The ballot battle for Kansas House District 5 pits an Army veteran against a veteran lawmaker. Both men of service, Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, and state Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, hope to gain victory with voters on Election Day.
Unlike some of his colleagues in the House, Feuerborn, 64, the incumbent in the race, survived recent redistricting adjustments. Those changes, however, reshaped the district, adding in more rural areas and excluding Ottawa, a city Feuerborn said he’s worked hard to represent during his nearly two decades in the Legislature. While he said he’s sad to lose Ottawa — but commented that a “country bumpkin” like him feels at home with rural folks — the Democrat’s biggest problems with the redistricting efforts were the political games involved, as well as the high price tag: More than $1 million.
“I think it’s a pitiful use of our dollars that we try to handle very carefully — we’re not handling them very carefully when we spend $1.1 million redistricting,” Feuerborn told The Herald in February — before the full cost and scope of redistricting was known.
The longtime state representative also takes issue with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s recent tax bill, which he said even worries many conservative lawmakers and will have to be heavily tweaked in the next Legislative session. Feuerborn, the ranking minority leader of the House Appropriations Budget Committee for the past seven years, said the governor’s plan merely shifts the tax burden from the state to local governments.
“When we at the state level decide to cut funding,” he said, “in order to keep a program that local residents like, they’ll have no other option but to raise local taxes. ...
“Most people now realize Brownback’s tax bill is unworkable,” Feuerborn said. “For the good of Kansas, we need to look at it again and make changes.”
A cattle rancher and longtime businessman, he said he agrees with Brownback’s identification of some of the top issues in Kansas: income tax, water rights and education funding; they just don’t always agree on how to deal with those issues. And Feuerborn said he was particularly disappointed by the governor’s decision to cut the state Main Street association, and fears more cuts and consolidations are ahead for Kansas.
Jones, 37, is new to the state politics game, but said he’s eager to get started at the Statehouse in Topeka. A former minister, Green Beret, owner of Wellsberry Farm in Wellsville, Realtor and eBay Power Seller, he now serves his community as a Wellsville school board member, a Franklin County planning commission member and a key organizer of his city’s biggest annual event, Wellsville Days.
“I want to be productive as a man,” Jones said, explaining the Biblical inspiration for his community and political service. “I believe service is the greatest thing we can do on earth. I desire to serve as many people as I can.”
Like his opponent, Jones said he is passionate about education. He believes it is a lifelong process — not just K-12 — and that people should have the opportunity to go back to school to learn at any age. Jones said he realized early that getting children healthy and educated in their youth is the key to long-term success. From his time on the local school board, he said, he’s learned about the problems associated with inadequate school funding.
“I can’t stand that our schools have to fight for money,” he said.
An energetic social conservative who said he’s for smaller government, Second Amendment rights, state sovereignty and reducing the debt, Jones said he doesn’t think moving from pastoring to politics means he’s lost his calling.
“What I’m doing now is an even greater ministry than what I was doing in the church,” he said.
We believe Jones is sincere in his desire to serve the people of House District 5, but we worry that, when it comes to experience with and knowledge of the complicated issues facing Kansans, he’s more style than substance.
Jones’ other big commitments — serving on the local school board and planning commission, running a farm and working at two other businesses, as well as rearing a family of five young children — are another source of concern. Would he be able to fulfill all these commitments and serve in the state Legislature without one or more suffering? Serving as an elected official in the House might be a part-time job, but it still can be a full-time obligation.
Though we aren’t keen on “career politicians,” Kansans have not pushed for term limits at the state Legislature, and we don’t believe in change just for change’s sake. Feuerborn has used his 18 years in office to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms of state government. Those lessons have helped him work as a leader with Republican and Democratic colleagues alike to boost Franklin County and the rest of his district.
“I’m an old-style conservative Democrat who looks at every issue and knows I’m spending taxpayer dollars,” Feuerborn said.
A Feuerborn victory would be a victory for House District 5.
— Tommy Felts,