Democratic Big First Congressional candidate Alan Jilka talks to audience members Monday at Ruffino’s Restaurant in Liberal. Jilka will face Republican candidate Tim Huelskamp in the November general election. Daily Leader photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Like many of his Republican colleagues, Alan Jilka feels solutions are needed to some of the nation’s biggest problems, but he believes the issues need to be looked at from a different angle.
The Democratic candidate for Kansas’ Big First Congressional seat was in Liberal Monday at Ruffino’s Restaurant to address some of those concerns, among them reducing the nation’s budget and improving its border security.
Jilka said the latter needs to include immigration reform that protects economic interests in the U.S. He said Tim Huelskamp, his Republican opponent in the November general election, believes all undocumented immigrants should be deported. Jilka feels that would be a disaster for the American economy.
“Certainly, we need better border security,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago, Congress passed a $600-million bill on border security issues that provided for things like cell phone towers in Arizona and more border patrol on horseback.”
Jilka said he would like to see English as a requirement for those already in America.
“They need to do a background check on all of them,” he said. “People with any kind of criminal record need to be deported. There needs to be some sort of fine or acknowledgement that you’re in the country illegally. I called it earned citizenship.”
Jilka likewise believes the federal No Child Left Behind mandate needs some changes.
“Going away from this rigid one size fits all system might be good,” he said. “I certainly would want to work with educators, school superintendents, principals and teachers in fashioning the solution. I would want to be a friend instead of an enemy.”
Jilka said addressing the federal budget, there is no doubt spending needs to be cut.
“Secretary Gates came out with some ideas 10 days or so ago,” he said. “He quoted Eisenhower extensively about the need to streamline defense budgets.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is one agency Jilka believes has much in the way of wasteful spending, and he also feels issues need to be looked at concerning the taxing side of the nation’s budget.
“Even people like Alan Greenspan have said the tax cuts of the previous decade were a mistake, and they’re a large part of our structural deficit today,” he said. “At minimum, we should let the tax cuts on the highest earners expire.”
Jilka said more of the focus should be on the taxing side of the equation, and that has not been the case up to this point.
“The proper way to phrase the question is ‘Are you concerned about the federal deficit?’” he said. “Don’t tell me that you’re concerned about the federal deficit and you want to extend those tax cuts. That’s a contradiction in terms. You’re either concerned about the deficit or you’re not.”
Huelskamp, according to Jilka, like many, wants to repeal the Obamacare package passed earlier this year. The Democrat said while a change is needed in health care, a total repeal is not.
“I am not going to vote to kick people with pre-existing conditions off their insurance,” he said. “I’m not going to vote to kick people in their early 20s off their parents’ insurance. I’m not going to vote to re-open the donut hole. I believe in repairing health care reform, not repealing it.”
The Big First District has been traditionally Republican-controlled, and Jilka said for a Democrat to take control will require a significant vote from moderate Republicans.
“When Democrats have won elections in Kansas, they’ve done that by attracting a large number of moderate Republican votes,” he said.
A Salina native, Jilka graduated in 1984 from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in history. During college, he interned with U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican, and later for Democratic Congressman Dan Glickman from Wichita, who later served as U.S. agriculture secretary.
“So I’ve worked on Capitol Hill for both a Republican and Democrat,” Jilka said.
Jilka later served three four-year terms on the Salina City Commission and three separate stints as mayor of that city. He said he plans to lead the First District by using the same skills and approach he used in local government.
“Try to work with people to solve problems,” he said.
Before beginning his run for the U.S. Senate, current First District Congressman Jerry Moran (R-Hays) traveled the 69 counties of the district during his time in office, and Jilka said this trend needs to continue as one step of regaining the public’s trust in government.
“When I announced on Oct. 1 of last year, I said the main thing I would want to imitate about Jerry Moran is the way he traveled the district,” Jilka said. “He did a phenomenal job of covering this district. People want to see their Congressman occasionally.”
Jilka added the advent of 24-hour cable news television stations has been a negative development for democracy.
“Tip O’Neill used to say ‘All politics is local,’” he said. “That’s no longer true. People can get their news from their own politically comforting source, listen to a station all day long that re-enforces their particular bias. I think that is a part of this breakdown in trust, and I’m not sure what to do about that part of the equation.”
Jilka said he believes some of the values of America’s founding fathers should be revisited, and this could help in solving its woes.
“I think more people should go back and read George Washington’s farewell address in 1796 in which he warned about the dangers of obsessive partisanship and people getting focused more on the good of their party than the nation as a whole,” he said.