Bill's Run

PBS Premiere: June 29, 2004Check the broadcast schedule »

Viewer Questions for Bill Kassebaum

William from New York asks: Since your goal to improve funding for public schools has not been achieved, how will you explain such lack of success to voters this year?

Bill: All I can do is explain what we did achieve, which was to build a bipartisan group of legislators to pass a bill in the House that would have gone a long way toward helping to solve our school funding problems. The bill didn't pass in the Senate, this is true, but at least in getting the bill to the Senate, people started addressing the issues. So I would tell people in my district that if you want to vote for me I'm going to go back and try to do the same thing again -- and this time get it passed into law.

John from California asks: As a member of a county Board of Supervisors in the San Francisco Bay Area, I face the same challenge as you in trying to explain that program cuts must be made if revenues are not increased. What has been your most effective strategy in getting voters to understand the connection between failure to raise revenues and the resulting decrease in vital education, health or social service programs?

Bill: It's tough, because for many people there seems to be no link between the two. There are also plenty of politicians who dodge the issue, promising one group no new taxes (or tax cuts) while promising another group that their services will be preserved (or enhanced). To tell you the truth, I still haven't figured out a good way to talk about it without agitating (or boring) everybody. My mom keeps telling me to open with a joke. Maybe that's about all you can do, then deliver the bad news. The good thing is that, ultimately, I think people understand; you don't get something for nothing.

Michael from Tennessee asks: How was it running your first campaign, what did you learn, and how would you run the next one? Anything you would do differently?

Bill: I should have started earlier. I decided to run kind of late, leaving only eight weeks in which to campaign before the election. But I was extremely fortunate to have good people helping out on the campaign; in the end, that made all the difference. Many people in the district were pleased that I ran a positive campaign. I plan to stay positive.

Peter from California asks: Bill, the documentary was very inspirational. What would be your single advice for someone like me who would someday plan to run for office?

Bill: I think it's important to honestly say what you plan on doing if elected. It may not get you elected, but at least you're being honest with the electorate.

Ryan from California asks: I was born and raised in Beloit, KS and my dad owns a veterinary practice there. I have seen the towns surrounding us "dry up" over the years. Their schools have been shut down and the kids in these areas are forced to drive great distances to get to other schools. Can this process be reversed or are we seeing the end of small-town America? I am also interested to hear about the reaction you got from Pro-Life individuals during your campaign. It seemed to me that many people placed their votes based on this issue. Was this a hard thing for you to get past with some people when you were running for office?

Bill: I don't think we're seeing the end of small-town America, especially when my brother in LA tells me that the average cost of a house there runs about half a million dollars. For sure, it's not a lifestyle suited to everyone, but it's a good quality of life and a great place to raise a family. I don't believe in a "build it and they will come" philosophy, but I do think we have to provide good schools in rural Kansas, because if we don't, people with families will not want to move in.

In regards to the abortion issue, it is divisive, and I know many people will not be voting for me because of my position. But so far it has been civil. I think most people have already made up their minds about it and moved on.

John from Virginia asks: I would like to know your opinion of why you won? In your view, is it because the voters looked past your stance on abortion and the raising of some taxes for the overall good of the people of Kansas?

Bill: Of course, I'd like to think that. I will have a more accurate answer for you on August 3, when the voters in my district decide whether to send me back or not.

Trenton from Washington asks: I am now a Democrat in a liberal city (Seattle) although I grew up Republican in Montana. I agree with most of your positions that came up in your brother's film. Basically, I feel the GOP has abandoned you, your mom, Teddy Roosevelt, John McCain and anyone that thinks for themselves. What is left in the Republican party for you?

Bill: Good question. The GOP in Kansas has been a big disappointment to me. The party is more interested in ideology than actually solving problems. But maybe I can change the party in a small way, bringing it back to its roots.

Thomas from Texas asks: Which politicians do you admire (besides your mom and your stepfather)?

Bill: Alf Landon, Teddy Roosevelt and George C. Marshall.

Bill from Ohio asks: Your main quest at the start of your run was the school funding issue. In Ohio we use property taxes as the main funding source for our school system. This system is under a great deal of strain. What ideas have you and/or your peers discussed to resolve your funding issues and challenges? We, too, are farmers (with no off-farm income) and have a great deal of interest in the stability of our local school system and community and a viable solution to a perplexing challenge.

Bill: I have proposed an increase in sales and income tax to avoid an increase in property tax.

Keith in Washington asks: Bill, I watched the story on your election and the plight of rural Kansas last night. It was great. Regarding your support for rural Kansas schools, I can imagine how difficult it is to fund State schools out of increases in State income taxes or even local property taxes for that matter. Did you and fellow legislators consider a 1/2 cent state sales tax increase devoted specifically to schools? People seem to be more ok with sales tax hikes than income or property tax hikes. Another idea would be to increase (or institute) a statewide lodging tax. A small portion could go to tourism, the rest to schools. That way visitors pay for the increased funding and it's not passed along to residents.

I work for the National Park Service here in WA, I am Chief of Park Planning and Environmental Compliance for our Regional Office which includes five western States, the Hawaiian Island and 3 parks in our Trust territories. Here in Washington, I am proud to say that we do not have a state income tax. We fund everything with a high sales tax (I believe 8.75%) and property taxes. We exempt food from the sales tax. Seems to work well, with the only down side being sales tax revenues lag when the economy is down. Our state, like many others, has been in budget crunch the past several years and has dipped heavily into our "rainy day fund" and reduced programs, including voiding promised teacher raises, coupled with increased burdens of Washington DC passing along many social program costs to the states.

Bill: In Kansas the sales tax rate is 5.3%. My plan called for a 2/10ths of an increase to 5.5% and a small increase in income tax. These increases would be directed to education. This plan failed. Kansas spent its rainy day funds two years ago.