Thursday, December 18, 2014

Incumbents facing re-election mull 2014 options early

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 12/26/2013

The 2014 primary election might still be months away, but some state and county legislators already are looking ahead and reflecting on their past terms.

The state and county primary election is set for August 2014 with the general election in November 2014.

The 2014 primary election might still be months away, but some state and county legislators already are looking ahead and reflecting on their past terms.

The state and county primary election is set for August 2014 with the general election in November 2014.

State Reps. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, are up for re-election and both said they plan on running again but have not formally filed.

This was the first term for both Finch and Jones. Having learned a lot the first go-round, Finch said, he’s got a better grasp on things that will help in his next term, if he is re-elected.

“So far, I think it’s been good,” Finch said. “I learned a lot and made contact with folks in the district and found out what’s important to them, and hopefully do better the second year.”

Being a state representative is just like any new job, Finch said. The learning curve was tough, but the bills he worked on are what he’s most proud of accomplishing in his time as a state representative. Those successes have laid a lot of the groundwork for his potential next term, he said.

“I had two bills I worked on specifically,” he said. “A bill that removed a barrier to adoption that shortened the time frame, and I’m proud of that bill. Another I worked on with several folks that eliminated the statute of limitations for rape cases.”

He’s already been working on two other bills, he said, and though they’re not in bill form yet, he hopes to see them through during a second term.

“I’ve got a bill to work on to reduce domestic violence and domestic violence homicides and a couple of other bill ideas that would amount to some cost savings for the state on Medicaid,” Finch said. “Going back, it’ll be nice to have the groundwork laid and be ready to hit the ground running for the second year.”

He hasn’t formally filed either, but Jones said he too plans to run for his second term as a state representative.

“When I ran [in 2012], my opponent said it was going to be a huge learning curve, and he was right,” Jones said. “But going into my second year, I know what to expect.”

Trying to do it all was impossible, Jones said, but he was proud of his ability to listen to people and build relationships.

“In the Legislature, everything is small steps it seems like,” he said. “I think my greatest accomplishment is building influence with the people around me, talking to people, not just putting up bills that will make people mad or cause fighting, but actually talking to people and what’s in their hearts, what are things that are important to them.”

Looking ahead to what he hopes will be his second term, Jones said he has an idea of some issues he and other legislators could possibly be facing.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of focus and deal with the most is the school finance stuff with the litigation going on there against the state by schools,” Jones said. “Common Core will come up, even though the state board of education has done some stuff with that. I know that was a hot topic at the end of last session, last year so I’m assuming it will come up again.”

The Kansas Secretary of State position, now held by Republican Kris Kobach, also is up for election in 2014. Kobach hasn’t made a formal announcement on whether he will run again, Kay Curtis, media contact for Kobach, said Monday. Democrats Randy Rolston and Jean Kurtis Schodorf already have formally filed for the Secretary of State position, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., also is up for re-election in 2014, but hasn’t formally filed to run next year, Annie Dwyer, communications director for Jenkins, said.

Reaching across the aisle to work with members of the U.S. Senate was and continues to be an obstacle, Jenkins said.

“Breaking through the gridlock will continue to be a priority, as the House has sent more than 168 bills to the Senate to help get the government out of the way of the economy and create jobs,” Jenkins said via email. “But they are languishing without even a vote.”

Scandals that plagued the government this past year like the National Security Administration’s spying on the American people, the dreary rollout of the health care website and more have and continue to be issues, Jenkins said.

“From the IRS scandal, concerns about the NSA, government agencies churning out more burdensome regulations, and Obamacare taking over one-sixth of the American economy...” she said. “These are only a few examples of the administration chipping away at Americans’ rights and freedoms.”

The health care law, along with the farm bill, are some of Jenkins’ top priorities, she said.

“One of my top priorities in 2014 is passing the farm bill,” she said. “We need certainty for our farmers and ranchers who feed our nation, and we must make sure the programs dedicated to taking care of our nation’s most vulnerable are adequate and sustainable.”

At the county level, the Franklin County sheriff is up for re-election in 2014, as well as three county commissioner seats.

Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said he is enjoying what he’s doing and plans to run for sheriff in 2014. Richards was appointed to the position this spring after the county’s elected sheriff, Jeff Curry, resigned amid allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

“It’s been busy and it’s been a learning experience,” Richards said. “Dealing with a budget from a different side of things, like from the county commission, and I was used to working in municipal government on the political side and in my regular job. And the city government and county government is quite a bit different.”

With the county experiencing some growth, Richards said he thinks areas like Wellsville will start growing even more and the sheriff’s department will need to work to accommodate that development.

“I think the county’s going to be experiencing some growth, and I’ll be having to balance and maintaining a small budget,” he said. “Maintaining responsibility with the budget while trying to grow the department and keep up with the increased demands coming as we increase the growth especially in the northeast part of the county.”

Steve Harris, chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, spent a large chunk of the summer unable to attend county meetings because of health issues. Harris’ 4th District seat is up for election in 2014, but he’s not sure if he’ll run again, he said.

“I do believe there’s been a large consensus on the board and everyone gets along well and that we’ve made strides in the county to go forward in improvements,” Harris said. “We don’t have all the economic development that we’d like to have, but we’re working toward those.”

Continuing to keep up with improvements — be it roads, facilities or overall growth — will be something the board of commissioners continues to look at in coming years, he said.

“You always want to have improvements in roads and maintaining the roads and bridges in the county,” Harris said. “As I said, when I came in and anyone that goes in, you want the best for your citizens and the way you can improve their livelihood is by bringing in more economic development. The only way to keep taxes from going up is broadening the tax base with new citizens and new business.”

The 5th District commission seat currently held by Don Stottlemire also is up for election in 2014. Stottlemire was unable to be reached by The Herald about whether he will seek re-election.

Colton Waymire, vice chairman of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, said his first term went pretty well, and he plans on running again in 2014.

“I accomplished two things I set out to do,” Waymire said. “When I got elected, there was a lot of turmoil between elected officials and county department heads, and everyone gets along now and things are running smooth and there’s continuity and it’s certainly more professional. The other thing I wanted was to find efficiencies, and we have done that from everything from energy efficiencies and we’ve eliminated a few positions and refinancing debt.”

Like Harris, Waymire said looking forward he hopes to be able to help keep up with maintenances and bring in new industrial business.

“Facilities and staying on top of those and roads and other maintenances,” Waymire said. “You don’t want to let those get away from you. The biggest things would be some kind of industrial land development, which would spread out the tax base and take pressure off residential property owners and get some industrial land users in the county.”

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