Jackson County Legislature 1st District At-Large and 6th District candidates participated in a public forum at the Gamber Center in Lee’s Summit Tuesday. The candidates answered questions ranging from tax increment financing to the Missouri transportation sales tax question that will be on the Aug. 5 ballot as well.
Former Kansas City Royals player, coach and broadcaster Frank White and Kansas City firefighter Sherwood Smith are vying for the Democrat nomination for the open 1st District At-Large Legislature seat in the November general election. Incumbent Republican Bob Spence is being challenged by fellow Republican Theresa Galvin for the party’s nomination in the 6th District. Smith, Spence and White all participated in the forum, but Galvin was absent.
“I’ve spent 18 years in the major leagues, won seven division titles and a World Series,” White told the forum’s audience when asked what he would bring to the legislature if elected. “I don’t think that’s fluff.”
White also said this is his first time running for a political office, despite previously campaigning for a tax that supports the Kansas City Zoo and running a colon cancer awareness program.
“I’m not afraid of challenges,” he told the audience. He supported this statement with an anecdote on how he tried out for the Royals when he was 19 years old. “I saw it as an opportunity.”
But Smith emphasized his experience in politics, such as being involved with Kansas City firefighter union Local 42 and the Missouri State Council of Firefighters. “I crafted language in bills when I visited Jefferson City.”
“I’m a hard worker, a fact person and driven to get a solution,” Smith said to the audience. He added at the end of this year he is retiring from the Kansas City Fire Department after serving 36 years, which would allow him to fully be committed to his public office, if elected. “I want to approach things that are serious and bring consensus to the legislature.”
When asked about the transportation sales tax question, a 3/4 of a cent increase that would generate $5-6 billion to maintain and build infrastructure throughout the state over a ten-year period, Smith replied that he is unsure on where he stands on the issue.
“I do like what it stands for, but the problem is the amount of tax.” He added that the Jackson County region should get a “fair portion” of the tax, if passed.
“I’m totally against it,” answered Spence. “This tax was supposed to be for roads and bridges but covers just about anything, from sidewalks to even airplanes.”
“I’m not a big supporter of tax period,” said White about the transportation tax question. He then pointed out an example of a light rail system proposed by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders and said he would favor a surcharge for such a mass transportation system rather than a tax increase.
In response to a separate question about a future light rail system in Jackson County, Spence said he would need a lot more information to make a decision on whether he would support the idea of one. “It would cost $60 million and $57 million of it would be funded by a federal grant. The County would have to come up with the other $3 million.” He also mentioned about the County being responsible to cover construction and operating costs.
As for the possibility of another medical research tax question that was on the ballot last November, White welcomed the idea of a similar question while Smith cited that the research dollars would just support medical companies and researchers, if passed.
“Medical research is always important,” said White. “New things pop up all the time.”
“It would bring nothing to the County,” Smith said. “I could not support it.”
Both Smith and Spence seemed to share the same views regarding TIF districts, calling for reform in order to benefit more public institutions. However, White disagreed by saying TIFs bring jobs and needed businesses to communities. For example, he pointed out the future Cerner Corporation complex planned to be located at the former Bannister Mall site in southern Kansas City would create thousands of jobs. Plus TIF dollars bring deprived neighborhoods grocery stores or other needed services.
“Schools and public libraries need to have a voice instead of a developer saying an area is blighted,” Smith said about TIFs.
Towards the end of the forum, Smith and White were each asked what their definition is of being a conservative or liberal. Although Smith said he is proud to be Democrat, he replied that he is simply a people person.
“I don’t ask people whether they are conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican,” he said. “I believe in a fiduciary duty of what’s right to my constituents. I respect the minds of others.”
White admitted he leans towards more on the liberal side, recalling growing up in the inner city. He said job training and education can decrease a person’s reliance on government, but it is necessary if they can’t help themselves. Also, instead of people in poverty getting immediately removed from government assistance once they find work, he suggested tailored social programs that allow a person to wean off support over a number of years rather than being abruptly cut off.
Spence said he is a “conservative with common sense.” He added that “Republicans shoot themselves in the foot” when they have a differing opinion on a particular issue with their party, but yet agree on everything else with the same point of view.