By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
For those currently serving in elected office, the mood of the nation has not been kind. A number of incumbents have been defeated in primary elections, and some have chosen to run for other offices in an anti-Washington year.
And while many are pointing fingers at the problems in Washington, Tom Holland has similar questions for Sam Brownback.
Both are running for Governor of Kansas, but their resumes are vastly different.
Holland has been serving in the Kansas Senate in Topeka while Brownback has been in the U.S. Senate in Washington.
Since neither is the sitting governor, there is no incumbent. But Holland said that if there were, it would be Brownback.
“Brownback is the incumbent,” Holland said. “There is a lot of anti-Washington sentiment, and Brownback has been in Washington for 16 years. People are frustrated with Washington politicians. There is a dissatisfaction with both parties at the national level.”
Holland, a Democrat, shared a different approach than the last elected Democratic governor — Kathleen Sebelius — starting with energy policy. Sebelius vehemently opposed the construction of the two coal fired plants in Holcomb and opposed energy exports from Kansas.
“We want to be exporting energy,” Holland said. “I was happy to support the 2009 compromise. We need to get the Holcomb plant built. We will be exporting through other means including wind turbines and the capability to export that energy as well. Energy provides a bright and shining future for Kansas including in green jobs. As governor, I will see that we meet the renewable energy standard.”
Holland also encouraged the
development of individual energy development, from solar panels on homes to small-scale wind generation and more.
“We need to decentralize energy,” he said. “The more people can generate energy, it will benefit everyone.”
Holland said his No. 1 economic priority was developing export markets for Kansas agriculture.
“Southwest Kansas is a huge part of our ag industry,” he said. “There are a lot of great and exciting things happening in Southwest Kansas. The casino in Dodge City, low unemployment. It is a thriving area. We want to see a four-lane 54 highway and a regional airport out here. We need to encourage that development.”
Many in Southwest Kansas have not seen a reinvestment in the infrastructure compared to other parts of the state. Southwest Kansas does not have a four-lane highway or a four-year university.
“As governor, we have to represent all the state’s interest, not just northeast,” Holland said. “As governor, I would be concerned about agriculture. It’s at the top of my list, and we need infrastructure to ensure success for the long term. That means additional transportation to make commerce more effective.”
On education, Holland said he and Brownback differed greatly on the approach to funding education.
Holland favored the state’s involvement in balancing the cost of education while other lawmakers in Topeka have been floating a return to local school boards handling a bulk of the funding. One plan that Holland shared that was being discussed in Topeka by conservatives was removing the weightings at the state level and putting the funding responsibility back on the districts. For those that have a large number of ESL students or districts with low enrollment, their local costs would skyrocket, according to Holland.
“This is a huge part of the campaign,” he said. “Brownback talks about a road map, but it is short on specifics. Brownback has said he wants to change finance formula, but he’s never said how. Brownback talks in code — ‘Let locals have more control, stick to the basics.’ If you have ESL, or low enrollment, they say, ‘That is your problem.’ The state turns its back. That is where Sam wants to take us. It will rely heavily on property tax owners. That will kill people. It could put education funding at 75 percent on local taxes. Our administration will keep the state’s commitment, take a portion of those revenues and invest back in the classroom. We will not shuck our responsibility.”
Another issue that has become a state concern is how to handle illegal immigration. And since immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, Holland said Brownback has had 16 years to work on a solution to the problem as a U.S. Senator.
“Washington has failed us on this issue,” he said. “They have failed to protect our borders and protect our jobs. Brownback has been there for 16 years. He has not brought a solution. I understand the employers in this area. We need legal employees to meet demands. I would work with our federal delegation to insure we have policies in place where legal people can work in this country.”
To stop the encouragement for illegals, Holland said he already had a record of working with Republicans and Democrats to develop legislation in Kansas to crack down on employers who hire illegals.
“I have a record on this,” Holland said. “In the Legislature, I have reached across the aisle and passed legislation to crack down on employers who hire illegals. We also push the use e-verify. I have always felt that the state of Kansas can make employers accountable to make sure their employees are legally here to work.”
As the nation continues to slowly recover from the recent recession, Holland said he would plan better by having a rainy day fund established when the revenues to the state outpace the budget.
“At this point, I feel confident we will have revenue in place,” he said. “We won’t have to make additional cuts. It is a challenge, the economy will bump along and slowly recover. Kansas is usually the last in last out. We talk about long term economic development — invest in the workforce, training opportunities — that’s how we fight for families in Kansas.”