By ROBERT PIERCE • Daily Leader
Republicans and Democrats have long been known for not seeing eye to eye on issues. The two candidates for the 38th District State Senate seat were no exception to the rule Tuesday evening at the candidate forum
hosted by KSCB Radio and the Liberal Chamber of Commerce. After opening statements and talking about their top priorities, incumbent Tim Huelskamp and challenger Laura Mead were asked about the expansion of the Sunflower plant near Holcomb. Mead said more than 70 percent of the energy in the state comes from coal, and her focus would be on clean coal technology. “Maybe not new coal, but taking the coal plants which we have and refocusing our energies on making them clean,” she said. “I am not totally opposed to a new coal plant, but I do want heavy restrictions on it. It wasn’t the coal plants that I would’ve been unsupportive of. It was more on the bill that was in place. It did not provide enough oversight.” Huelskamp said every state senator in Western Kansas has been clear about wanting to build the plant. “It’s actually an expansion,” he said. “Some folks might not understand. We currently have a coal-fired plant there.” Huelskamp said the Sunflower plant would be the cleanest plant in the entire United States, and allowing it to happen would have created thousands of construction jobs for five years and hundreds after that. “We have lost, unless we can undo the governor’s veto, those jobs and the $3.6 billion investment,” he said. “If there’s a $3.6 billion investment out there that we can grab and just move forward, we need to do that.” The candidates were next asked about their stance on illegal immigration. Huelskamp said the critical word on this issue is “illegal.” “I do have two children who are legal immigrants to this country, and we all do treasure legal immigrants to this country,” he said. “The impact of illegal immigration on this community and other communities across southwestern Kansas and many parts of the nation is stunning.” Huelskamp said illegal immigration increases welfare costs and other governmental costs. “It’s for folks that have not followed the law,” he said. “When certain groups of folks are allowed to ignore the rule of law, it threatens our system.” Huelskamp said there are currently some laws in place, but they are not very strong. “Currently, in violation of federal law, we actually subsidize tuition of those who are here illegally,” he said. “There’s something we should be doing. We should encourage our businesses not to hire illegal aliens. We should make absolutely certain they’re not receiving government benefits that should be restricted only to U.S. citizens.” Mead said while she does not deny the fact that immigration takes its toll on many communities, primarily because of beef packing industries, the jobs in those businesses need to be filled. “The negative effects of immigration are becoming less and less, and it’s because we’ve been able thus far to provide quality education,” she said. “We’ve also been able to provide health care, and we’ve been able to provide some language acquisition.” Mead said if the effects of immigration are to be overcome with future generations, it will be through education, health care and language acquisition. The next issue concerned implementing a three strikes policy in Kansas for those convicted of driving under the influence. Mead said she does not want to put any kind of restriction on judges. “Each individual case has its own unique features, and I do not think the legislature should be put in the place of being judge and jury,” she said. “We can’t handle a three strikes and you’re out policy. We don’t know what the ramifications are going to be. We don’t know what the issues are in regards to each one of those people that are convicted of crimes.” Huelskamp said the issue of drunk driving is hitting many right where it hurts. “People are dying because people can’t control themselves,” he said. “If you’re going to drive three times drunk and you will not be convicted without a jury and without a judge being there, I think you should pay the price. You should not only lose your license, but you should spend some time in prison. It’s an absolute tragedy that drunk drivers are still allowed to roam our streets.” Huelskamp said many in Topeka are worried about the costs of implementing a law for frequent DUI offenders. “What’s the cost to families who have to face this type of tragedy?” he asked, however. “We will hopefully be able to pass something that will crack down on drunk driving because it is a tragedy in our state.” Huelskamp and Mead were next asked about their thoughts about a new comprehensive transportation plan for 2010. Mead said she is skeptical about adopting a brand new plan. “We are in an economic crisis,” she said. “Every agency and school has been asked to cut their budget by 5 percent in this next year. That leaves very little for much of anything.” Mead said the state should look more at maintaining than building for the time being. Huelskamp disagreed saying a new CTP is necessary. “The question is what will be on it, resources and how we put them,” he said. “My biggest problem is whenever we pass a new highway program is that we make certain rural Kansas’ needs are met.” Huelskamp said he received an e-mail from the state secretary of transportation about a $70 million project in Johnson County. “With the way the current highway formula is set up, I think it’s biased to Western Kansas,” he said. “It’s certainly biased to areas that have heavy truck traffic, so I’m going to continue to work to make certain we have a formula that represents our needs.” Huelskamp said while he believes this can be done, resources are tight at the moment. “We have already allocated tax revenues for the highway department, and we will continue to do so in the coming years,” he said.