FHSU hosts debate for state legislative candidates


Elections at both the local and national levels are approaching.

As a part of the race between incumbent Barb Wasinger, R-Hays and Eber Phelps, D-Hays to represent the 111th district in the Kansas House of Representatives, the two candidates met in a debate Monday night.

The event was hosted by a collaboration of the FHSU Student Government Association, the American Democracy Project, the Department of Political Science, Tiger Media Network, the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce and the Docking Institute of Public Affairs.

Though the debate was held without a live audience, it was streamed via SGA’s Facebook Live with viewers able to submit questions through the comment section.

Moderated by FHSU political science students and faculty, Phelps and Wasinger answered prepared questions on the state government’s role in higher education, whether the state shutdown was necessary or effective, how the state could help Kansas farmers and ways the state could promote small businesses before moving on to additional questions prepared by the debate’s planning committee.

The question topics varied throughout the debate, but Phelps and Wasinger consistently returned to the topics of higher education, the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how both topics have affected the state economy.

Throughout the debate, Wasinger emphasized she is strongly in favor of higher education funding and her belief that the state needs to be more accountable in ensuring funding goes directly to teachers.

“The biggest thing we need to realize is that we do need to support our teachers and our students and make sure that […] the classrooms get the money and the teachers get the money, and we’re not spending it all on administration,” Wasinger said.

In the debate, Wasinger also stated that she is pro-life, supporting policy that protects the care of child and mother, and that she believed that the blanket shut down during the onset of the pandemic was the wrong approach.

On the latter topic, she emphasized the decision should have been left to individual communities as local governments have their citizens’ best interests in mind and 90 counties did not have active COVID-19 cases during the time of the shut down.

“We just need to be able to deal with each community and local control,” Wasinger said. “Local control is important for all of our communities. They know best. County commissions, city commissions, they know what’s best for their communities.”

Phelps disagreed with Wasinger’s view, stating the pandemic should be viewed as a medical and scientific issue. According to Phelps, Gov. Laura Kelly and the state made the correct choice in shutting down the state as it aligned with advice from medical experts.

“The fact of the matter is, when you did the shutdown at the beginning, things worked. We didn’t have any cases, but we had county governments all over the state [who] decided to look at it as a political issue and then push back on the governor,” Phelps said.

As the questions moved between topics, Phelps brought many of them back to education as he believes higher education has tight ties to activities in both Ellis county and the state of Kansas.

“But what we need for our economic development in the state is to continue to work towards having an educated workforce, so funding the Regents institutions, it’s imperative that we do that,” Phelps said.

While Phelps sees education as an important factor in local business and state economic development, he also stated that incentives, such as affordable housing, are necessary for bringing business to northwest Kansas.

In addition, he believes that the state needs to reconsider current tax codes. This would be part of what he sees as necessary review of many state policies and procedures.

“Small businesses and middle class people are paying an unfair amount of taxes compared to corporate businesses,” Phelps said.

In contrast, Wasinger believes supporting small businesses and the Kansas economy ties directly to supporting farmers, lowering regulations on certifications and the widespread use of broadband in rural areas.

The latter approach, she explained, attracts employers as it allows for remote work.

“If you see, so many people are leaving the larger cities and coming back to rural America, and they’re seeing because they can work remotely, how wonderful it is to be here, how […] big the quality of life is here,” Wasinger said.

In their closing remarks, both candidates reiterated what they viewed as the most important issues of the evening.

Both addressed higher education with Phelps stating that it is “one of our best expenditures” and Wasinger saying that it is “unfair to say [she doesn’t] support school or higher education.”

Phelps concluded that he doesn’t view the COVID-19 as a political or economic win-or-lose situation but as a health issue.

“The people that are losing are the people that have lost their lives,” he said, “families that have lost a loved one, and I don’t want that riding on my shoulders.”

The final comments of the evening came from Wasinger who reiterated that she views her work as standing up for her constituents and as supporting farmers and human life. This includes reigning in state spending.

“It takes thoughtful concern from everyone for Kansas to do the right thing, and that’s what I plan to do,” she said.

More information about the upcoming elections, including registration deadlines and candidate platforms, are available online through the FHSU American Democracy Project.

The debate can be viewed in its entirety below:

Sound Off!