Written by Tim Linn
Leavenworth Times

As the Nov. 4 General Election draws near, Kansas House Minority Leader Rep. Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg, visited Leavenworth to meet with area Democrats and talk about issues in the upcoming election.

McKinney mentioned several issues that are important to Kansans, including the stumbling economy.

Because of the aircraft industry, the agricultural sector and the oil and gas sector, McKinney said Kansas is doing better than some other states.

However, he said Kansas must make good investments to help encourage economic development, and energy is one of the investments he said he would like to make.

"Our candidates have to be in tune with energy issues," he said. "Affordable energy is critical."

McKinney said the Holcomb power plant would have been a good opportunity to invest in energy.  Although he said he agreed with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that a larger portion of the plants should be owned by Kansas utility companies, McKinney said he supported the power plant proposal at Holcomb because of the future opportunity for alternative energy development.

The construction of the plant could also mean the elimination of older, "dirtier" coal plants in the state, according to McKinney.

"Hopefully, some of those issues will be ironed out in the next session," he said.

For the future, McKinney said the state needs to focus on conservation of available energy and start investing in renewable forms of energy.

"It's not only good for the environment - it happens to be good for the Kansas economy," he said.

Illegal immigration is another issue that is important to Kansans and affects businesses, he said.

"We not only hear about it from workers out in the field," McKinney said. "We also hear about it from honest employers who ensure that they hire legal labor and then get undercut on their bids by 30 and 40 percent."

McKinney said the Kansas Legislature is working toward future criminal penalties for employers who "intentionally misclassify" employees and hire illegal immigrants.

Increasing the minimum wage and access to health insurance for small businesses are also important for the future, he said.

McKinney said he supported investing in public education, specifically technical schools, to ensure that the state is producing "highly skilled" workers for the workforce.

The process of training skilled workers begins in high school, he said - preparing students for careers as machinists, carpenters and electricians, among other jobs.

"That's where the job opportunities are," he said. "And the states that emphasize technical education are in a better position then we are. The technical schools don't have Division I football teams or big alumni associations, but their role to the economy is probably more important now than it's ever been."

McKinney said the Kansas House will also be trying to attract the bio-science research facility at Kansas State University and other similar research opportunities at the institutions of higher education.

Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, said she plans to hold fast on public education funding to ensure Kansas schools stay up to date.

"I think it's going to be a real delicate waltz," she said.