The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 31, 2012

Three Democrats looking to take on Jenkins in Kansas

State's 2nd Congressional District seat the real prize

The three candidates seeking to become Kansas Democrats’ nominee to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the 2nd Congressional District spring from diverse occupational backgrounds.

Scott Barnhart is a farmer and former teacher from Ottawa; Robert Eye is a lawyer from Lawrence and a former assistant state attorney general; and Tobias Schlingensiepen is a minister at First Congregational Church in Topeka and a volunteer chaplain for the Topeka Police Department.

Eye and Schlingensiepen are making their first bids for a political office in Tuesday’s primary. Barnhart has waged unsuccessful campaigns in the past for the Kansas Legislature and for Franklin County commissioner.

All three Democrats are hoping to ride voter dissatisfaction with partisan gridlock in Washington to an upset of Jenkins in a redrawn district. Jenkins, 49, who is seeking her third term in Congress, has drawn no opponent in the state’s GOP primary.

• Schlingensiepen, 48, identified the creation of jobs, the protection of Medicare and Social Security, and the advancement of educational opportunities as his top priorities.

“None of those things are being acted on because of this politics of obstruction,” Schlingensiepen said of what’s been happening between the two parties in Congress.

“I’m looking for the middle ground,” he said. “I’m looking for us to come together. Rep. Lynn Jenkins has been part of the problem and not the solution in Washington. She’s voted with her party leadership 96 percent of the time. The people of the 2nd District deserve a voice and not an echo.”

He believes the new health care law upheld by the Supreme Court contains several positive provisions and thinks Congress should be working to address its shortcomings.

“We need to stop all this repeal nonsense, particularly since the Republicans don’t have an alternative plan,” he said.

Schlingensiepen said Republican obstructionism has been costing the country millions of dollars each day in what amounts to repeated political sideshow efforts to repeal the health care law. He said Congress’ time would be better spent developing a national infrastructure improvements program focused on bridges, highways, rural telecommunications and the electrical grid.

Schlingensiepen also has been criticizing Jenkins’ use of the congressional franking privilege, citing a report that she ranked in the top 10 among members of the House in spending on mailers in 2009.

“For someone who says we need to reduce government spending, she’s not been a good example of that,” Schlingensiepen said.

• Eye, 60, said he became interested in running for Congress as he came to realize to what extent the nation’s middle class finds itself in a state of “siege.”

He said Republican economic policies, especially a tax system that gives large breaks to corporations and the wealthy while placing a heavy tax burden on the middle class, “are putting undue pressures” on families. In the meantime, Republicans in Congress consistently oppose any infrastructure improvement programs that could create jobs and new sources of tax revenue, he said.

“These are not ‘make-work’ jobs,” Eye said. “As we know, thousands and thousands of bridges in this country need to be brought up to standards, and highways need to be improved.”

He said a burgeoning wind industry in Kansas has been in sore need of a production tax credit, but Republicans continue to play games with it.

“They will not renew it for more than one or two years at a time,” Eye said.

He said the industry requires a tax credit that will be in place for five to 10 years to attract the type of long-term investments that will create jobs and a valuable new source of energy.

Eye describes himself as an advocate of “a progressive tax structure” and “the protection and conservation of natural resources.” He wants a public option added to the nation’s health care system, and he says the health care law should be expanded to cover more people while holding down costs.

He said Congress also needs to begin addressing the loan debts college students are facing upon graduation, finding ways to restructure those loans and repayment schedules.

“That way we get an educated population that isn’t saddled with debt that keeps them from achieving their objectives in life,” he said.

• Barnhart, 39, who ran for the Kansas Senate eight years ago as a Republican and has run for office as an Independent in two subsequent elections, said he switched to the Democratic Party last year when he thought Gov. Sam Brownback and other prominent Republicans “headed to extreme conservatism.”

“I’m right in the middle,” Barnhart said. “I’m not left or right. I’m just kind of average Joe, and I want to represent the middle class.”

He said that while he shares some of the political philosophies of both the major parties, he thinks the Republican Party “has left moderates behind.” The new health care law is a prime example, he said.

“It was not a perfect bill, but it’s better than the status quo,” Barnhart said. “We have to find a way to get the Republicans on board with it. This whole cycle of ‘repeal, repeal, repeal’ isn’t good for the country.”

Barnhart is “not a big fan” of the current farm bill, believing it favors big agricultural interests too much and would perpetuate a growing reliance of people on food stamps. On immigrations issues, he said he favors amnesty programs for people already living in the U.S. but wants to see the security of the country’s borders improved.

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