Q&A: State rep hopefuls talk pensions, economy
The candidates for state representative in Kentucky’s District 73, which includes Clark County and northeast Madison County, are both new to politics.
Pat Banks, the Democratic candidate, is a small-business owner and professional artist. She is the director of the Kentucky Riverkeeper and member of the Kentucky River Authority.
Banks won the Democratic ticket against Rory Houlihan in the primary election in May.
Banks is up against Republican candidate Les Yates, who owns Boonesboro Supply and has worked in electrical engineering for several years.
Yates was unopposed in the primary election after Donna Mayfield withdrew her candidacy at a candidate’s forum in May.
The Sun met with both Banks and Yates for extended interviews. Both were asked the same questions, and their answers are included below. In the interest of space, their full responses could not be printed, but the quotes represent their stance to the questions.
WS: What do you think the state house’s role is in improving the state’s economy and how would you propose generating new revenue for the state?
Pat Banks: “There are a lot of things we can do. We need to think about what kind of communities we want. So, pulling in new jobs, good jobs, good paying jobs, and keeping the businesses here is a real priority. But to pull in new jobs, we’ve got to invest in our education system on all levels. Our public education or vocational schools — we have to invest in that to attract new businesses. We also need to invest in infrastructure to make sure businesses have what they need to do their business. And I think we’ve also got to remember that the environment is very important to a healthy community. And it’s also good for businesses because businesses don’t flock to brownfields.
“Our tax structure is upside down. We need to overhaul the tax code and prioritize what we spend our money on. What are our values? Do we value public education? Yes. Do we need to support our young families so that they have access to jobs, accessible health care? What makes our community strong? And we need to invest in those. The tax cuts have added to our burden, not alleviated it. That’s been a misnomer on the state level and the national level.”
Les Yates: “What I think that the state needs to do at this level is we need to reduce some of the government restrictions on businesses, etcetera. We need to create more of a what you might say, a business environment. The way to do that is better tax structure, less regulation, etc …
“I think there’s a lot of ways we can create jobs. Somehow we’ve created a generation of nonworking people. One simple way, for example … electricians. Why can’t we have an electrical license for residential only? There’s a lot of contractors out there that can do the work fine. They don’t want to do commercial work; they want to do residential. And maybe even the same thing with plumbing, etc. So we could reduce some of the government regulation on that, but yet, at the same time have skilled labor, because right now, there is a massive need and you see it here too that local contractors, we don’t have enough of the good ones … We need to maintain a high level of business but at the same time, get some of the restrictions out of the way.”
WS: The legislature passed SB 151 in the last session, and that move has received some praise but also loud criticism. What are some of the positive aspects and negative implications of this bill and how would you propose improving on it?
PB: “The positive aspect is they did invest some money, but they did weaken the pension system … When you take young people out of a system, that does not work … I would improve on it by listening to the teachers, fully funding the pension system. Just fully funding the pension system, that’s what you have to do.”
LY: “With me being new, how to improve it is probably my weakest point. I’m not sure. But as far as my feelings and my opinion on this — it wasn’t just the teachers, it was all state employees — I can kind of relate to this with Social Security. The money that’s paid into those funds is their money. It belongs to the people. This money has been going on for at least 20 years, and we’ve elected old people, young people, men and women. So, maybe, the problem is not who we are electing, but maybe the entire system is wrong. So maybe what we need to do to go back and fix this once and for all would be to make the system where the state has to contribute their amount and put what you might say a lid on the pot of money to keep everybody’s hands out of that money. It’s not theirs. It belongs to the people who worked and paid into it.”
WS: How do you think your career background makes you the best candidate for this office?
PB: “I have been an artist all of my life. I have a small business. I have been an artist for the Kentucky Arts Council for the last 30 years. And I’ve worked in most of the schools in the region on special projects. I’ve been the Kentucky Riverkeeper for the last 10 years. I’ve been working on Kentucky River issues, our drinking water access. Governor Beshear appointed me to the Kentucky River Authority Board, which is the governing body for the Kentucky River and its 14 lock and dams. I worked on that board for about 10 years.
“I’ve been a founding member of a nonprofit gallery in Richmond, Kentucky, called the Gallery on Main. It was founded in the year 2000. I’ve been a founding member of the Kentucky Riverkeeper which was also founded in the year 2000. So I’ve been a grass roots advocate and networker for many years, and I’ve worked with county governments and city governments and state agencies, and I know the importance of building networks and partnerships. And I think those skills will let me represent the people of District 73 on many levels.”
LY: “I think that every group of people it seems like out there has representation except for working people. We have no unions; we have no special interest groups. And pretty much the only thing that working people ever get is higher taxes. Running a business for 18 years, you learn how to stretch money, you learn how to make money, you learn how to not waste money. So that’s the main reason that I got into this is to try to give the working people some representation. We are reaching a point that we are losing too many working people, especially with the baby boomer situation …
“So we’ve got to go back and create a workforce. So I think being a working person, and with a college level education and working in the corporate environment for 10 plus years, I think all those things and the fact that I care — so that would be my assets.”
