© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet The Candidates For Missouri Representative In District 19

Crysta Henthorne
KCUR 89.3

Incumbent Missouri Rep. Ingrid Burnett faces challengers Phyllis Hardwick and Wick Thomas in a district that encompasses most of Kansas City's historic Northeast neighborhood, as well as some of Sugar Creek and Independence.

Missouri’s primaries are less than a week away, and across the area, they’ve brought out some political newcomers who want to shake up Jefferson City.

District 19 is considered one of the most diverse and international districts in Missouri, with a 31% Hispanic population, and 14% Black.

It’s been represented by incumbent Ingrid Burnett for the last two terms, but this year two newcomers are looking to unseat the Democratic incumbent.

Courtesy of the Burnett campaign

Age: 67
Neighborhood: Historic Northeast
Experience: 30 years in education
Campaign website: ingridburnett.com

COVID-19 pandemic: While she said she’s eager to get back to work, Burnett is worried about a potential outbreak once everyone returns to the statehouse.

“I worry that we're going to see this cycle repeat over and over and over again, through the next session. Somebody gets sick. Everybody has to pull back, things slow down. Then we come back, nobody wears masks. Somebody gets sick,” said Burnett.

She said this cycle doesn’t just stop at the statehouse, and everyone needs to take the virus more seriously by abiding by mask wearing and social distancing guidelines.

“We just are not going to be able to get our economy back or our education systems back. All of those things are dependent upon us taking this seriously,” said Burnett.

Education: After a 30 year career in education, Burnett served as a member on the Elementary and Secondary Education committee. One of her biggest concerns has been securing enough funding for schools.

“I know firsthand how vitally important it is to support public education systems with adequate funding that is fairly distributed,” said Burnett.

The pandemic only worsened the already shrinking education budget, according to Burnett.

“How are we going to deal with the funding cuts and the concerns for maintaining, not just the children's health and safety and well-being, but the adults and the families that these children and adults go home to,” said Burnett.

Crime: One of the issues that Burnett says has come out of the Black Lives Matter movement is the need to re-examine the role of policing in the community.

“I'm really concerned about the way that our police become more and more militarized with less available to them other than tanks and weapons,” said Burnett.

She says an essential piece to helping the growing crime rate is getting the Kansas City Police Department back under local control. The KCPD is one of the only police departments in the country that does not have local control of its police department, a fact Burnett says is unacceptable.

Budget: While her background is in education, Burnett says she has a renewed understanding of the budget process following her three years on the Budget Committee.

“Understanding that budget process is complicated, but it is key. It doesn't really matter what legislation we get passed, it's not going to happen if it doesn't get funded,” said Burnett.

She says she is also better able to get legislation passed because of the relationships that she’s made across the aisle while on the committee.

Medicaid expansion: A healthy economy requires healthy people, said Burnett. That includes access to affordable and quality health care.

“We are a community of people who work hard to provide for our families. Our hard-working families deserve better,” said Burnett.

She said she supports Medicaid expansion and measures that would make it more readily available in Missouri.

Focus: Burnett's priorities revolve around what she calls the “quality of life” of her constituents, which includes issues ranging from healthcare and housing to arts and recreation.

One of her specific interests is preserving and maintain historic properties in District 19 for future generations.

Courtesy of the Hardwick campaign

Age: 32
Neighborhood: Pendleton Heights
Experience: Educator, nonprofit, and business
Campaign website: phyllishardwick.com

COVID-19 pandemic: Hardwick says one of the biggest concerns she has is how the pandemic will impact the livelihood of local businesses. She says her experience in business and nonprofit will help her find ways to keep them afloat.

“District 19 is home to a ton of small businesses and I want to make sure that they're okay getting through this moment in time,” said Hardwick.

While it wasn’t her first choice to run for office during a crisis, Hardwick says it has provided her the opportunity to use her campaign as a community response service.

“Instead of having to paint the picture for what my leadership would look like as representative of District 19, I had the opportunity to just lead and demonstrate,” said Hardwick.

Education: As a former teacher, Hardwick says the state of education in Missouri is one of the issues keeping her up at night.

“I think the fact that we are needing to focus on keeping babies safe is priority number one. Priority number two is ensuring that our schools are getting the financial resources so that they can educate babies,” said Hardwick.

In addition to more funding, Hardwick said she has plans to lower the state and local tax burden for teachers and fully fund transportation costs for our schools.

