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Political races in Wyco heating up for August 2 Primary

As the August 2 Primary approaches, the heat has been turned up a notch on the local Wyandotte County political races. The issues at stake have not changed from previous years; people are still concerned about Wyandotte County taxes, lack of funding for education and crime.

At a recent Candidate Forum held at the Kansas City Kansas Community College, incumbent District Attorney Jerry Gorman and his opponent Mark Dupree turned the conversation into a debate as the two sparred on who is the better candidate.

Three candidates Tony Martinez, Renee Henry and Deryl Wynn are pushing their credentials to the public, as they each want to win the seat of Judge for the 13th District.

Voters have a tough decision to make as they look at the three candidates for the 13th District Judge seat as they all are qualified to fulfill the seat. They are all involved in their community, they are experienced in criminal and civil ligations and they all have handled just about any type of case you may think of such as traffic tickets, rapes, wrongful deaths cases to homicides.

Martinez has 25 years in the courts and told the audience at the public forum last week that in the list of 15 judges in Wyandotte County, there is not one Hispanic judge stating that “his face represents a face of diversity.”

He has represented individuals who wanted to spend more time with their child, he has helped individuals receive child support, help them get a divorce, if someone needed help during a contract dispute, he was there helping them navigate through it.

“There isn’t anything that I haven’t done on the civil side from the lowly traffic ticket to the lady who took her son to the hospital and he didn’t come back—we filed a wrongful death suit,” he said.

As he solicits voters to put him into the judge seat, he tells those he meets that he is a unique candidate.

“Compassion first, fairness in the court room and transparency in the courtroom is what I will bring. I understand the compassion you have to have when you have a young man before you that has committed a heinous crime. The mother and father are crying because he is going to prison and I understand that,” he said.

Renee Henry is not originally from Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas but she has called it her home for the past 16 years.

“I believe that everyone should have access to justice. I have watched other judges bite people’s heads off for asking a question. I don’t want to see that happen. I am experienced, I am fair and I am dedicated to justice,” said Henry.

Deryl Wynn has an extensive background in criminal law and also has handled all kinds of cases in and out of the courtroom.

“Judges wear black robes but that is not where the authority comes from it, it comes from integrity and the character of the individual underneath the robe. You want a judge that wears the robe and understands what it is like to be a human being—with compassion and sound judgment,” said Wynn.

Martinez closed his speech with “there has never been those people in my language, it always has been us. For 25 years I have represented us and it has always been all of us together, working together.”

Incumbent District Attorney (DA) Jerry Gorman is fighting to retain his title against Mark Dupree, who started his career in Gorman District Attorney office.

Dupree has been an attorney in criminal law for the past eight years. Gorman has been the District Attorney for the past 11-½ years and served as the Assistant District Attorney for 23 years under former District Attorney Nick Tomasic.

“There are three very important qualities a District Attorney should have—experience, leadership and integrity. I have tried more jury trials than any active prosecutor in the state of Kansas with over 400 jury trials and 45 of those have been homicide cases,” said Gorman.
While Dupree’s experience isn’t as long as Gorman, he told the attendees at the public forum that, “I am sick and tired of the crime that occurs in Wyandotte County. It is as if two different worlds exist, there is the crime “dotte” and there is the wonderful county that only a certain few get to live in. I believe you should feel safe in Wyandotte County whether you live on 1st street to 143rd street,” said Dupree.

Gorman and Dupree butt heads on many of the issues within the District Attorney office, but they both agreed that the department needs funding from the state that would help them do their jobs.

Wyandotte County has a large population sitting in the jail that suffer from some form of mental health.

“There are under 400 people that are incarcerated in jail and 30 to 40 percent suffer severe mental illness. We have 12,000 bookings in a year and not all are in the District court, many are municipal court and the majority of the misdemeanor crimes that are committed are by those who suffer with mental illness,” said Gorman.

Dupree hopes if he is elected into office he would address the mental health issues with a mental illness diversion program. Gorman responded that Wyandotte County already has had that program in place for almost nine months.

Dupree suggests that the person serving as a DA should have a servant’s heart.

