Faris challenges Tafanelli for 47th seat again

Democrat challenger assesses life 4 years later, lays out plan

by Clarke Davis

A lot has happened in the life of James Faris, 26, in the last four years since he first sought elective office to the 47th District Legislative seat.

The Democrat candidate is running against incumbent Republican Lee Tafanelli, a repeat of the contest in 2006.

Jim Faris

Jim Faris

“I was living in my parents’ basement doing the bluegrass thing at that time,” he said.

Since then he has entered the job market, gotten married, and holds elective office as an Oskaloosa city councilman. He and his wife, Jennifer, are now the parents of a son, Elliot James.

He’s campaigning hard. He’s walked all the streets of the towns in Jefferson County and just finished Effingham this week. He says he’ll go back around a second time in the days remaining before the Nov. 2 election.

He will also do what he was raised to do — entertain. The Committee to Elect James Faris has rented the Delaware Township Hall and the Faris Family will be reunited for a night of bluegrass music Thursday night, Oct. 21.

The concert is free and Faris is only asking that people make some kind of donation to God’s Storehouse either in the way of canned goods or money. All the proceeds taken in at the door will go to the charity.

As for politics, Faris said he will greet people before and after the concert and have a table with his political information.

“I will probably say a few words during intermission. No more than five minutes,” he said.

The four Faris brothers—James is the oldest—were raised by musicians Bob and Michelle Faris, Ozawkie, who formed a family band and traveled the Midwest. James attended Oskaloosa schools until his junior year and then the boys were home schooled on the road.

It was an eighth-grade teacher, Ron Ellis, who sparked his interest in politics along with serving as a page in the state Senate.

“Between the debates with Mr. Ellis and watching the news with my father, I began having opinions about things pretty early,” he said.

Faris said Ellis is a conservative but his gift to this student was steering him to have his own ideas and be able to back them up with facts.

He said age and experience have taken a toll on his liberalism. “I’ve settled down a lot,” he said.

The greatest effect has been his thinking about pro-choice and pro-life.

“Becoming a father has completely changed me on that issue,” he said. “I’m certainly pro-life now.”

But he went on to say there are things government should do to improve and bolster the foster care system and make adoptions easier and less expensive to help in making those important decisions.

He thinks changing the Constitution is less important and the two sides in the debate could do better by working together to improve societal problems instead of yelling at one another.

Faris does not claim to have a remedy for the tight fiscal restraints facing the state, but he targets three areas he supports above all others. They are schools, improved highways and bridges, and initiatives to help small businesses thrive and employ more people.

On education, he wonders if the state shouldn’t target the money it allots more narrowly. He said he sees new football helmets while children are given old textbooks.

If the state is able to allot more money for education, he believes legislators might target where those funds go. He would favor higher teacher pay and keeping the money close to the classroom.

Faris would find ways to trim administration costs and thinks consolidation of school districts will need to be done.

Faris remained neutral on the 1-cent sales tax increase by the last Legislature and said it was too early to tell what the impact on the budget will be.

Given his wishes he would favor increases in income tax over sales or property tax. He believes the sales tax is a greater burden on the poor and low-wage earners and he thinks property tax has been tapped to its limit.

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” Faris said quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes.

He would favor shifting some of the lottery proceeds to support education and hopes it’s never necessary to force schools to go to four-day weeks or cut sports and art programs in the lower grades just to get by.

In making his announcement to run earlier this year, Faris said, “I still see needs that have not been met and voters who are still tired of the lip service that they receive each election year from career politicians that say everything to get elected then forget who elected them when they return to office. They say they are for more state money for the classrooms, but stiff the school districts and teachers with a bounced check expecting them to fend for themselves.”

Faris has been endorsed by the Kansas National Education Associaton and the Kansas AFL-CIO.

Faris is employed as a para-educator working in Oskaloosa for Keystone, the special education cooperative.

The 47th District encompasses all of Jefferson County and two townships in Atchison County, including the city of Effingham.

Incumbent Tafanelli has other challenges but committed to serve

by Clarke Davis

The rules and regulations for businesses wanting to locate in Kansas are too cumbersome, according to one legislator.