WS: Ask anyone and they will list the opioid epidemic and drug abuse as one of the state’s most prominent areas of concern. How would you propose tackling this problem? Are there policies in place you think work or do not work? What would you add?
PB: “The opioid crisis, and I would say health care, mental health — this is a major issue. What we have to do is look at it on many points. It’s affecting our schools. It’s affecting our businesses. It’s affecting our social network. It’s affecting our jails and law enforcement. It’s overwhelming all of these agencies.
“It’s an issue that is related to many things but if we can work together, and look at lifestyle changes, look at job opportunities, job training, possible housing. How do we help to get through this addiction — this disease? We know it’s complicated. It’s not a one-shot thing. It takes a multilevel approach. And we want these people to be strong community members. We want them to be the parents that they want to be. We want them to have jobs so that they can be supporting themselves and paying taxes. So we need to look at all of the experiments that are out there and all of the new initiatives and come up with some best practices to make this happen. And we can do this. We have had crises before. This is just very tragic.”
LY: “Well, if you go back on any major problem, whether it is a disease outbreak, anything like that, the first thing that we do, we try to go back to the source of it and find out what caused it. This opioid problem didn’t exist, say, 40 years ago. So something has caused the problems, I think what we’ve got to do, number one, we can’t expect the legal system to solve the opioid problem … It’s going to be up to society and a lot that’s on an individual basis, just because the medical profession prescribed you 100 pills, you don’t have to take them.
“The first thing we’ve got to do, we got to get the society as a whole to get our mindset that we’ve got to unite and get against this opioid problem … We’ve got to get society behind it because regulation won’t fix it. It is a huge problem.”
WS: What are some of the best and worst laws passed in the last general session?
PB: “The worst law was the pension plan masquerading as a sewer bill. The rollback of environmental laws is also a terrible direction for us to be going, taking the protections away from our people … I’ve heard positive things about the adoption, the foster care. We also need to look at why are these kids in these vulnerable places. We need to be looking at what’s going on with each of these families, see what’s happening. A lot of it is related to the opioid.
“So making those connections and seeing that a problem is not just fixing one aspect of it. We’ve got a whole series of things that are connected that need to be supported. What makes our families stronger? Education, health care, jobs, fair wages and dependable pension plans.”
LY: “Well, I think the worst law was we took the entire general assembly budget, and we passed all these laws that put the entire tax burden onto the backs of the working poor. To me, that’s one of the worst laws that has been passed … I think some of the hemp laws were good laws. We’ve devastated the farming industry. So that to me, was maybe a good law to at least give them something to that they could work with.”
WS: A lot of conversation in this election has centered around the “nastiness” of politics and the perception that legislators are unable to work across party lines. Do you think that perception is true? How do you propose improving the atmosphere of politics in Kentucky?
PB: “It does seem like it’s true. I am hopeful that you can get past that. I think we do that by having mutual facts and history, science and math that work and we can identify a problem and then come up with solutions. Basing our decisions on facts and numbers will go a long way and giving us a meeting place, and then we can look at health care, we can look at our public schools, and we can see how do we make them better? What do we need to do to make them better?”
LY: “I never ran because I didn’t like someone. I wanted to run on my own merits, of what I wanted, what I would like to see change, etc. … I’ve known a lot of people for a long time. A lot of these people are in your local government, and I will not hate these people because of their politics. It won’t happen. I’ve made one campaign promise: that when this is over, win or lose, I will still be able to look these people in the eye. So I think that if you take some integrity with you to Frankfort and the people know that you’re out for what’s best for everybody, then I think more people they may not like what you say but they know that they can believe what you say. With that, you can gain the respect of both parties.”
WS: What are some of the best and worst things the governor has done during his administration?
PB: “The governor has shown so much disrespect. He’s calling the teachers all these horrible things, and they’re ones that are being cheated. Their money’s been stolen from them; they paid into these pensions, and he’s treating them terribly. It’s like he’s taking a page from somebody else … he’s been treating the teachers very bad. They deserve respect, and they need to be honored for their service.
“He’s told everyone these tax cuts are going to work and he’s taxed the lower income and given tax breaks to the highest, and then tells us we can’t afford anything. He’s trying to dismantle our public school system by putting heads of agencies that don’t believe in their mission … I haven’t been happy with his discourse. I feel like he has not tried to be my governor and I would like for him to be the governor for all of Kentucky. The job of the government is to unify us and to take care of people’s business, not to take care of the privileged few. We want sidewalks. We want roads. We want public schools. We have to do that together.”
LY: “From my limited knowledge, I think he’s business-oriented. I think he cares about creating jobs, etc. I think he truly cares about even the education system. Probably the worst thing is probably what everybody else feels is the way the teachers’ retirement fund — I don’t know why he singled them out personally — but I think the way that was handled was probably the worst thing that’s happened in Frankfort.
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