District 5 primary candidates say economy, spending top issues
In Senate District 5, a retired Army officer is facing a former state senator in the Aug. 7 Republican primary election.
Steve Fitzgerald, 67, who previously has served on a school board and within the Republican Party, is making his first run for the state Legislature and said he would focus on boosting the economy. Opponent Mark Gilstrap, 59, who served as the district’s senator from 1996 to 2008, said his goal would be to control the state’s spending and reduce its debt.
Fitzgerald, a retired Army officer and consultant with Northrop Grumman Corporation, has lived in the 5th District since 1985. He said he decided to run because he thought citizens needed better representation in Topeka.
“We need a state government that actually represents Kansans rather than acting as a branch office of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We need a free market that will encourage businesses and create jobs.”
Gilstrap, who currently serves as deputy revenue director for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said he decided to run for his former seat because he thinks the seat’s current incumbent, Democrat Kelly Kultala, isn’t representing the values of the district’s constituents by supporting President Obama’s health care act and other liberal issues.
Gilstrap said if elected, he wanted to work to control the government’s spending.
“Governor Brownback has turned things around in his two short years but much more needs to be done,” he said. “Even though we have a budget surplus for 2013 we have a debt of around $15 billion that needs to be addressed.”
If elected, Fitzgerald said his primary goal would be to improve the economy by encouraging businesses.
“Economic growth is essential and will help to reduce or eliminate our other problems,” he said. “A continued economic decline will only lead to more difficulties. Other states have reversed similar declines, and Kansas must, as well.”
While Fitzgerald said that good schools are important to economic growth, he indicated that increased funding for schools may not be the best answer.
“We must realize that there have been enormous increases in funding for K-12 education without commensurate results,” he said. “Improvements must be made, but increasing funding is not likely to be any more able to improve performance than it has in the past. There must be improvements in education management.”
Gilstrap also stopped short of saying that schools needed more funding.
“What I would like to see is the local school boards to have more freedom on how they spend the money that is allocated to them from the state,” he said. “I do agree that the school finance formula needs to be studied. With the current formula there have been several lawsuits.”
Gilstrap said his recent experiences in the Unified Government should help him when it comes to finding areas where the state could cut back on spending.
“We fell upon hard times at the Unified Government a few years back and we had to cut just about every department’s budgets,” he said. “It was not easy but we all found a way to get the job done with less money. We were forced to be more efficient.”
Fitzgerald said while there have been many reductions in the state budget recently, he thought the state may still be able to reduce the budget if it ensured that government agencies had made full use of automation to increase productivity.
“We should do a review by agency to determine trends in employees and look at measures of effectiveness,” he said. “… I am not sure that we have actually reaped the benefits of our investments in automation.”
Senate District 5 covers all of Bonner Springs in Wyandotte County and the western half of Edwardsville, as well as areas of Kansas City, Kan.
To read each candidate’s full responses to The Chieftain’s candidate questionnaire, visit bonnersprings.com.
Watch next week’s issue of The Chieftain for information about the the Democratic primary candidates in Senate District 6, which covers the eastern half of Edwardsville.