Meet the candidates for Douglas County Commission District 1

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Voters will soon select from a slate of three candidates the next person who will represent them for a four-year term in the first Douglas County commission district.

We wanted to give you a chance to learn more about the human side of your candidates. So we asked some standard questions related to their run for office and the issues they want to address — but also some fun questions to let folks get to know their candidates as people, not just politicians.

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We have received responses from all three candidates: Steve Jacob, Libertarian; Patrick Kelly, incumbent and Democrat; and Justin Spiehs, Republican. Their answers are the candidates’ opinions, reprinted verbatim with the exception of minor grammatical or spelling fixes, potentially libelous content or answers not responsive to the questions. Any omissions are noted within the responses (…).

Kelly filled out most of these questions for our questionnaire in the Aug. 2 primary, and he was given the opportunity to update those answers for this second version. Some other questions have been added, as well. If Kelly’s answer to a question was updated from the primary questionnaire, that is denoted with an asterisk (*).

Get all the details you need about how to cast your ballot at this link.

Will this race be on my ballot?

The 1st District, depicted in pink on the map below, is geographically the smallest commission district. It contains a large portion of central Lawrence. The district is not square, but its southernmost boundary is West 19th Street; its easternmost boundary is Massachusetts Street; one segment of the district reaches as far west as Wakarusa Drive; and an intricate boundary divides the northern side of town between the first, second and third districts.

If you’re not sure whether you’re in the first district, you can input your name and date of birth at this link on the secretary of state’s website to look up your voter information.

County-Comm-Districts-2022-2

Meet the candidates

Steve Jacob, Libertarian

Steve Jacob (he/him)

Age: 51
Hometown/time in Lawrence: I moved to Lawrence when I was 12 in 1983. Other than living in Perry in for a year in 1992 and have been in Lawrence the rest of the time.
Links: Facebook
Contact: 785-979-3202

Patrick Kelly, Democrat

Patrick Kelly (he/him)

Age: 52
Hometown/time in Lawrence: I grew up in Long Beach, California, and have lived in Lawrence since 1989 except for a few years when I lived in Topeka.
Links: Website, Facebook, Twitter
Contact: patrickkellyfordouglascounty@gmail.com or 785-843-8635

Justin Spiehs, Republican

Justin Spiehs (“against all woke BS”)

Age: 41
Hometown/time in Lawrence: I was born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska. I moved to Lawrence in 2009 after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy.
Links: Learn more about me and what I’m all about on my YouTube channel titled “Dr. Justin Spiehs
Contact: spiehsjustin@gmail.com or 785-764-7256

What is your occupation?

Jacob: Maintenance worker for the City for 31 years and Uber driver for 3.  

Kelly: Educator

Spiehs: I’m a university professor by trade however I’m currently retired. When I’m elected, my one and only full time job will be county commissioner which will allow me to focus all my time, energy, and effort on improving the county (…).

Tell us a little bit about your educational and/or occupational background?

Jacob: LHS Grad in 1989.

Kelly: I attended the University of Kansas and was a teacher at West Junior High, Hillcrest Elementary and Free State High School. After moving to educational administration, I was an associate principal at Free State High School before establishing the Lawrence College & Career Center. Today I work for the Lawrence Public Schools as the Chief Academic Officer.

Spiehs: I’m a U.S. Submarine Service Veteran. I have a PhD in Human Development from KSTATE, a Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from KSTATE and a Bachelors degree in Human Services – Addiction Counseling from Washburn University. I taught in the Family and Human Services Department at Washburn as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. I was licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and a Master Addiction Counselor. I worked locally as a therapist for adults and children who had been sexually abused and as an addictions counselor at a residential treatment center in Topeka. I served on the Board of Directors at The STA CARE Center in Lawrence and I was a board member on the BSRB Addiction Counseling Advisory Committee.

What is your political party affiliation on the ballot, and what role do you believe parties play in local roles like the Douglas County Commission?

Jacob: Libertarian, and it makes a difference here. The party was founded in 1971 as a protest of Richard Nixon’s government spending. We have created so much currency over the past 2+ years we have runaway inflation. Our party knew it was going to happen. 2023 is going to be rough. Cuts will have to be made or the middle and lower incomes will suffer more.

Kelly: I am a Democrat. For some voters, political parties help to identify the values that candidates prioritize in making decisions. Bringing community members together to remove barriers to opportunity, advancing the ability of all persons to live with dignity, security, and respect, regardless of who they are, what they struggle with, or who they love, and ensuring the health and safety of all are all Democratic values that I hold and focus on in my decision making. Political parties can also be a label, hastily assigned, that divides us and distracts us from finding common ground in order to make progress on the daunting challenges facing our community.

