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Legislator candidates talk about marijuana

Staff writer

State representative John Barker and candidate Jo Schwartz oppose each other running for Kansas’ 70th District, but seeing value in medical marijuana is at least one topic they agree on.

Barker, running for his fifth term as representative, sees it as a resource for people with medical conditions who have limited options.

“Not that it would be good for me, but I talk to a lot of veterans,” he said. “Being a veteran myself, I’m sympathetic to their cause. They tell me, and a lot of doctors have told me, that it’s not a bad thing.”

Barker’s proposed bill would legalize sale of smokeless medical marijuana. Doctors wouldn’t be able to prescribe marijuana, but would be allowed to suggest it.

Schwartz thinks there is financial value to medical marijuana, too, that could boost how much funding is available to schools.

“That’s where you think outside the education part,” she said. “How do we get more money? That’s where we legalize marijuana; I want it just for the tax purposes. The things we could do with those dollars.”

Legalizing sports betting across the state is another way to increase revenue for Kansas and on a local scale, Barker said.

“Stop the offline betting that’s going to the Caribbean and stuff,” he said. “They’d be able to bet here in Kansas, on KU, K-State, any other ball game or whatever, and the state would get a percentage. People are doing it anyway.”

A bill proposed by Barker would allow convenience stores to sell betting line tickets for sporting events.

The biggest obstacle is casinos because they might not want to take a cut in revenues, Barker said.

Education and agriculture remain vital to the state’s prosperity, Schwartz said.

“That’s why you send a representative who is going to support your school system,” she said. “I can’t represent all the others. I can only represent the school districts in my territory and what they need.”

School in the 1970s and ’80s was often about pushing students on to college, Barker said. Now he sees more students and teachers discussing a variety of career paths.

“With some kids, that’s not the place they should be going,” he said. “I would talk to kids about vocational school. If you’re good with your hands and like working on cars, maybe you should go to the diesel mechanic school in Salina.”

Education and farming go hand-in-hand because agriculture is much more specialized than in the past, Schwartz said. Agriculture needs to be taught in schools much sooner so students understand their importance.

Barker thinks agriculture about has become very broad with the advantages that can arise from products like ethanol that find new uses for resources.

“Agriculture has changed from 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s more advanced, but we also are finding more products. I remember when we sold corn only for feed. Now we sell it for ethanol; 50% of the corn in Kansas goes toward ethanol production.”

Tax rates need to be balanced, so people in low income situations don’t shoulder so much of the burden, Schwartz said.

“When you have people working two jobs and they have trouble making rent, that’s a problem,” she said.

No one should run unopposed for political office because having a political adversary keeps candidates honest, Schwartz said.

“You can’t complain about things if you’re not willing to do anything about it,” said Schwartz, running for a third time against Barker. “Here’s a time in my life where I actually can do something. All I need is for people to elect me.”

Schwartz’s perspective changed a few years ago when she volunteered for five months busing Americans from McCurdo Station in Antarctica.

“Before, I had never left my little territory,” she said of the experience a few years ago. “When you go that far from home, now ‘American soil’ takes on a whole different meaning.”

The experience helped her dismantle ideological barriers and regional bias about being from Newton or Abilene, or Nebraska and Kansas.

Now Schwartz feels better equipped to work in government and hopes it helps her work with others regardless of political views.

Barker thinks his deep ties to the 70th District will prove advantageous, and not just from being a representative. He also served 25 years as a judge in Kansas’ Eighth Judicial District, an area that includes Marion County.

“Everybody knows me,” he said. “When I was a judge I got to Marion County and had court at the courthouse but was home-based here in Abilene.”

His time as a judge strengthened Barker’s desire for stronger domestic violence penalties. He sees it as especially important for military members.

“They go home to their house and think they’re the first sergeant, and start ordering their wife around,” he said. “The Army is doing a better job of that, of teaching when it is and isn’t appropriate. It’s appropriate on the battlefield but not in the home, and we won’t tolerate that.”

Having mandatory counseling and being quicker to sentence jail-time could help decrease the number of repeat offenders, Barker said.

Last modified Oct. 15, 2020

 

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