“I have to stare into the eyes of many families over caskets because their child was gunned down. As a DA you need to serve the entire community not in bits and pieces. We need a prosecutor who is not reactive but proactive,” said Dupree.

Gorman is proud of the programs his office has developed to keep Wyandotte County safe and the citizens they serve.

“We have created programs to help victims and programs to help defendants. We developed Project Safe Celebrate to help high school seniors to celebrate graduation and prom safely. We have developed a truancy program in the public schools that is presented in both English and Spanish. We have collaboration with organizations to protect children against physical and sexual abuse. I believe we have done a good job in the office and I believe there are more good things to come,” said Gorman.

Durpee stated that “people are dying and every case involves a family.” He cited that the DA office has 1,100 cases that have not been to trial and that should be changed.

Gorman pointed out that while there are 1,100 cases there are lawyer standards that can’t be ignored.

“You can’t file a case unless there is evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt. The police work hard and can show probable cause but we have to have more than that ... if it doesn’t reach beyond a reasonable doubt, I can’t file the case,” he said.

Two Wyandotte County lawyers, Vicki Meyer and Courtney Mikesic have filed to serve their community as the next District 7 Judge.

Meyer formerly worked in the District Attorney office from 1990 to 2009. She was head of the juvenile division and supervised a staff of five attorneys. After leaving the DA office, she moved into the job of a prosecutor for the city.

“My job as a prosecutor is to make sure that they become productive by putting them into programs and get them help and not necessarily always putting someone in jail,” she said.

She has seen an increase in cases that deal with individuals who have mental health issues, anger issues and drug addictions.

“About ninety to ninety five percent of the people I deal with are good people who are just making bad decisions,” said Meyer.

Courtney Mikesic attended Washburn University Law School and worked in the Washburn Law Clinic where she represented people who couldn’t afford legal counsel.

“My first job out of law school I worked for the Kansas Supreme Court and served as a law clerk. I came back home and worked with Nick Tomasic as an intern in the District Attorney office. It prepared me to go into civil ligation where I have been over the last ten years,” she said.

Both candidates have extensive experience on the criminal ligation side of the law. Meyer entire career has been in the criminal ligation field.

“My 25 year career has been representing people charged with disorderly conduct to homicide and everything in between,” she said.

Mikesic work had her handling similar cases as Meyer but she added, “with my experience now I am on an appointment list so I do pro bono work for those who can’t afford cases,” she said.

Meyer reached out to voters and told them she has always been involved working with the youth of Wyandotte County as a teacher, as a school board member and lawyer.

“I believe that dealing with individuals in our community, as both Courtney and I have done, you learn to listen. In order to be a good judge you have to be able to listen, you have to be able to determine how to be fair and honest with the people. When you have a defendant or victim speaking to you in the courtroom you have to listen but also tell them honestly here is what is going to happen and how we get there, “ said Meyer.

Mikesic father, Judge David Mikesic, is the person she turns to for advice. She asked her dad for advice as she runs for judge. He advised her, “when you are on the bench you are going to have good days … days where you will bring families together, you are going to help people out, perform marriages and do adoptions. But you will have worst days; you will tear families apart and make hard decisions. As long as you follow the golden rule you will do well—treat everyone fairly and with respect,” she said.

Two Democrat candidates Bill Hutton and Donald Terrien are on the Primary ballot for State Senate, District 5. Terrien is running for office to find a solution to high taxes in his city. Hutton chose to run because he favors keeping the state out of local tax decisions and let the local government control their own taxes and set gun control policies.

Terrien told those attending the public forum that his solution to resolving the high tax issue is to legalize marijuana.

“No one wants to talk about it but there is an answer to lowering the taxes. There are states that have legalized marijuana and that has brought in tax revenue. Kansas seems to always fall behind other states. I want Kansas to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use,” said Terrien.

Hutton doesn’t agree that legalizing marijuana would resolve the high tax issue.

“I don’t think it is a quick fix for our budget and I don’t think we will support our schools with a marijuana tax,” he said.

Hutton went on to say that the state legislature doesn’t want the federal government telling them what to do. “By the same token, I don’t think the state legislature should tell local cities what to do. Our local elected officials in Wyandotte County should have the authority based on voter support to determine what are appropriate taxes,” he said.