Spiehs: I’m running as a Republican who is tired of the way the county is being mismanaged by the Democrats. The county commission consists entirely of Democrat politicians whose policies have gotten the county off track. They all vote unanimously. None of them offer any differing viewpoints or solutions. There is no opposition or resistance to their stupidity. They are a hive mind. They don’t inspire people, they don’t make people feel hopeful for the future. With Democrats in charge it’s just going to be more taxes, more government overreach, move division in the community, more mismanagement, more incompetence, more woke nonsense, more censorship, more control over you and your family. I’m offering something different as a Republican.

Why do you believe voters should choose you for the office of Douglas County commissioner?

Jacob: We need a balance on the constant spending of local leaders. We need to hold responsible Bert Nash (Community Mental Health Center) and the homeless shelter. That for sure is not happening now. We need to take care of the people living paycheck to paycheck, instead of waiting until it’s too late.

Kelly: I have been fortunate to serve the Douglas County Community for over a decade in both appointed and elected roles. During that time my focus has been on bringing people together to solve our most daunting challenges including workforce development, public health, housing, mental health, land use, and more. Positive progress requires honest, principled, and inclusive leadership. That approach — to listen, understand, and then collaboratively problem solve, combined with my experience as a community leader in a variety of sectors — has positioned me to continue to lead our community forward. I am proud of the leadership I have provided Douglas County and recognize there is still work to do. I am grateful to those in the community to recognize those skills and put their confidence and trust in me to lead our community.

Spiehs: You don’t have to be a Republican to vote for me, you just need to be tired of the illogical Democrat policies from our local government. One reason I decided to run for DGCO commissioner is I’m tired of the way all the Democrat politicians run the county as I’m sure many of you reading this are as well. So if you’re also tired of all the Democrat policies that have negatively impacted your life and your family then consider voting for me. I’m thinking about and coming up with solutions to the county’s problems when it comes to reducing taxes, stopping out of control government spending, ending the homeless crisis, growing our community, and opposing local Democrat government overreach into our lives. This is more than you can say about Democrat Commissioner Patrick Kelly who not only does not offer solutions, but he created the problems we’re facing right now. Together we can turn things around and make Douglas County a place we are all happier with.

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Top 3 issues

Please share what you think are the top 3 most pressing concerns facing Douglas County, and, briefly, what you think should be done to address them.

Issue 1:

Jacob: Spending. We have gone from $10 to $40 million in savings during COVID, and we don’t seem interested in giving it back. This commission does not seem to care where the money is coming from. I do.

Kelly: Recent homeless and supportive housing needs assessments confirmed that more affordable and permanent supportive housing options are needed, especially for those who are 65+ or have developmental disabilities. We need a more complete picture of those experiencing homeless, but we know there are shocking racial and gender disparities. Moving forward we need a collaborative effort. Douglas County recently allocated over $10M to community partners for supportive housing and homeless projects – the largest investment in our community’s history. We still have far to go to meet the need in Douglas County, but working together we are making progress to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead a safe, healthy and productive life.

Spiehs: Taxes. I will reduce taxes using the following methods: First, use surplus money from the $42 million county savings account and the $12.6 million surplus sales tax revenue. Second, my hybrid-TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) policy that: 1. Caps property tax revenue the county can collect, 2. Refunds taxpayers with surplus tax revenue, 3. Caps county spending, 4. Allows the community to vote on any tax increase requests. Third, put both the one-cent sales tax and the quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot for the community to vote on what should happen with one or both of these taxes: 1. Eliminate them, 2. Suspend them for a time period, 3. Reduce them by a set percentage or 4. Cap how much revenue can be collected with surplus money refunded back to the taxpayer.

Issue 2:

Jacob: Affordable housing. Is it possible in Lawrence? I don’t know. I know the answer is not increasing by double-digit percent the amount you pay in property taxes. More housing will make the market more completive, so changing zoning will for sure help with that.

Kelly: With the opening of the Treatment and Recovery Campus we see tangible evidence of Douglas County’s commitment to mental health care, including substance abuse. These investments, along with speciality drug court, mental health court and other alternatives to incarceration, demonstrate our promise to restorative practices that have reduced our jail population and paved the road to recovery and reintegration for those in need. We must continue to work with our partners across complex systems to ensure that every member of our community is treated with dignity and respect and expand our use of data to identify and address bias and system racism in an effort to reduce the disparities we see across our justice and mental health systems.

