Two newcomers to politics — Ken White of Belle Plaine and Richard Kautz of Sumner County — will face off in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary to see who will run against District 79 Republican incumbent Cheryl Helmer of Mulvane in the Nov. 3 general election.

White, a Kentucky native, came to Kansas in 1994. A musician from his youth, he is also a partner in Howerton White, a marketing agency in Wichita.

He said he first thought of running for office in 2016 when the Kansas Legislature was having so much trouble finding money to fully fund the public schools as the Kansas Supreme Court had directed them to do. Ed Trimmer, whom White supported, was still the District 79 representative, and White was tied up with his business, so he decided 2016 was not his year to run.

After Helmer defeated Trimmer in 2018, however, White started thinking more seriously about running and decided he could rearrange his business commitments so he could make the time to attend the legislature.

“”I don’t think the Republican leadership is representing us, the community, White said, but he said he is not interested in pointing a finger at anybody. One thing he admired about Ed Trimmer, White said, is that he always ran a positive campaign, and he wants to follow in that tradition.

Kauntz, 51, who lives four miles west of Mulvane, served on a submarine tender in the U.S. Navy and has had a career in the aircraft industry ever since. “I build airplanes,” Kauntz, said and over the years, he’s worked for just about all the airplane industries in Wichita: Cessna, Lear Jet, Hawker and Spirit. He is presently furloughed because of the coronavirus.

Kauntz said he decided to run for office for a couple of reasons: For one thing, he is younger than many of the state politicians, and he thinks the legislature could use some young blood, and he doesn’t think the state should be having either financial problems or problems growing industries.


Problems in

state government

White said he’s seen a lack of rational Republican state leadership over the past several years. His first example is COVID-19. Gov. Laura Kelly provided a plan for Kansas and “the Republicans fight her all the way instead of offering solutions,” White said.

Going back to 2016 and the school funding issue, he repeated that Republicans did not work to find the money to comply with the Supreme Court’s dictates. In budgeting conversations, he said, “they don’t bring any solutions but just take money from other departments” to cover what’s needed right then.

White also thinks Kansas should have remained in lockdown longer, and he is very concerned about the state’s wanting the schools to reopen with students in the classroom. That will just mean more sickness, he said.

Kauntz said he thinks the state is in “dire straits” financially. “I don’t think Kansas should be in debt at all,” he said. He attributes the situation to a number of factors: legislators who don’t know what they are doing when it comes to budgeting; people who may be skimming money off the budgets; people not paying attention to what the state really needs. Health insurance, for instance, is very expensive in Kansas, and Kauntz doesn’t see anyone working to get the prices lowered. He is also concerned that the state is not paying enough attention to public schools, and he thinks “we have forgotten who we are,” referring to such classes as shop and auto body being removed from school curricula. He is opposed to all charter schools but not to schools for students with special needs.


More issues

White and Kauntz agree that medical care is very important for people at this time. White supports expansion of Medicaid for the 140,000 Kansans who would benefit from it. “I believe the legislature’s job is to guarantee the health and welfare of the people,” White said.

As for the Second Amendment, White said he grew up in an area where lots of people hunted, and he had no problem with it until the uncle who had taught him music was the victim of a mentally disturbed person who brought an assault weapon into the factory where they worked. “Why we need assault weapons at all I can’t see,” White said.

Both men addressed the issue of legalizing marijuana. Kauntz believes legalizing it would have financial and medical benefits. The states around Kansas that have legalized the growing of hemp and marijuana are doing very well economically, he said, and the two crops could help diversify Kansas crops. He also said the medical benefits of marijuana are already being proved, and he thinks using marijuana as a recreational drug could also be beneficial.

White said he has reservations about putting one’s hope in marijuana as a cure-all for either heath or finances. Comparing it with wheat, White said, wheat is harvested by machine while hemp and marijuana are harvested by hand. He can’t see people giving over their wheat to take on a much more labor intensive crop. He also said he was concerned about how much profit the two crops could really bring to the state. It would take time to bring marijuana and hemp into the Kansas crop cycle, and there would be no way to see how profitable those changes could be for a while.

Birth control is another topic which White did not try to avoid. “I thought that was decided in the ‘70s with Roe v. Wade,” he said. “How can you go backwards? It was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

White also remarked that people want to outlaw contraceptives for women, but Viagra is still legal for men to use.

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