PITTSBURG, Kan. — Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, Kansas District 13 Senator Tim Shallenburger and economist Michael Austin made a visit to Pittsburg on Saturday for a GOP Dinner and Discussion event held at Pittsburg's Memorial Auditorium. Over 100 people were in attendance for the event hosted by the Crawford County Republican Party, which also included a silent auction and two raffle drawings for a rifle and a shotgun.
The Crawford County Republican Party intends to use the proceeds from the event to help elect Republicans to various offices and advance the Republican Party platform.
"We're going to try to keep Crawford County in the red column and push some things that need to be pushed that haven't been pushed in a while — and that's conservative ideas," said Jacob Cochran, Crawford County Republican Party chairman.
Attendees at the event were encouraged to write any questions they had for Kobach, Shallenburger and Austin onto notecards, which were read aloud by Roger Lomshek, communications director for the Crawford County Republican Party.
After the panelists introduced themselves, the first topic of discussion was the US economy, which was tackled first by Austin, who previously worked as the chief economist for two Kansas governors and was the director for fiscal policy at the Kansas Policy Institute before he ran for state treasurer in 2021. He currently works for America For Prosperity as a legislative director.
Austin began by addressing the national debt, which as he stated went from around $20 trillion two years ago to now being $33 trillion.
"In just two years, we've seen more debt accumulation than in the entire economic history of the United States," said Austin.
The reason, he said, was due to the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates low while the federal government distributed stimulus money during the COVID pandemic via the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
"Normally, so much Federal spending would push interest rates up, but the Fed keeping interest rates low led to the record inflation that we're dealing with today."
Austin then discussed what he believed the state of Kansas should do with any unspent funds from ARPA, stressing that "one-time money should be used for one-time expenses."
"Don't take that money and put it into wages that you'll have to continue year after year after year," he said. "You're going to be in trouble if that happens. Don't take that money and put it into something structural and ongoing."
Austin also expressed the need to be transparent with ARPA money and to put it aside in order to keep proper accounting and track of it because, as he stated, Republicans will eventually regain control of Congress and the White House and pull back all that money and ensure that it was spent appropriately.
From there, the discussion moved to the state economy and taxes. According to Shallenburger, Kansas currently has about $2 billion in surplus, which prompted the legislature to try but ultimately fail to reduce taxes. Shallenburger pointed the finger at Democratic Governor Laura Kelly.
"We didn't get one tax bill past the governor. Everything was vetoed," said Shallenburger. "She says she's 'middle of the road,' but she's not."
Despite the surplus, Shallenburger expressed his fear that the economy would get worse, citing unwise use of COVID money in some districts.
"We didn't do a very good job this year of watching the budget," said Shallenburger. "I think we overspent considerably and we didn't get any tax cuts done."
Kobach weighed in, stating that Democrats used the pandemic as an excuse to spend money and that Democrats had revealed their inner-authoritarian side.
"It revealed two really horrible things about the other side: their authoritarian tendencies and the fact that they just don't care about deficit — they don't care about debts," said Kobach. "That's just something that doesn't register. 'It's other people's money, so let's spend it.' That's how they see the world."
Kobach also attributed inflation to energy prices and to the Biden administration.
"As long as these prices stay high and as long as the Biden administration has a stranglehold on drilling and fossil fuels," said Kobach, "we're not going to see any significant relief from inflation."
Kobach continued, stating that the Biden administration's recent listing of the prairie chicken as an endangered species is part of an effort to shut down new drilling in the southwest quarter of Kansas, which has prompted Kobach to file suit.
Another major topic of discussion during the round table was education. As Austin put it, students in Kansas schools are falling behind when it comes to college readiness.
"It makes me want to put on the tin foil hat and say 'They're not really trying to educate us, they're trying to indoctrinate us.'"
Austin explained the reasons why he took his own child, who was in kindergarten, out of public school. The first was that the school mandated that parents wear masks while standing outside even after the COVID pandemic had ended. The second was that the school was going to teach a sexual education program that according to Austin would have taught his child about gender dysphoria, LGBTQIA and abortion as reproductive healthcare by the time his son was in third or fourth grade.
"All across the country, there are families out there who know a better school is out there, who know a better teacher is out there, who know that there's a school that will reflect the values that they teach in their home, but they can't do it because they can't afford it," said Austin.
"I find that to be a violation of your rights because if you think about it, the property taxes that you pay are supposed to go to educating kids. And yet, there's a territorial monopoly on your property taxes."
Austin then shared his belief that money from property taxes should stay with the student, not with any school system, which he said would reward good schools and punish bad schools. Kobach later echoed this idea.
"That kind of competition can hopefully lead to better education for all," said Austin.
Shallenburger took a moment to point out what the Kansas legislature has done to fix education, but stated that every effort was vetoed.
"It makes you wonder what's going on," said Shallenburger. "There's some kind of indoctrination going on."
Kobach reflected on his time as a student in Kansas public schools, noting that no one ever tried to indoctrinate him.
