Jill Docking, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, visits Garden City

2/21/2014

By RENÉE JEAN

By RENÉE JEAN

rjean@gtelegram.com

There's been a great experiment in Kansas, and that has been the cause of great concern throughout the state, Jill Docking told a gathering of business leaders in Garden City on Friday. That concern is the reason she decided to enter the race for lieutenant governor with Lawrence's Paul Davis, who is running for governor.

Docking has long-standing involvement in politics. In 1996 she ran for US Senate against Sam Brownback, who is now governor; and her husband, Thomas, was lieutenant governor with John Carlin in the 1980s. Her husband is from one of the strong Democrat families in the state. His father, Robert, was a two-term governor from 1967 to 1975 and his grandfather, George, was also governor from 1957 to 1961.

In addition to meeting with chamber of commerce members at noon at Southwind, she also spoke with educators, and there was a reception at 5 p.m. with the public. The visit to Garden City was one of three stops that also included Colby and Hays.

"Over the past 80 years, Kansas has had a tax structure that people compared to a three-legged stool," she said. "Those three legs are income tax, property tax and sales tax. That has allowed us to have a fair and balanced system."

Since the "great experiment" eliminated a large portion of income tax, that has put significant pressure on the other two legs of that stool, Docking said.

"You already feel the pressure here," she said. "Your property taxes will go up significantly, and there will be more and more pressure on the city government to pick up the costs, because you are not going to let your communities fail."

Docking said property taxes have gone up in about 75 percent of counties in the state, and sales taxes have gone up in 77 percent.

"Is the experiment working?" Docking asked. "Alter the tax structure to stimulate extreme job growth, that was the argument behind this. Is it creating job growth?"

Job growth has been flat, Docking said. The big gamble has not paid off. What has happened instead are cuts to programs that Docking feels the state must maintain to retain economic strength. Cuts to education particularly concern her.

"The biggest cut to public education was signed by Gov. (Sam) Brownback," she said. "Higher education is what I know best. There's been a decrease in funding by $66 million for higher education, and higher education is actually where a great deal of job growth exists."

Docking said many moderate centrist people don't get involved in politics because they'd rather be home at nights, watching television. On the other hand, she added, "If we don't get involved in this way, we are not going to return our state to common sense, balanced government."

Mark Hinde wanted to know what the Davis/Docking plan would be for addressing the income tax issue.

"The first thing we need to do is elect Paul Davis," Docking said, "and then we will have a coalition of Democrats and Republicans together to try and figure this out."

Before Hinde's question, Docking had talked about how the Kansas government used to have members of each party who were willing to form coalitions across the aisle to work on things together. She feels that changed with the election of Brownback. Electing Paul Davis will help return the state to that mindset, she suggested.

"There aren't enough Democrats to do this alone," she said. "We need that coalition back in to figure out how to deal with all of this. The answer is to change the structure of what is going on, and it can't just be one party. It needs to be two. And it can't be just one cycle. It needs to be multiple cycles."

Docking encouraged the business owners to share their concerns with her during the noon event so she could take them back with her for the Davis campaign. There were discussions about the permitting process for Sunflower, questions about KanCare, discussion of apartment housing credits and more.

Lon Pishny wanted to know what the state could do to help ease the hiring crunch in Garden City.

"One of our issues here is not only a qualified work force, but additional numbers," Pishny said. "We are so short on help out here, whether it be agriculture, manufacturing, education — whatever the platform is — we have difficulty finding qualified people who want to come and reside in and stay in western Kansas."

Docking pointed out there are some state programs to incentivize medical professionals by forgiving some of the debt for their educations.

"It's up to the community to woo them and make sure once they come here that they stay," she said.

She talked about efforts in Wichita to help address the shortage of medical professionals.

"Wichita produces most of the doctors who stay in Kansas," she said. "Kansas City has a lot of bleed-off. When the Dean of KU came to the board of regents, I was chair of the regents. He said he wanted to move this from a two-year to a four-year program."

Docking thought that was a great idea at the time, but couldn't help but point out that the state, with the rest of the country, was in the middle of a "horrendous" recession.

"I gotta tell you, there's no revenue," Docking recounted. "He said, 'We will raise the money, Salina will raise the money,' and we did, but after that, we need the state to come in and fund it after the recession."

With the changes in tax structure, however, there was no revenue for that.

"That's a problem for us in Wichita, and it is a problem for the rest of the state," Docking said.

Pishny lamented the lack of entrepreneurial spirit these days. "The backbone of America is small business and entrepreneurs," he said. "We're still not finding the entrepreneurial spirit. We're not finding the workers we need."

Docking pointed out that's not necessarily just a Kansas issue, or a Garden City issue.

"We've always been looked up to with the Midwest work ethic," Pishny said. "That work ethic has declined for a whole variety of reasons. Kansas again needs to be the leader and be the one that's spotlighted on innovative ways to bring some of that spirit back."

There was discussion about the importance of education in accomplishing that aim, and for the immigrant community as well. Docking referred back to former governor Mark Parkinson, who had identified the Latino community as a big growth area in the state. Not providing educational opportunities to that population would be a huge mistake, she said.

She recalled how a scholarship her family offered to an AVID student changed his life and turned his outlook around.

When the young man came in to accept his scholarship, he had his head down, and was not very outgoing, Docking recalled. She kept track of his progress in school, and when he wasn't meeting the 4.0 standard, she eased it some, to keep him in the program. "Last summer in Dairy Queen, this young man comes up to me and says, 'Are you Jill Docking?' and he said, 'I just want to tell you the difference that made in my life. I have a job in computer technology, I'm helping my parents, I have a wife and child ...' He'd lost 100 pounds, and he stood up straight and shook my hand."

Docking said the scholarship was just a little push up, but one that made a remarkable difference in the recipient's life.

"I'm there," she said. "I want each child in Kansas to get through high school and post-secondary college. I think the future of Kansas depends on it in many ways."

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