ELECTION WATCH: Candidates clash over left-right politics [With Video]
By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 10/26/2012
One more election — and an outspoken Democratic opponent who’s critical of her policy decisions — stands between Rep. Caryn Tyson’s transition from the Kansas House to the Senate.
After narrowly defeating John Coen, R-Wellsville, in the August primary, Tyson now faces Denise Cassells, D-Mound City, in Kansas’ Nov. 6 general election for Senate District 12, which includes Allen, Anderson, Franklin, Linn and parts of Bourbon and Miami counties.
When weighing options to seek office, Tyson, R-Parker, said her decision ultimately came down to her thoughts of the constituents in Senate District 12.
“The people in Kansas Senate District 12 are conservative and want to see a smarter and more efficient government,” Tyson, 49, wrote in a letter to The Herald. “I have a proven track record as a Kansas State representative, professional manager and problem solver.”
Citing the state Legislature’s political gridlock during the 2012 session, Democrat Cassells said her choice to run for Kansas Senate partially derived from her ability to reach compromise with consideration for all stakeholders.
“For 16 years I had an opportunity to see a different perspective,” Cassells said of her previous time as a registered Republican. “I’ve always considered myself right down the middle on the issues, and I think that is going to be conducive to working with and listening to what everyone has to say. Certainly, if you’re an elected official, your voice is important because you represent a lot of people. Keeping that in mind, if you’re truly listening to your constituents then you’re bringing to the table what your constituents would hope you bring to the table. You have to come at it with an open mind and you cannot be an ideologue — you can’t do that in politics. You have to have an open mind and be willing to listen to all side and reach a compromise. The gridlock that we saw last legislative session, the taxpayers paid dearly for that. It cost us 9 days in over session.
Tyson, who has served as representative of Kansas House District 4 since 2011, is now a software engineer, she said. In addition to owning and operating Tyson Ranch in Parker, Tyson said she’s worked in the informational technology industry for more than 24 years, which includes a stint at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. During her term in the Kansas House, Tyson served on the Tax, Agriculture, Commerce and Economic Development committees.
Tyson’s knowledge, she said, can now be implemented to enhance the lives of those in Senate District 12.
“With my experience, I feel that I am the best qualified to represent the fine people of these six counties,” Tyson wrote.
Cassells, 47, now serves on the Mound City Planning and Zoning board, the Miami County Adult Continuing Education advisory board, is chairwoman of the Linn County Democratic Party Central Committee and is the fundraising director for the Linn County Rural Fire Department, she said. Cassells also spent 22 years in small business management, she said, in addition to working several years as a news reporter for two newspapers in Linn and Miami counties.
That experience, she said, has led Cassells to be an autonomous thinker, which she said differs from that of her opponent in the race.
“[Tyson’s] record as a freshman House member is too closely aligned with Gov. Brownback and the direction he has chosen for our state,” Cassells wrote to The Herald. “Her voting record has been damaging for public education, property taxes, and economic growth in our communities.”
“I have always been an independent person,” Cassells said. “One thing citizens of the 12th District can count on is that their voice will come first. ... Being independent-minded means I will not strictly adhere to partisan politics.”
Among other issues, the two candidates starkly disagree on is Kansas’ new tax policy, which the Legislature’s research group predicts will cause budgetary deficits of $2.7 billion by 2018.
Tyson, who voted in favor of the 2013 Kansas budget while in the House, said Kansas needs a bold plan to stimulate its economic growth.
“I did support the tax bill,” Tyson said. “We had a House tax bill and it wasn’t going any where. The Senate — they were obeisant this year and I’m not sure why. The House worked together to get a lot done and the Senate would only pass one tax bill. If we keep doing business like we keep doing for the last 10 years, we’re not going to get results. So we needed to do something aggressive, and this tax bill is aggressive. It lowers taxes for every single Kansas taxpayer.”
In contrast, Cassells said the plan is overtly aggressive and will spur property tax increases as well as further cut funding to education.
“No I don’t support the tax bill as it stands,” Cassells said at a recent political forum in Ottawa. “What [the tax plan] does is it rolls back too much income tax therefore it shoves the burden to our local communities to have to be forced to increase local property taxes above and beyond what we already have, which is 38.9 percent in Kansas. ... In Kansas, we’ve seen our property taxes double in 13 years.”
Asked at the Ottawa forum if public education received enough support from the state and how to define adequate funding for Kansas’ schools, Tyson said her work in the Kansas House has helped to buttress schooling for students in the Sunflower State.
“Adequately funded — that’s an interesting question and I’m not sure what ‘adequate’ means,” Tyson responded, adding that Democrats in the Kansas Legislature caused deep cuts to school funding three years ago. “We’ve tried to raise funding for schools. In fact, we were successful last year and raised it by $49 [base state aid per pupil]. Are the schools adequately funded? We’re still catching up from the 2009 cuts.”
Meanwhile, Cassells contended that state funding to education was too low and that it must be increased for the future of Kansas’ children.
“The heart and soul of our local communities are fostered through strong, properly funded schools,” Cassells wrote on her campaign website. “All children deserve this right, not just the wealthy. I am highly concerned over the recent tax bill and the [state Legislature’s] inability to adequately fund public education. Our teachers have been underpaid and under-appreciated. Schoolteachers should not be forced to purchase materials, yet as a direct result of inadequate funding, the needed materials are in short supply or not otherwise available.”
When looking at Senate District 12’s primary election results, it appears Cassells will have an uphill climb to defeat her opponent. Nearly five times the number of Republicans — 11,090 — voted in the GOP primary compared to the 2,258 people who voted in the Democratic election. That low figure, however, could stem from the fact that Cassells had no Democratic competition in the primary.
Regardless, the voters in Senate District 12 appear to be a relatively engaged constituency when compared to the average voter participation throughout the state. During Kansas’ primary elections, an average of 22.8 percent of registered voters cast ballots, according to data from the Secretary of State website. Although some voters in Bourbon and Miami counties are not included in the district’s political boundary, the six counties in Senate District 12 posted a 30-percent participation rate among its registered voters during Kansas’ primary elections.