ELECTION WATCH: Experience sets candidates apart [With Video]
By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 10/22/2012
With only 14 days left to entice area voters, two lifelong Franklin County residents still are jockeying to represent their neighbors in the Kansas Legislature through the 2014 session.
Blaine Finch, an Ottawa attorney, and Caleb Correll, an Ottawa resident and a former para-educator, are vying to serve Kansas House District 59, which includes the western portion of Franklin and a few precincts in northeastern Osage counties.
While affiliated with different political parties — Correll a Democrat and Finch a Republican — the two maintain similar legislative priorities in preserving education funding, creating jobs and maintaining quality infrastructure. The two candidates, however, distinguish themselves with their employment and political experience.
In addition to serving as interim economic development director for the Franklin County Development Council, Finch, 35, also has several years’ experience in local government. In the 1990s, Finch served four years on the Ottawa City Commission and one year as the city’s mayor. Finch also owns the law office Green, Finch and Covington, Chartered, 101 W. Second St., Ottawa.
Finch’s experience in the community has provided him an understanding of how to best serve the constituents of House District 59, he said.
“As a lifelong Franklin County resident, local taxpayer and small business owner, I have come to understand that our district needs a representative that will protect our liberties, promote our interests and work to get things done for the good of the people,” Finch said on his campaign website. “I believe the highest duty of our government is to protect the individual liberties of our citizens. Our founders saw those rights as an endowment from our Creator that could not be taken away. Government should protect those freedoms first.”
Correll, 27, who works as assistant manager of The Liquor Store, 2518 E. Logan St., Ottawa, previously served as a para-educator in the Ottawa school district’s special education department. The lifelong Ottawa resident first stepped into the political arena at 23 after spearheading the re-organization effort to create the Franklin County Democratic Party. After re-establishing the group, local party members voted Correll as its chairperson, which made him the youngest county party chairman in Kansas, he said. Correll also previously worked on State Sen. Tom Holland’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, he said.
If elected, Correll said, providing sufficient funding to education would be among his top concerns.
“I don’t think Kansas schools are being adequately funded as it is,” Correll said during a local political forum, adding that the economic recession has spurred many cuts to school funding. “What we need to do is revisit our test scores. Test scores are a pretty good indicator of when the cuts were made. ... You can tell that the decreased resources that the teachers have created a drop in test scores, and we need to get back on track to getting our education appropriately funded.”
Among his plans to create jobs in Kansas, Finch said if he’s elected he hopes to maintain quality public infrastructure that could pave the way to more employment opportunities. His experience in local and regional economic development should help in realizing those plans, he said.
“Economic development is the key to raising the standard of living and increasing prosperity for our citizens,” Finch said. “We must be steadfast in maintaining and improving all public infrastructure in our state. At times, this requires reasonable spending, but also strong oversight to make sure dollars are spent in the most cost-effective way. As an early advocate for the new [U.S. 59] highway, I know firsthand how important highways can be to a region, and I would work to make sure we do not go backwards in this area.”
To create more jobs, Correll said, he’d institute policies for more in-state cooperation between the state and Kansas businesses, investing in education-based jobs and limiting illegal immigration.
“One way we can create jobs is to make sure we have contracts to go out in the state from Kansas companies,” Correll said. “Our schools employ quite a few people, and I think that is lost on the public. But schools really drive employment. ... I feel like we also need to make sure that illegal immigration isn’t putting a dent in job creation. We could have polices put in place like E-Verify that could prevent illegal immigration from taking jobs away from Kansans.”
Despite asserting similar legislative priorities, Finch holds a commanding lead in campaign funding, according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. In August, Finch reported $8,075 in campaign contributions, nearly three-fourths of which derived from individuals in and outside of House District 59, according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission.
Correll announced in August that his campaign’s coffers hold $1,865, more than 80 percent stemming from political action committees and out-of-state sources.
In addition to more monetary resources, Finch appears to have another advantage when looking at the area’s voting habits in the past primary election for House District 59. More than six times the number of voting Franklin County Democrats — 3,934 GOP votes compared to 631 Democratic — cast ballots in the Republican primary election, according to statistics from the Kansas Secretary of State Office.
Area residents can cast their ballots for either Correll or Finch in the general election Nov. 6.