God afternoon, everyone. We're chatting with John Wilson, who is running as a Democrat in the race to represent the 10th District in the Kansas House. I'm Alex Parker, the Journal-World's digital editor.
We've invited John's opponent, Erica Anderson, to chat, and we'll let you know when you can ask her questions.
John, why don't you start off by telling us a bit about yourself, and why you're running.
Thanks Alex, and thanks to the Journal World for hosting this chat for me and other candidates. First, I want to share a little bit about the most important thing in my life--my family. My wife, Jami Jones, and I got married a little over a year ago. We live in the Centennial Neighborhood in Lawrence and recently welcomed our first child into the world! Our son, Parker, is just a little over three months old, and has already brought us so much joy. I should say that I couldn't be running for office without the incredible support of Jami.
When I'm not spending time with the family, I work for a national non-profit focused on creating healthier communities and preventing childhood obesity. I've been working there for six years in various roles, most recently as a national adviser on healthy out-of-school time settings (Think Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, etc...). I help them incorporate healthy eating and physical activity into their programming.
And when I'm not working or spending time with my family, I've been meeting voters in the 10th District (SE Lawrence, Baldwin City, Vinland and rural SE Douglas County). I'm running for office because I'm frustrated and concerned by what's happening in the KS Legislature. Over the years it seems as if our leaders have lost the ability to craft policy that genuinely improves peoples' lives. It seems as if there is a greater interest in a particular ideology rather than a focus on improving schools, creating jobs, helping families and generally helping improve the conditions of everyone in the state. I feel that I have the temperament, the experience and the commitment to make a difference.
Question for John Wilson:
What makes you qualified to be our representative? More specifically, what experience do you have that will allow you to be more successful than your opponent?
Thanks Reed66060! When voting for a representative, I think people should consider two things: What's their position on the issues and what is their ability to work with people and get things done. It's pretty easy to share my positions on issues like education, jobs, taxes, the environment. However, I'm not going to know everything about every issue (and I'm not sure there anyone who does). What I think sets me apart from my opponent and makes me qualified to represent you and the rest of the 10th District is how I get things done. I pride myself in my ability to work with people with whom I disagree (and do it without being mean). I have lots of experience working with different sectors--business, healthcare, non-profit, education, government--and have been able to bring people to the table to focus on solutions. I also appreciate the nuance and interconnectedness of the issues and policies that affect our state. So, in short, I believe it is who I am as a person and how I work that makes me ready for this position.
Mr. Wilson, the statehouse is divided and dysfunctional. Legislators far more experienced (and Republican) than you have had trouble advancing even common sense ideas there the last two years. How can we expect you to have any more success?
Thanks Lindleysnow! By the way, I love your username--two of my favorite buildings on the KU Campus! I think it is abundantly clear that the partisanship of DC has made its way into Topeka. That's frustrating for a variety of reasons, primarily because it slows the progress of the State. Before I continue, I should be clear that I'm incredibly proud to be a Democrat in Kansas because of the values of shared responsibility, opportunity and education for which we stand. I have also been a vocal critic of Governor Brownback and some of his allies' policies. I strongly disagree with their positions and will propose alternatives to them--but I am not mean about it. I stay focused on the issues and, more importantly, the solutions to issues. So, if there is a great idea presented to me, I don't care what letter is in front of the name of the person who proposed it. Ultimately, I think we've somehow lost the ability as a community to disagree with each other without taking it personally. If elected, I will treat all of my colleagues with respect and always make sure that my first foot forward is one of reconciliation and good will. At the end of the day, if I take my personality and ego out of the situation--and stay focused on solutions--I think I can at least contribute to a more positive working environment in Topeka.
John, what would be your biggest legislative priorities if you're elected?
Thanks Alex! I predict that this legislative session is going to be especially challenging for everyone, regardless of how long we've been in office. The recent tax plan approved by Governor Brownback is going to dramatically affect the State budget. The plan is expected to create a $2.5 billion deficit over the next five years, which means we'll have to make significant cuts to the budget or raise revenues (by either raising taxes or adding more taxpayers). These significant budget cuts will certainly be tough for legislators to approve, but they're going to be even tougher for teachers, students, families and small businesses to handle. Nonetheless, I will make education my top priority. Education is the best investment we can make to strengthen the economy. Beyond education, I will focus on creating jobs by targeting investments in transportation, bio-sciences, technical education and job training, and even alternative energy development. These are industry that could all create jobs or prepare people for jobs right here in Kansas. Beyond policy issues, it is my priority to be responsive to the needs of my constituents and to maintain open communication with them throughout the session and beyond.
What has Governor Brownback or the Legislature as a whole done recently that you support?
Thanks Fred_Mertz! That's a great question. Well, I am happy with the small increase in per pupil funding that was included in their budget last session. It is a small step toward fully restoring education funding to levels that will contribute to academic achievement, well-prepared students, and outstanding teachers. Also, from what I can tell, it looks as if most legislators I know are sticking to their commitment to Kansans to let the recently adopted sales tax expire this summer.
What will it take for equal voices to be heard under Kansas' current administration? It seems that Brownback and his group of wingmen are strangling any sort of moderation left in this states political arena. Not only do I fear for the education of our youth but I am becoming increasingly concerned over how we will deal with the inevitable destruction of our middle class under the Brownback agenda.
I feel like we are fighting an unwinnable fight.
Thanks Jazzerman! This is tough question, because I think there are some issues that will never have a legislative or policy solution--it takes changes in our culture and communities...and ultimately changes in our personal interactions with people. There are lots of things beyond my control that are shaping the discourse in the Statehouse. However, I can control my own attitudes and actions. I will be fair, open-minded and reasonable--and I hope that will be reciprocated by my colleagues. You might call my approach a moderate approach. Unfortunately, "moderation" isn't sexy. It doesn't raise money, it doesn't rally a crowd, it doesn't fire up a based (usually). So, the system in which we work pulls people into their respective camp and rarely rewards people who can bridge the divide. So, it's with a moderate approach--one that puts solutions over score keeping--that I hope to head to the Legislature. To be clear, though, I will passionately defend ideas and policies in which I believe--and will push back against misinformation...but I will do so with respect.
That's all the time we have for questions. John, do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
Again I want to thank the Journal World for hosting this chat. It's refreshing to have a forum in the media that allows for thoughtful discussion and non-soundbyte answers. I'm sure we didn't get to everyone's question, so I invite anybody reading to visit my website at www.JohnWilsonforKansas.com and send me a note. If you live in the 10th District and I haven't spoken with you at your door, I apologize. I've been going door-to-door since June trying to meet as many voters as possible. I think it is essential to meet the people you hope to represent. I want to thank everyone who has taken time away from their family, friends and personal lives to run for office--it's not easy, but it's important. Remember to vote on November 6th or earlier at one of the early-voting locations around the County. (BALDWIN CITY residents can vote Saturday, November 3 at the Fire Station from 9-3). Finally, I want to thank my family, friends and other supporters who've helped make this campaign a reality--especially Jami and Parker!
Thanks, John, for spending some time with us. And thank you, readers, for some great questions.