"Fast-forward from the time I graduated high school in '84 to about 20 years later, something changed," said Kobach.
Another topic that was discussed Saturday night was bipartisanship. Austin spoke first and cited a public discussion he recently had with Democratic State Representative Henry Helgersen in south central Kansas as an example of how finding common ground is possible.
"While he is a Democrat, he believes in limited government," Austin said in reference to Helgersen. "The thing that we agreed upon is we need a system in our government that can recognize whenever it is providing a bad service to the people."
Together, Austin said, he and Helgersen talked about performance based budgeting and the need to ensure that every program the government spent money on worked as intended.
"How we speak to each other and how we act toward each other can go a long way in finding some sort of common ground," said Austin. "Never compromise your principles, but find a way you can work on your message that appeals to your audience or person that you're speaking to."
Kobach, however, was less optimistic about how often bipartisanship could be achieved.
"I think we all know that the days of Bob Dole striking a bargain for the benefit of the public with Tip O'Niell are just long gone," said Kobach. "I don't think we on the Republican side have changed our tune. I think the Democrats have just moved so far to the left."
Kobach cited the Democratic Party's stance on trans people as an example of how Democrats have changed.
"If you had said to me 10 years ago, 'Kris, what do you think the chances are that the Democratic Party will be pushing a transexual agenda in our public schools across America and be demanding that biological males get to compete in girls' sports,' I would have laughed," said Kobach.
He continued, saying that whenever one Democrat votes differently than others, it creates visceral anger within the Democratic Party.
From there, Lomshek guided the discussion to focus on trans athletes and bathroom usage.
Kobach stated that the US Department of Education plans to deny Title IX funds to any school that has a blanket ban on biological males participating in girls sports and informed the audience that his office has taken the first step in filing a lawsuit.
"Kansas will be leading a group of states suing the Biden administration on this issue," said Kobach. "It's a distortion of Title IX."
Kobach argued that Title IX was created to give girls sports just as much funding as boys sports.
"There's no way that the wording of Title IX can support what the Biden administration is doing, but they don't care," said Kobach. "They'll do what they want to do and then they'll tell the Justice Department, 'You fight it out in court,' because they know they're going to get sued, but I'm pretty confident we're going to beat them."
Shallenburger took the time to briefly discuss how the Kansas legislature has passed a bill banning biological males from girls sports and then their efforts to override Governor Kelly's veto.
"I don't know where she's coming from," said Shallenburger. "There is clearly a small part of the Democratic Party that has moved its party well to the left."
"I think this is something that we're going to have to continue fighting for quite a while before sanity prevails and we get back to a world where boys are boys and girls are girls," said Lomshek.
After Kobach left for the evening, the conversation moved to the Kansas Department of Transportation’s (KDOT) plans to build a new bypass through southeast Kansas, which prompted Shallenburger to jokingly ask, “Why in the hell are they doing this while I’m a senator?”
Shallenburger said he’s had several conversations with KDOT about the proposed bypass over the past several weeks and that he’s been assured that the meetings that they are having with cities and counties in the area are informational only.
“I asked KDOT, ‘Do you care what the people say?’ and they said ‘Absolutely, we do.’ And I said, ‘Then I can tell you right now, you won’t be building this road.’” said Shallenburger. “And that’s okay with me.”
Shallenburger stated that the only place where there is confusion on the issue is in Pittsburg, where some people are against building a new bypass, while other members of the community – the Highway 69 Association – have been advocating for the construction of the new road.
“That’s a local thing that you’ll all have to figure out,” said Shallenburger.
The final topic of conversation for the night was the separation of church and state.
“I don’t believe the Constitution in any way prohibits prayer in school, I don’t think it prohibits prayer in meetings, I don’t believe it prohibits Christian beliefs being taught in schools,” said Shallenburger.
“I don’t believe that at all. It’s being used by those who are evil. They may not know it, but that’s how it happens.”
Austin cited a leftist agenda to butcher the truth as the reason why Christianity is being persecuted.
“Leftists are using a phrase, ‘separation of church and state,’ to push their own agenda, which is secularism,” said Austin. “The separation of church and state essentially means the state should not interfere with any religion.”
Also in attendance Saturday was Mike Brown, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who took the opportunity to discuss the Party's need for candidates in local elections.
"We are still recruiting candidates," said Brown. "Filing deadline is noon June 1. We have been on a push for months now, recruiting school board and city council candidates. It is our goal and our objective to encourage and support those Republican candidates at those local school board levels because we need to energize our base."
Brown urged attendees to donate to the Kansas Republican Party by signing up for the 1776 Club on their website, which consists of a monthly automatic donation of $17.76.
"We have Democrats to take out of seats across our state and I firmly intend to be at the tip of that spear, and I hope you will join with me as we move forward in that endeavor," said Brown.
Other topics of discussion Saturday included coverage gaps, when the Attorney General can legally intervene, energy, power line hearings, childhood mental health and illegal immigration.