How views of legislative candidates differ
Although incumbent State Rep. John Barker and challenger Scott Hill seem to share many views, the Record’s exclusive 1½-hour recorded interviews with each of them reveal numerous differences.
Here, as a guide to voters, are some of the key differences between the two candidates in the Republican legislative race in northern Marion and Dickinson Counties — a race that, before its conclusion, is likely to see well more than $100,000 in campaign expenditures:
On abortion, both profess to be pro-life and favor the controversial Value Them Both amendment that will appear along with their race on the Aug. 2 ballot.
Barker was a key supporter of the proposed amendment in the legislature, and Hill has strongly endorsed it.
Where differences appear is in what the legislature should do with existing, currently invalidated abortion laws if Value Them Both were to pass.
Barker concedes there is a need to revisit laws already on the books, which automatically would come back into play if the amendment were to pass.
Of particular interest would be provisions ensuring exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the prospective mother.
A former judge and military policeman, Barker often appears focused on details of how various regulations can be more equitable in his view.
“The Republican party has a wide variety of positions on this,” he said. “Some want exemptions for rape. Some want exemptions for incest. Some of them want exceptions for death of the mother. And some of that’s in the law, but the law isn’t exactly clear. I think I would allow (exemptions for) rape and incest.”
He said that women seeking an abortion after rape or incent should not be have to prove the rape or incest under the same “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard necessary for a criminal convictions in such crimes.
He suggested a lower standard, such as that used to prove cases of children in need of care.
In answer to a question, he added that the state might need to provide assistance to women in making such claims.
“I want to give her — it might not be an attorney, maybe somebody with Health and Environment who could do an investigation, like we do in child abuse cases, and make that determination.”
Questioned about allowing abortion if the life of the woman were threatened, he said that “would be the doctor’s call.”
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “That’s the reason we have a legislature. It all gets aired out. It gets debated. I always tell new legislators, if you’re going to vote up here, vote your conscience, vote your district, then vote your party — in that order.”
Hill’s conscience on the issue appears to be more absolutist. In his interview, he brushed aside repeated questions about how exceptions might be handled with general statements about how he thought all life was sacred.
“I might answer your question more philosophically than practically,” Hill said. “Life comes when a sperm cell and an egg are both released. They’re both alive. There’s no question that they are life in any way that we define it. . . .
“I always respect life. And, the life that is formed because of a rape is not less valuable than my life or your life. But what is the practical application? Do we expect somebody because they’ve gone through a traumatic event — a very, very traumatic event — that they have to carry a child? I’m not sure that I can support that concept, you know? The big one that’s been used has been the tubal pregnancies. You’re going to expect somebody to carry a tubal pregnancy?
“If I had a magic wand, I’d want every child wanted. So what do we do with the ones who aren’t wanted? Well, I don’t think we discard them on a heap. The answer might be we would provide (state) aid to the mother to continue the pregnancy. Absolutely, without a doubt, my goal would be that there would be no abortions in Kansas.”
Barker contends that his years as a senior Republican, close to the top of the hierarchy in the legislature, mean he can get more done than a newcomer like Hill ever could hope to.
“The biggest thing he doesn’t know is that there are rules,” Barker said. “It prevents us from going into chaos without rules. I mean, if it’s just a free-for-all, you know, it would be a lynch mob type of a mentality.
“And it isn’t apparent to everybody. They think that you just go up there and say let’s do this and stand up and say that, and somebody votes on it. Right? It doesn’t happen that way.”
Any manner of proposals may be introduced by anyone. Some even get hearings. But only a few — those selected as priorities by leadership of the majority caucus — actually are “worked” by committees in preparation for bringing them to the floor, Barker said.
Playing key roles in the committee structure — which first-terms lawmakers rarely are allowed to do — increases a legislator’s ability to get things accomplished, he said.
“I chaired the Judiciary in my third year,” he said, “and in my fifth or sixth year, I became chairman of Fed and State, which is the most controversial committee there is.
“The speaker asked me to do it. He said you handle controversy better than anybody. And I said, well, you know, I gave everybody a fair, level playing field. I know where I’m going to vote after I hear the evidence or the testimony. And sometimes I can be persuasive and get some other members of my committee [to agree].”
Hill, on the other hand, disputed that Barker’s experience was an advantage and questioned what Barker actually has accomplished for his district aside from relatively recent discussions about obtaining state aid for a portion of Remington Rd. leading from US-56 to saintly hero Emil Kapaun’s home church in Pilsen.