Lee Tafanelli

Lee Tafanelli

“In some cases there are three or four oversight agencies that a business has to contend with,” Lee Tafanelli, incumbent legislator from the 47th District, said in an interview last week. “Those need to be combined and the process streamlined.”

Tafanelli, 49, is seeking a sixth term in the House where he has been serving on the House Appropriations Committee and chairs the subcommittee on Public Safety and Transportation.

Tough fiscal restraints during the recession have put stress on the legislative process in recent years. Tafanelli said revenue coming in is a few million dollars ahead of projections but it won’t be enough to meet the $250 million shortfall they know they will face.

The next session will be working on the 2012 budget, the year the federal money for schools will not be there because it was swallowed in the previous session.

“We knew there would be a cliff come 2012 when the federal money goes away,” he said.

To make ends meet at the close of the last session, the legislature raised a 1-cent sales tax, which Tafanelli did not vote for.

“I was supporting a 4/10th of a cent increase,” he said. He did support the final vote on the budget.

The 1-cent tax will raise $250 million with $21 million being peeled off for state highways. The remainder will go to the general fund and schools will get about 53 percent of those funds.

The tax is supposed to sunset in 2013 and be scaled back to 4-10th of a cent for the highway fund.

That $250 million had nothing to do with the pending $250 million shortfall coming up.

Tafanelli’s answer? Grow jobs and cut government expenses.

He and Rep. Derek Schmidt got a bill through the House last year that would create an independent committee to look at consolidating agencies and better streamlining government services. It did not make it through the Senate, but he is hopeful it will this year.

“The state also has some excess property that could be sold to gain some revenue,” he said.

Tafanelli thinks school funding might be approached somewhat differently in the coming session. One thought he has will be having the state determine what the basics are that it must provide and then give local communities the flexibility to do whatever they want above and beyond that.

There’s also a “tech. piece” to enhance, he said. Distance learning and teleconferencing needs to be fully developed for all schools.

One caution for rural dwellers to be aware of in the political arena: The Urban vs. Rural balance is now close and favoring the urban centers. Redistricting will begin this year and stretch into next year, and Tafanelli expects rural voters to lose another four or five votes to the cities.

“Those in Shawnee, Sedgwick, Johnson, Wyandotte, Saline, and Johnson are going to have the votes to do what they want without regard to the rural areas,” he said. “That’s something new for this state.”

The legislator said there are a number of other issues that need attention. Caring for the elderly and trying to keep them in their own homes as long as possible, dealing with water issues and slowing the siltation into the reservoirs that limits the amount of water storage, and maintaining the highway infrastructure important to Jefferson and Atchison counties were all topics he touched on.

Tafanelli wears a lot of hats and he will soon wear a star. His state Senate confirmation hearing to be named a brigadier general is this week. He expects his nomination before the U.S. Senate to be taken up in November.

He now heads the Kansas Army National Guard and has units in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Tafanelli was in Africa in July.

Tafanelli said he has a large staff of both full- and part-time personnel that provide him plenty of flexibility in his schedule and these duties will not limit his full-time effort to his legislative duties.

His civilian job is program coordinator at the National Agriculture Bio-Security Center at Kansas State University. He has been traveling extensively lately to visit laboratories throughout the country that deal with animal diseases.

“We ran an exercise of sorts to test the labs in their procedures for dealing with the threat of a foreign disease,” he said.

Tafanelli said he has been honored to be the spokesman at the President Dwight D. Eisenhower birthday celebration in Abilene Oct. 16. His invitation comes from the American Legion.

The legislator said his decision to seek another term was made in unison with his wife, Tammy, and their two children, Nicholas and Francesca. “We decide based on what fits the family and whether or not we can continue to make a difference,” he said.

The family lives in rural Ozawkie and the children attend Jefferson West schools. Nicholas is a junior and Francesca is an eighth-grader.

He spoke about the meanness in Washington politics and his lack of appetite for the kind of campaign conducted by Tiahrt-Moran primary race for a U.S. Senate seat. The disgust for today’s politicians led to this story:

Wearing his uniform recently and sitting in a restaurant, a woman approached him to thank him for his service. That’s not unusual, but had she known he was a politician it might have been different.

“I’m the same person in or out of uniform. The military person today is respected, but the politician is no doubt the most disliked,” he said.

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Posted by on Oct 16 2010. Filed under County News, Government, State. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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