Spiehs: The county commission is out of control with its spending on ineffective and inefficient programs. The Democrat commissioners never ask questions like “is this program cost-effective?” Instead, they continue to throw more of your money at problems hoping they will disappear. This reckless spending is one of the reasons your property taxes increased. With my proposed hybrid-TABOR policy, tax revenue would be capped which by default caps how much the county can spend. This holds the county commission accountable to exercise sound judgment on spending by forcing it to spend money only on effective programs. Wise spending will result in better programs and services for our community and more money in your pockets. It’s not rocket science.

Issue 3:

Jacob: Homelessness. We have to get the homeless shelter back to pre-COVID levels. They have taken advantage of the county commission. They have failed the community.

Kelly: We must continue to expand our definition of economic development to be more inclusive, especially for those populations who historically have not had equal access to opportunity. There is excitement about recent employer development in Lawrence and the region, but we cannot forget the needs of families and workers, including resources for workforce development, early childhood education and care for our seniors. Quality early childhood education is a precursor to lifelong success for the child and helps working parents stay in or re-enter the workforce. As our senior population grows we need to make sure supports are available so seniors can “age-in-place”, empowering them to remain socially engaged and maintain dignity and independence.

Spiehs: Jobs leaving the county due to Democrats’ policies and mismanagement. (…) 300 jobs (have left) Lawrence in the past year making it the only metropolitan city in the entire state to see a decrease in job growth. This has caused additional issues we are facing and now must work on solving including an influx of homeless and increased crime that have filled the void of businesses closing and jobs leaving. People no longer feel safe to frequent the once family-friendly parts of Lawrence. Even if they did feel safe they don’t have the disposable income they once had due to national and local Democrat policies. We need to provide affordable property taxes that encourage, not discourage, people and businesses moving here.

Expansion of Douglas County Commission

Douglas County voters this November will decide whether the commission should be expanded to five districts. Please briefly explain where you stand on this issue? What do you see as the potential benefits and/or drawbacks to adding two commission districts?

(Read more about this issue at this link.)

Jacob: I am for 5. The point is to give representation to the county residents, and I am all for that.

Kelly: As a current Douglas County Commissioner I work for just over 120,000 people and the district that I represent has 40,000 people. My aspiration is that those who live in Douglas County will take the time to learn about their current representative form of local government and consider impacts that moving from 3 to 5 commissioners will have. For example, it will allow 2 commissioners to talk to each other outside of our public meetings. Additional commissioners will require additional staff time to support which may have an increased cost. We currently have a number of ways that the public can share their perspective with commissioners, but additional commissioners may allow for more perspectives to be considered and will allow for more votes to be cast on each item. The population of Lawrence is just over 97,000, so creating 5 equal size contiguous districts without including some portion of Lawrence may be challenging. If it were possible, having 4 commissioners from within Lawrence and one who was elected by our other municipalities and the unincorporated area may create other concerns.

As we look ahead to the vote on the number of commissioners and my role as a Douglas County Commissioner on the future commission, I think it is important to refrain from declaring my position. I look forward to listening to the hopes and concerns of everyone in Douglas County and working with 2 or 4 commissioners, whatever our community decides, to determine how best to serve our community.

Spiehs: Government expansion costs the taxpayers more money and therefore I’m against it. If the commission is expanded, the commissioners would then say they have to increase your taxes in order to pay for 2 new commissioner salaries. Then, because the commission grew in size they would say that staff would also have to grow in size in order to accommodate the larger commission. Did you know the County Administrator makes $227,122 a year? The assistant County Administrator makes $101,365 a year. Imagine now paying for another administrator or another assistant administrator and then an assistant to the assistant administrator. It would be endless. Additionally, I oppose expansion because it is just another way the political elite try to change the rules mid-game in order to stay one step ahead of the citizens. In doing so, the political elite are ensuring they stay in power indefinitely. The system therefore is designed to keep the elite in power. Let’s not feed into that system any longer. 

What is one question you would want the other two candidates to answer, and how would you answer that question?

Jacob: At what point to you step into the DA/Sheriff dispute?

Honestly, I don’t have much of an answer, they are both elected like one of us. They are both cleaning up messes from previous administrations, but the DA is requiring much more than the rest of the DAs are requiring. But it’s not making the county look good in this debate. 

Kelly: How will you work with the 41 community partners who receive county funding to provide services across Douglas County and determine whether to continue, reduce, expand or eliminate those partnerships?

Douglas County has a long history of collaborative partnerships to address housing, criminal justice, economic development, mental health, senior/disability services, and other community needs. As a county commissioner, I listen carefully to understand how each partner perceives the conditions within our community and how we might create a better place for people to live, work, and play. I ask questions to elevate competing values and identify key performance measures that will help us evaluate the impact of services. We must demonstrate significant progress on our challenges to ensure continued community support. Finding a balance between the need for critical services and the impact to the individual taxpayer will always be at the front of my mind when evaluating those partnerships.