She also advocates for equitable access to schooling for children based on what best suits them, whether its district, charter or community based early childhood centers.

Budget: Hardwick says she is the only person on the Democratic ticket who has significant experience in finance and business. She hopes this advantage will help her fix the problems she sees within Missouri’s budget.

“I think it's absolutely atrocious that Nicole Galloway, less than two years ago, released a report saying, ‘Hey, we're not setting ourselves up to respond to any moment of economic distress, given that we continuously attack our revenue streams.’” said Hardwick.

She says education has taken the hardest hit from legislators trying to find funding during the pandemic.

“We're making the decision to largely gut education funding, even though regardless of the headlines, it hasn't been fully funded in years,” said Hardwick.

Crime: As an African American woman, Hardwick said she appreciates the light that local protests have given to the role of policing in Kansas City.

“Allies are stepping up to say how we can make sure that every member of our community actually feels safe to walk down the street and actually sees the police as someone that can be of service and not a threat, said Hardwick.

This conversation is an important one to be had, she said, and needs to be continued even after the protests end.

Medicaid expansion: The COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted the need for access to healthcare in Missouri, said Hardwick.

“We must ensure that all members of our community receive quality healthcare during the pandemic and beyond,” said Hardwick.

Her plans include protecting frontline healthcare jobs, helping keep hospitals open, and providing healthcare to those who earn less $18,000 a year.

Focus: One of the reasons Hardwick said she decided to run was to fill a gap in leadership. She said the needs of District 19’s constituents aren’t being met.

“Historic preservation is fine. I get it. We have really nice buildings in District 19, but people really need affordable housing,” said Hardwick.

She said she wants to focus on workforce needs in the community, by encouraging the growth of local businesses and bridging the gap between the current workforce and “21st century jobs” for workers who have lost their jobs due to automation.

Courtesy of the Thomas campaign

Age: unavailable
Neighborhood: Historic Northeast
Occupation: teen services librarian
Experience: activist
Campaign website: www.wickthomas.org/

COVID-19 Pandemic: With the current pandemic, Thomas said it’s been a unique time to campaign, requiring creativity in reaching out to voters and staying within social distancing guidelines.

“We germinated thousands of seedlings at the beginning of the pandemic when all of the stay-at-home orders started and we've been giving out free plants in the neighborhood trying to beautify the district,” Thomas said.

While campaigning at community cleanups, Thomas said constituents are talking about the need for drastic change in Jefferson City.

“I don't think that the Missouri government is working for any of us right now and no matter where you're at on the political spectrum,” said Thomas.

Thomas is also concerned about the wave of evictions that are following the growing unemployment in the Kansas City metro.

Education: Thomas has worked for the Kansas City Public Library for nearly a decade in teen services, and believes in fully funding both public schools and libraries.

“I think we are seeing horrible cuts to education, which just can't happen right now. It can't happen during a pandemic. We have to be looking out for public schools,” said Thomas.

Because of government’s failure to handle the pandemic, Thomas said, schools should not be allowed to reopen.

“I think it is a crime to be willing to send children back to school, knowing that they will contract COVID,” said Thomas.

Crime: Thomas said they’ve been attending as many protests as they can to see what needs to be talked about at the statehouse, for example, police department budgets.

“We've somehow made it so that police and military budgets are unable to be scrutinized and that shouldn't be the case. It shouldn't always be education or social services that are defunded,” said Thomas.

Thomas is concerned that military gear was used against protesters, many of whom were peaceful.

“I don't know how they can have enough money to respond in that way, but we don't have enough money to protect our students or to keep our education funded.”

Medicaid expansion: The pandemic has shown how the healthcare system is failing to serve the community, Thomas said, particularly those from under-served populations.

“Our health is linked and if we are failing one Missourian, we are failing all Missourians. Now, more than ever, we need to look out for our most vulnerable,” said Thomas, adding that one way to protect these communities is by expanding Medicaid.

Focus: A longtime LGBT activist in Kansas City, Thomas said someone needs to be at the statehouse to advocate against some of the rulings made by the Republican supermajority.

“The day I filed, I was actually presenting testimony because there are 19 anti-LGBT bills that were attempted to be passed this year in the Missouri legislature. If it hadn't been for the pandemic, I truly believed they would have.

Thomas said someone needs to be prioritizing marginalized communities in Jefferson City, and getting them involved in the process.

“Voting the right way most of the time, isn't enough. We need to be opening up this process to the people,” said Thomas.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.