], and put more money into corporations for scholarship tax credits,” Finch said in March. “It will spend $10 million in tax money to subsidize what corporations can already do and get a tax credit for.”

After the bill passed and was awaiting Brownback’s signature, Fluke, in his role as the local GOP chairman, told The Herald he also didn’t support the bill and couldn’t understand why the bill was passed so quickly when it was so important.

“Why did they, first of all, speed it through on a weekend when not a lot of people knew it?” Fluke said in April. “Couldn’t they have come back and really looked at it?”

Due process rights have been part of Kansas education since 1957, and it didn’t just become a bad thing in the week the bill was created, Fluke said in April.

“I don’t want any bad teachers in the profession, obviously I don’t think anyone does. But at the same time, I don’t want any teachers wrongfully attacked,” Fluke said at the time.

A way to fix the funding issue, Fluke said this week, was first to cut out Common Core standards and allow the state to continue to develop its own testing.

“It’s a waste of time and it’s a waste of money,” Fluke said at Tuesday’s forum. “We used to come up with our own testing in schools and we had a great time at it. We knew where our students were.”

He also was upset with school districts misusing the state funding they receive, he said, using the example of school districts building new football fields and other districts helping pay for it through their taxes. Some funding should be sent to local levels so those issues can be addressed without other districts helping pay for it, he said.

“Why do the people over here in this district get to build a $5 million stadium — and I’m all for football — but why should I have to help pay for that stadium?” Fluke said. “Let it come back to the people of the districts where they spend the money, and let them decide.”

Finch told the crowd that the state was still “under the gun” with the Gannon court case relating to education funding. The law passed this spring only addressed part of the court case’s ruling, which contended the state was not funding education properly, he said. Finch mentioned an effort in his first session to look into making year-long school, which would remove the re-learning curve students experience when they take three month off for summer.

“We have to make sure our outcomes are as good as they can be for our students,” Finch said. “What we can’t do is make cuts so deep that our students don’t get the education they need.”

PRO-LIFE

Fluke told the crowd at the candidate forum that Finch does not have a 100-percent pro-life voting record, as the incumbent claims. The issue, however, appears more complex than the challenger explained.

During the 2013 and 2014 sessions, Finch did not vote against any bills considered pro-life, but two bills from the same day in the 2013 session related to the issue — House Bill 2253, which states that life begins at fertilization and prohibits certain abortions; and Senate Bill 199, which dealt with stem cell research — did not receive “yes” votes from Finch because he was absent during discussion of the bills. Finch, however, did vote in favor of Senate Bill 142, which dealt with “wrongful life” and “wrongful birth” issues, considered civil rights for the unborn.

Finch said legislation — pro-life and otherwise — is more complex than many people understand.

“Increasingly, people want your opinion in sound bites,” Finch told The Herald. “Things are more complicated than that. Sometimes you have to dig into the details.”

Pressed for specifics on the claim that Finch doesn’t support pro-life education, Fluke told the forum crowd to ask Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans For Life, a pro-life advocacy group, although he offered no further explanation.

“There’s a reason my opponent’s endorsement got pulled [from Kansans For Life],” Fluke said. “When he says 100-percent pro life? No. Go ask Mary Kay Culp. There’s a reason why that happened.”

Fluke told The Herald he lives his pro-life beliefs, mentioning his daughter who lives with a disability and his adopted son, as well as his religious values.

Asked whether, if elected, he planned to represent constituents who did not fall under the “conservative Republican” umbrella, Fluke said he would vote according to majority rule, emphasizing he believes conservatives dominate the majority of House District 59.

“I think it’s all about majority rule,” Fluke said. “If it’s a bill totally against a Republican value that the majority of people of this district want, that’s how I’ll vote. But I don’t think moderates are a majority of this particular district.”

An aspect of Finch’s philosophy on bill-making and voting developed during his first term in the House, the incumbent said.

“Not every problem is going to be solved with legislation,” Finch said. “In my opinion and experience, legislation is usually the last resort.”

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