Although they disagree on several issues, they both agree that education and school funding is a top issue for the community.

Terrien would like to see children in Wyandotte County public schools have an equal playing field when it comes to education.

“I have children in two different schools and I can see the difference. The students in the Lansing/Leavenworth school districts are ahead of the students in Wyandotte County,” he said.

Hutton feels that fair and equitable funding for all students is a key issue not only for the students in Wyandotte County but in the state.
He is a supporter of the DREAM Act for the students who have come to the United States with their parents and have gone through our schools and graduated.

“They should have the same opportunities to receive a higher education. They should have opportunities for scholarships and financial assistance. As far as I am concern they are citizens due to their tenure,” said Hutton.

Representative Kathy Wolfe Moore, 36th District has been serving for the past six years in Topeka, Kansas for her constituents. Gwen Thomas, former assistant to Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon has filed to run against Moore.

Wolfe Moore served as Chief of Staff for former UG Mayor Carol Marinovich and enjoyed working in government. When Mayor Marinovich left office, Moore went to work for the University of Kansas hospital but still wanted to be involved in politics, The news she brought from Topeka to the voters was not positive.

“I have to be honest things are not good in the state of Kansas. Our state is essentially dead broke. We have countless problems that need to be addressed. Because of our tax plan we are starving out mental health, schools, universities, senior programs and we are not making our necessary payments to KPERS, (Kansas Public Employees Retirement System). We have to change this and change it right away,” she said.

Thomas has gone back to college and has been reading up on the state budget issues.

“I think we have to go back to the basics and make the community involved in the process,” she said.

According to Moore the state needs to change the 2012 tax plan. Recent reports show that Kansas’s revenues were $75 million short in the fiscal year and June revenues were $34 million short, "I don’t know how anyone can think that the tax plan is working, it has been a disaster for the state. The plan was suppose to create and bring jobs. Anything but that has happened and personal income is down. We are not making our required payments, we have no state reserve fund, we have borrowed money from every entity and agent we could,” she said.

Both candidates agree that the major issues facing the state are the tax plan budget, education budgets and Medicaid expansion.

“We have so many problems serious ones facing Kansas today. We have to put the politics aside. We have to be concerned about the issues and the people we are serving,” said Moore.

Thomas closed her talk stating, “It has been a passion of mine to be involved and make changes. The only way to do that is to run for office. I can be a strong positive force for the community and I want to be all inclusive.”

Competing for the U.S. Representative in the 3rd District are Greg Goode and Nathaniel McLaughlin. Goode, a Republican, said at the public forum that voters have not had a choice since 2010.

“The current establishment, the current political system seems to be dominated by career politicians and I am not a career politician. This political class has sent us into a debt of over $19 trillion dollars. I think the Republicans owe it to our nation to get leaders in there that do not represent the political class but represent the voters,” said Goode.

McLaughlin is running on the Democrat ticket and he told potential voters that he would not bend on his principles.

“On the issue of gun control if elected I will utilize the Supreme Court decision where they ruled in 2006 the Second Amendment does not give unlimited rights to carry fire arms. I will use that court decision to take these military style weapons off the street,” said McLaughlin.
Greg Goode also stated that he has principles that he would not bend on as well.

“We have to stop the insane spending. We break the budget act every year. If we can’t follow the laws that we set ourselves than we have issues. I will not bend on Pro Life. It is not a social issue, it is a life issue. I am not just talking about abortion. Right now we have an elderly population that continues to grow. The Pro Life issue is the entire spectrum of life,” said Goode.

When asked about the immigrant population that is in the United States and how should the United States secure its borders, McLaughlin stated, “I am a proponent of secure borders. I am not talking about building a wall or breaking up families. I believe that undocumented immigrants in this country should have a fair pass to citizenship,” he said.

Goode stated that until we have control of the borders, National Security is at risk and if we can’t enforce immigration all the immigrants will be at risk.

“Immigration is a component of National Security. Until you have National Security you can’t have a controlled immigration policy. I spent two years on the East and West German border. We had a fence … this country guarded that border for 50 years. We still get immigration policies that are contrary to the laws enacted by Congress. It is a hypocrisy to see immigration laws being totally disregarded,” said Goode.