Candidates in Wichita City Council races had an opportunity recently to give their views on such health care issues as the city’s role in promoting public health, funding bicycle and pedestrian paths, raising the age for buying tobacco, including e-cigarettes in the clean air ordinance, and increasing health equity.
The health care forum, July 18 at the Scottish Rite Center, featured seven of eight candidates in Districts 1, 3 and 6. The forum was sponsored by the MSSC, Health ICT, Kansas Academy of Family Physicians, the Health Alliance, Project Access and others, with assistance from the League of Women Voters. Becky Tuttle, chair of the Health & Wellness Coalition, moderated the event attended by about 60 people.
District 1 has a busy field of Brandon Johnson, Janet Wilson, Michael Kinard and John Stevens all seeking to replace Lavonta Williams, who cannot run again because of term limits. The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 1 primary advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
With two candidates, District 3 and 6 won’t have primaries. District 3 incumbent James Clendenin faces William Stofer, while in District 6 Cindy Claycomb opposes Sybil Strum. Strum was not at the forum.
The candidates addressed questions provided ahead of time and ones from audience members, who asked about public transit and mental health funding and whether the Board of Health should be appointed and city-county run instead of having county commissioners serve as the board as they now do.
Candidates praised growth in bike and walking paths. Their appeal to young people and as economic development tool were mentioned by Johnson, Claycomb and others. “People will stay and invest here,” Johnson said, and Wilson observed “millennials want to bike and walk” and not own cars. Clendenin was proud of the city’s investment, but noted budgets are tight. Stevens called current spending “adequate.”
When asked whether the city should raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, differences emerged. “You can’t legislate good behavior,” said Stofer, adding he favored prevention instead. Several candidates noted they felt conflicted, since 18-year-olds can vote and fight wars. That, Kinard said, made him want to keep the age at 18, a stance Stevens also held. Other candidates favored the age rise. Virtually all candidates favored including e-cigarettes in the regulation of indoor smoking.
Access to health care came up repeatedly, arising through questions about making farmers markets easier to set up (streamline it, most said) and the city’s role in promoting Community Health Improvement Plan goals. Regarding CHIP, answers ranged from a strong city role (Claycomb, Johnson, Clendenin and Wilson) to a more collaborative one (Kinard, Stofer) to Stevens’ belief that, while the city should cooperate, public health is “a county function.”