“Has it gotten done?” Hill asked. “We hear a lot of talk about that he’s going to use his authority and power to make it happen. Has it happened? Are the funds in the pipeline to do that?
“If the whole purpose of him being there is because he has political capital, it isn’t doing a whole lot of good here. You know, his political capital went towards the APEX program in Kansas City.”
The bipartisan Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion Act, or APEX, went into effect July 1. It provides tax incentives for businesses that agree to invest at least $1 billion in Kansas within five years. Its first apparent accomplishment, plans for a new Panasonic plant in the Kansas City area to construct batteries for electronic vehicles, was announced last week.
Barker contends that failing to understand how the legislature works is part of the reason that Hill was, in Barker’s words, recruited to run against him.
Barker alleges that a Dickinson County lobbyist, seeking a hearing on legislation that would set standards for strip clubs, vowed to find someone to unseat Barker after Barker told him legislative leaders never would call for a vote on such legislation, which claimed to fight human trafficking even though it didn’t actually do so and other legislation did.
“I told him, you know, I’m a soldier,” Barker said. “They’ll tell me what to ‘work.’ Go to the leadership, the speaker or the majority leader, and convince them.”
Even before hearing Barker’s allegation, Hill had mentioned the same legislative matter, which he portrayed in a radically different light as being evidence of Barker not wanting to help a constituent.
He vehemently denied that the incident led him to challenge Barker.
“Absolutely false, absolutely false,” he said. “(The lobbyist) would’ve been probably the fourth or fifth person that I announced that I was going to run to. So I know who you’re talking about. But actually what is responsible for me running was 2020 in the COVID response.”
Hill contends he was motivated to run when the legislature gave emergency powers to the governor during early portions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said “changed us from a citizen legislature to essentially an oligarchy, where the governor has excessive power and excessive rights.”
Hill opposed mask requirements and closing of schools, even suggesting that a better way to control COVID-19 might have been to not only let schools continue but also encourage students to attend special summer camps where they could easily infect each other.
Children are less likely to develop serious complications from COVID, so danger to the kids would be minimized, he said, but “herd immunity” would have been achieved before COVID variants could take hold.
“If we really, really wanted to shut down COVID, we should have sent all the K-12 kids to summer camp somewhere and got every one of them infected. That would’ve taken a third of the potential host out of the population. . . .
“So a bunch of people are going to die, but the rest of us probably won’t. The way we did it, nobody died. No, we spread the deaths over a longer period of time. So it makes it more politically expedient. If you have a lot of deaths all at once, that’s not very good politically, but probably we have allowed the virus more time to mutate, which has actually probably increased the mortality.”
Although Hill, as potentially a first-time legislator, has no record in the legislature, his own record as a member of the state board of education nearly 20 years ago was not questioned by Barker even though Hill was a central figure in a move widely criticized — unfairly, Hill said — as an attempt to remove evolution from state school curricula.
“It was absolutely unfair,” Hill said. “The opening statement that was made in the (proposed curriculum) standards that were put before us said was that evolution is such an important concept that it transcends science.
“It became very much apparent that it was about promoting evolution as a philosophy, not as a scientific standard. And I have no problems with looking at evolution through a scientific eye.
“As a philosophy, social Darwinism is not exactly the most attractive philosophy. It really isn’t. It leads to eugenics. It leads to racism, et cetera, et cetera. So yes, it isn’t a great philosophy. It is an interesting and important thing when you are studying science.”
Both candidates spoke of problems created by having to reduce the state’s inmate population, which has resulted in more alleged offenders, especially in drug cases, remaining on the streets for longer periods.
“Right now, the problem that we’ve had was with the pandemic,” Hill said. “We couldn’t have jury trials. So instead of offering a plea deal where they could get the case resolved, they pled not guilty, because they knew that the courts couldn’t do jury trials.”
This overloaded prosecutors, Barker said.
“That’s the real problem,” he said. “Prosecutors get to decide their own workload. If they have too many cases, they plead a bunch of cases out. I remember a case from the Supreme Court and the comment was made you had a sodomy case and you pled it out to unlawful backing.”
Barker’s idea is to do more reviews of plea bargains than judges are allowed to perform.
“Have an oversight board of prosecutors,” he said. “They would have to run these cases through a civilian board, like law enforcement has civilian review boards. I’m not saying that we’re going to give them much authority to decide who gets prosecuted or not, but they should have some oversight of a local prosecutor.”