Spiehs: I’ve publicly stated many times that Patrick Kelly and Steve Jacob are the exact same candidate, that they both share the same extreme, destructive, lunatic Democratic Socialist ideologies that have gotten the county off track. Prove me wrong.

My response: they can’t prove me wrong because they are one and the same.

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Just for fun

We did not require answers to any of the following questions, and not all candidates answered all questions.

Is there anything you’d like to share about your family and/or pets?

Kelly: I’m inspired every day by my wife, Amy. She is amazing. I have two wonderful children. Brynn, who attends college and is studying musical theatre and Victoria, who just moved back to the area with her wife, Erin. Our home is currently “petless” as we had to say goodbye to our 16 year old dog Bruno in June.

Spiehs: I lost my family because I opposed CRT (Critical Race Theory) at my previous job and protested USD 497’s child mask mandate. My message was not political. However, enough of the community turned it political that the constant onslaught of online false attacks, threats to my family’s well-being, and propaganda became too much for my family to bear. I’m not playing the victim here. I got back up off the ground and am running for commissioner to hold these Democrats accountable for what they have done to so many people.

Favorite color?

Jacob: Whatever I paint my nails that week.

Kelly: Still Shamrock Green

Favorite animal?

Jacob: Porcupine

Kelly: I love all animals. Except peacocks.

Favorite hobbies/pastimes?

Jacob: Going to movies

Kelly: I enjoy performing with family and friends in local community theatre productions.

Zodiac sign?

Jacob: Capricorn

Kelly: Taurus

What’s one of your favorite books, and why?

Jacob: A History of the United States in Five Crashes (by Scott Nations). The stock market is a good indicator of our future and mentality. We are not at that stage yet, but the 2020s sure look like the 1970s so far. 

Kelly*: Last time I shared Leadership on the Line by Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz. Great book. This time I share The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband Benjamin Zander. When we approach our problems with a sense of curiosity, a mindset of growth, and an inclination towards creativity it energizes those we work with and our progress is abundant.

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why?

Jacob: Snatch. I love a good Guy Ritchie crime story, and you get Brad Pitt about creating a new language. 

Kelly: Big Fish. I love the visuals of this movie and the power of stories and storytellers to unlock our dreams. My favorite quote from the movie is “You’re not necessarily supposed to believe it … You’re just supposed to believe in it.”

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why?

Jacob: LCD Soundsystem “All My Friends”: “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another 5 years of life” is such a great lyric to enjoy who we are. Our mistakes and how we handle them are how we grow.

Kelly*: It’s great to have another opportunity to share my favorite music. Another New World by Josh Ritter and performed by the Punch Brothers tells the story of a ship’s captain and a fateful voyage that consumes both his crew and his ship. It’s about loss and survival in the face of loss. The music matches the lyrics perfectly.

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat?

Jacob: My father passed in May and what I wouldn’t give for a meal with him. 

Kelly*: My first choice is still my father. I think it would also be great to throw a dinner party (I like to cook) for an eclectic group of my favorite artists, writers, performers, philosophers and friends. What would happen if Stephen Sondheim, Daniel Pink and Jessica Hagy (look that one up) all got together to eat, drink and talk about climate change, football or the Masked Singer?

Spiehs: Kanye West because he stands up for his beliefs as a Christian and doesn’t give a damn what others think of him for that. This is unheard of in today’s culture made up of cowards and conformists. He has more courage, confidence, and conviction than practically everyone these days. And for that he is called crazy by his haters and written off. I can relate. Courage and boldness are needed in order to stand up for the Truth. I have big time respect for him.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your potential constituents that we did not already ask in this survey?

Jacob: I love LFK. I love the students coming in and seeing their positive energy of the future. I love our weirdness, our culture, our values. I want all people to have the same feeling. We just need to control the spending and not price people out of Lawrence. 

Kelly: It is an honor to serve the people of Douglas County. I’m inspired by their engagement, passion and compassion every day. I truly enjoy working for them and trying to make the best decisions for our community.

Spiehs: I have been challenging Democrat Patrick Kelly to a debate for months now but he has not accepted (…). Right now, there is a large online local platform willing to host a debate between the three candidates. Wouldn’t it be helpful and entertaining, Douglas County, to watch a debate between us? What do you say Patrick? Let’s debate the issues. (…)

Cast your ballot in the Nov. 8 election

You can quickly request an advance ballot to be mailed to you at KSVotes.org. The last day to request a mail ballot is Nov. 1.

To see what’s on the ballot, visit this link. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.

* We are not election workers *

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