Garden City Telegram, January 18, 2006
By KURSTEN PHELPS
They've got a tough fight ahead, but Democrats John Doll and Tim Cruz told Finney County Democrats Tuesday night they're ready for the challenge that this November's round of elections poses.
Cruz is running for the 5th district seat on the Kansas State Board of Education, a seat Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, holds. Doll will face five-time incumbent Jerry Moran, R-Hays, in November's race for Kansas' 1st district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Cruz said his motivation for running for the state school board is based on his frustration of the current board's failure to represent southwest Kansas and to focus on students' best interests.
"I felt that our area, our communities of southwest Kansas aren't being represented and the current representative doesn't believe in education for all children. I think that's a sad, sad affair. We need to help support our students, teachers and administrators to help our kids be successful," he said.
Cruz said partisanship has gotten in the way of the state board governing schools appropriately, adding that he disagreed with the board's 6-4 vote to hire conservative lobbyist Bob Corkins as education commissioner.
"I think the reason he was chosen is because those six people wanted to continue the agenda they currently have, but I do think we need to give him a chance. But the more time goes by, the less I like what he's doing," Cruz said.
Corkins' push to create a school voucher program, he said, is one example of the board's six-member conservative majority agenda.
"If you do allow vouchers will it just be for new kids going to private schools or are you going to give them to all the students already attending a private school? If that's the case, where is that money going to come from? They're already $400 million short on education funding," Cruz said. "I think it would take away from public schools, and public schools are good for kids. I went to public school and most of you did, too. We need to find ways to help our kids succeed in our public schools."
Cruz said if he and other moderates are elected to the state board, he wants to give Corkins guidelines to "get him going in the right direction," then give the commissioner a certain amount of time to prove himself.
He also said, if elected, he would push to have the state's science standards addressed again. The state school board revised the standards in November in a controversial, but expected, decision to describe Darwinian evolution as a flawed theory and include discussions of alternative explanations of the world's origins.
"Depending on who is elected, I don't know if it's possible to reverse that decision, but if I'm elected to the board, I'd definitely want it on the agenda as early as possible," Cruz said.
The candidate also said he's wary of calls for rapid consolidation of rural school districts to lower costs.
"I think consolidation is a good thing if it can work, but I don't want to just see consolidation so we can have more money for schools in eastern Kansas. I think there needs to be a better definition of what the state wants consolidation to be," he said.
Cruz said a group of about 20 supporters are working on his campaign, but said he continues to travel and talk with constituents to gain more support in the Republican-dominated district, which covers nearly half of the state.
"I think the state of Kansas should be in the news because of the success of our children, not because we want creationism or intelligent design taught in the science classroom." Cruz said.
In facing longtime incumbent Moran, Doll has perhaps a bigger challenge than Cruz, who will face either one-term incumbent Morris or her Republican challenger, Liberal's Sandy Cauble.
"The thing that will hurt me is that I've never run for a political office," Doll said. "... But I'll outwork Jerry Moran. I'll have to get out more and talk to more people. .. but I like competition. I'll make up for inexperience with enthusiasm and hard work."
Doll said although Moran is a good person, his voting record doesn't match his moderate image, and Doll criticized the congressman for following party lines instead of voting with western Kansans in mind.
Moran's support of President George W. Bush's tax cuts is particularly troublesome, Doll said.
While tax cuts helped Exxon Mobile garner a record $10 billion in profits in one quarter last year, millions of people remain without health insurance and education saw major cuts, he said.
"They talk about pork money. What's more important, a bridge in Alaska or educating our youth and making sure our senior citizens are taken care of? Where are our priorities?" Doll said.
Other issues of concern, he said, include putting Kansas at the forefront of an effort to create a sustainable energy plan, improving Medicare for senior citizens and opposing plans similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Doll said he recognizes the challenge in unseating a long-term representative, especially as a Democrat, but said he won't back down.
"If I had (Moran's) voting record, I'd be worried about beating me," he said.
Both candidates said if they can convince voters to look beyond party affiliation, they'll have a chance to win in November.
"Look at the issues, don't look at John Doll, D, and Jerry Moran, R. If my views aren't the most like your views, then I don't want your vote, but don't vote because it says Democrat or Republican," Doll said.
Nelda Lewis, one of about 20 Finney County Democrats at the meeting, said despite running as Democrats, she believes both men have a good shot at winning.
"They're enthusiastic, knowledgeable and qualified. I think they have very good chances," she said.
Finney County Democrats Chairman Lon Wartman said 2006 could be the year to chip away at the Republican party's stronghold in western Kansas.
"There's a lot of concern over the conservative movement, and an especially deep concern over the (state) school board position," Wartman said. "I think we're seeing the effects of a dominant party giving into excess, with cases like (Tom) Delay and (Jack) Abramoff. I think good old moderate western Kansans are really sick and tired of that sort of thing."