Finding enough lawyers, especially in rural areas, to clear the backlog is part of the problem, he said.
“I think the law schools need to address this,” he said. “Medical schools encouraged graduate with incentives. For them to come to rural areas, you may be paying off their school debt. You’ve got a hundred thousand dollars worth of debt. If you go into rural Kansas and practice for three years and you do so much pro bono work, most of that debt’s going go away.”
Hill criticized Barker for not conducting hearings on a proposed drug treatment plan.
“We need to decide as legislators how we’re going to deal with the meth crisis that we’ve got because it is a crisis, especially in rural communities. . . .
“A gentleman that I spent a lot of time visiting with has researched and has put together a really good, well researched drug rehab program. And Rep. Barker won’t introduce the bill because it’s not what leadership wants. His constituents want it — or that constituent wants it, at least. But, but he won’t introduce it.”
Both candidates spoke of the need for encouraging rural development.
Barker listed several initiatives that have been enacted, admittedly with limited success.
“We passed about a $50 million housing project for rural Kansas this year,” Barker said, “to allow developers or people who buy some of these properties that are dilapidated, almost terrible, to get tax credits to fix those up.
“One of the good things I remember out in western Kansas, the school districts are helping first-time home buyers — teachers — to buy a house because they figure, if they get a house they’re going to stay and teach. So they’re arranging for low-interest loans or maybe some assistance of down payment and stuff like that. I thought that was a good program.
“I’ve talked to the people in Florence when I was down at a city meeting. They have all those brick buildings down there. Apparently a guy that owns a junkyard owns them, and they’re just full of crap and stuff, and they’re getting unsafe. I talked to their compliance officer, a nice lady who owns a design place across the street, and I said you have a county counselor. Call him. I gave her the number. Well, apparently they’ve hired him as their city attorney now.”
Hill redirected some of the onus back on local officials.
“We’re going to help you by making it easier for you through the regulation process. We’re going to make it easier for you through the taxation process,” Hill said. “And the scream you hear from local county commissioners is, if we have a hotel start up in our town and we don’t get property taxed off of that, that’s going hurt us as a community.
“Well, what are you getting right now? If you don’t have the hotel, if you don’t have the Dollar General, if you don’t have businesses there, you’re not getting property tax either. So you’re arguing about giving the property tax relief, but if you didn’t give it, you wouldn’t get the property tax anyway. But you’re getting jobs. You’re getting sales. And you’re getting money coming into your community.”
Key stances by candidates on other issues:
- In literature, Hill, who argues against so-called “red flag” laws that deny weapons to purchasers deemed unstable, has criticized Barker for voting against Second Amendment issues.
Barker questions this, contending that he opposed only one piece of gun legislation and only because, as written, it imperiled reciprocity agreements allowing Kansas residents to use their Kansas permits to legally carry concealed weapons in other states.
- Barker expressed concern over city and county governments using what some have described as a loophole to borrow large sums without seeking voter approval.
Such borrowing is possible unless taxpayers pass a petition within 60 days to force an election.
“I don’t like forcing people to do anything,” Barker said. “I don’t know if I would bring it up because I’m not on Tax Committee anymore, but if it came to the floor, I would have no problem with closing the loophole, and that’s exactly what it is.”
- Barker also questioned concerns many have expressed about voter fraud.
“When Chris Kobach was attorney general, his deputy traveled the state looking for voter fraud,” Barker said. “I think he had four cases in the state. And I don’t think any of them were prosecuted.
“One was out in western Kansas, about somebody voting in Colorado and then voting in Kansas. One was a college professor who voted in Missouri as well as voted in Douglas County or maybe it’s Johnson County. I mean, they were really looking for them. And they found four.”
Still, Barker sees an advantage in paying attention to the issue.
“I think it helps the comfort level of the people in the state,” he said. “I think our elections in Kansas are great. I really do.”
- Hill compared Barker’s insistence on following rules to the type of bureaucratic intransigence that former president Donald Trump referred to as “draining the swamp.”
“It’s absolutely a miniature version of what Donald Trump was upset about in that the validity of an idea or the validity of legislation is not what’s important,” Hill said. “So what’s important? Who is connected to it?”
He expressed optimism about battling the system.
“You start building coalitions right off the bat,” he said. “It’s not just me. There are a lot of legislators who are really tired of being put down, not being given the opportunity to bring up legislation, not being given the opportunity to represent their constituents. For lack of a better term, they’ve been bullied.”
Last modified July 20, 2022