By Eric Swanson
A Democrat has occupied the Kansas governor's office since January 2003, when Kathleen Sebelius became the state's top executive.
Sebelius stepped down in April 2009 to become President Barack Obama's secretary of health and human services. Her successor, Gov. Mark Parkinson, is not seeking a second term.
Now, state Sen. Tom Holland is hoping to keep the office in Democratic hands for another four years.
Holland, D-Baldwin City, and his running mate, Kelly Kultala, were unopposed in the Democratic primary election. They will face the Republican team of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and state Sen. Jeff Colyer in the Nov. 2 general election.
The Globe interviewed Holland last month about the challenges facing the state, school finance and other issues. Here are questions and answers from that interview, edited for clarity and length.
Daily Globe: In your opinion, what is the most important challenge facing the state? And how would you address that issue if elected?
Tom Holland: The most important challenge facing our state is economic development -- quality job growth. The Holland/Kultala administration believes that the best way to have sustained economic growth for the long term is to continue investments in education and technical work force training.
What we are proposing that we do is as the economy recovers, we want to direct a portion of those new revenues back into classrooms. We also want to take a portion of economic development initial fund dollars -- the current monies accrued by the Kansas Lottery.
Right now, the Department of Commerce uses them for bonding and various financial programs to bring companies to the state. Those are great programs. We just want to take a portion of those dollars and redirect them toward technical training scholarships, set up some programs as well as some funding monies for technical training centers across the state.
One of the things, also too, we're talking about education is that -- and I want to get into this a little bit more -- is this whole thing of school funding. We believe that certain districts that want to go above the current 31 percent LOB (local option budget) should be able to do so within some limitations or means.
However, we want to be sure that we have an equalization mechanism in place so that all kids across the state can receive a quality education, and we don't get into a situation of having disparate educational opportunities for kids back in the courts.
DG: Your opponent has called for overhauling the school finance formula. Are you satisfied with the current formula? And if not, what changes would you support?
TH: First of all, in 2006 I actually voted for the current school finance formula. It had passed constitutional muster and brought an end to litigation.
My opponent has repeatedly said that he wants to change the school finance formula, but he has never said how. And I think that is so critically important.
He talks in code. He says things like, "We want to provide 'more local control.'" Or another favorite euphemism is, "The state needs to stick to the basics." But what does that mean?
When you talk about more local control, some people might think, "Oh, more local option budget." However, Sam has also talked about how he wants to go back to the school formula prior to the current one that we have.
Now, I think Mr. Brownback wants to take us back to the school finance formula of the late 1980s, early '90s, before we had the first formula change. And he wants to take us back to a time when we had local property taxes constituting 75 percent of the funding for our schools.
That is going to cause major problems for our communities. It's going to be huge. Property tax increases. I don't know, quite honestly, how struggling families and seniors on fixed incomes are going to be able to afford skyrocketing property tax increases to pay for education.
DG: If elected, what steps would you support to crack down on illegal immigration? And second, what should Washington do to address the problem?
TH: Washington has completely failed us on immigration. Washington has failed to protect our borders; it has failed to protect our jobs.
Now I have a proven track record in the Kansas Legislature of reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans. I've passed legislation that has cracked down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
My opponent is part of the problem. Senator Brownback has been in Washington for 16 years. Senator Brownback's position on immigration has changed more often than the Kansas weather.
Case in point: At one time, Mr. Brownback voted both "Yes" and then "No" on a federal amnesty bill. He did it, like, on the same day, which would have legalized millions of illegal immigrants in this country. He actually voted against federal legislation that would have cracked down on employers who knowingly hired.
So, Mr. Brownback is no friend to working men and women in this state, and he's being extremely inconsistent.
DG: So, apart from cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, what steps would you support to address that problem if elected?
TH: E-Verify. I'm an employer that has to use E-Verify now, and I think it's mechanisms like that that will hold our employers more accountable in the workplace.
And that's why I support initiatives like that.
DG: During the debate in Hutchinson earlier this month, you spoke about capitalizing on Kansas' key industries. What are the state's key industries, and what steps would you favor to capitalize on those?
TH: First of all, let's talk about agriculture.
Number one, as governor I will work to open new export markets for agriculture -- for growers.
I will also encourage the Legislature to make sustained investments in the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Working with our partners -- our plant science and animal health partners -- they're making new innovations in those industries. And I think that is a great way that we could see increased production levels for growers in this state.
When it comes to energy: Number one, we need to get the Holcomb plant up and going. EPA needs to get the permits issued, get going on that.
But we also need to increase transmission capabilities in this state. We need to get those transmission lines up so we can start exporting more energy out of the state. That will allow us to create new green jobs with new wind turbines going up. ...
As far as bioscience itself, I think we need to make sustained investments in KBA. We need to continue to make -- I believe we need to increase our commitments to our Regents system, particularly our research institutions, overall.
Education, we know, is a big part of a sustained economic development growth strategy for our state. But we also need to foster innovation. And we foster innovation by making investments in our Regents system where we are tracking outside researchers, scholars, to come into our universities and discover the next big thing -- those new innovations and technologies that will create start-up businesses, create intellectual patent flow, allow us to go forward and create new jobs.
The fourth leg I want to talk about is basic manufacturing. I want to see Wichita be reinstated as our air capital of the world. And so to me, what that means is one, we need to be making sustained investments in NIAR, that National Institute for Aviation Research. NIAR also is developing not only technologies that can be used by the air frame industry, but it's also creating technologies that can be used for non-aviation industries. We need to be looking for opportunities to exploit those technologies as well. ...
The second thing we need to be doing for aviation falls back in the line of technical training. Sedgwick County has a national center for aviation training. I believe the state needs to be making more investments into those types of institutions. ...
The third thing I think we need to do, particularly for aviation: We know aviation competes in a global marketplace. And so I, as governor, would work with the U.S. Department of Commerce and national and international stakeholders to be sure we have a home for our aviation partners in Kansas -- not just that's survivable, but really is long-term profitable for them.
DG: Finally, what makes you the best choice to lead the state over the next four years?
TH: There are a lot of challenges facing Kansas. Our next leader needs to be someone who's a business leader and a problem solver.
I'm a business owner; I've been making a payroll for over 16 years. I have to balance my books. I have to do more with less.
Contrast that to my opponent, Sam Brownback. Sam Brownback is a career Washington politician. He's been in Congress for nearly 16 years. Sam Brownback has brought us nothing more than more debt, more gridlock, more partisanship.
We can't bring Washington's problems back to Kansas and expect to solve today's challenges.
I'm running to be governor for all Kansans regardless of income level, ideology, geography. I'm running to implement common-sense solutions for the common good.