Nelson R. Gabriel – Democrat for Kansas House, District 35

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(Photo courtesy Nelson Gabriel)

Responses are from the candidates and have not been edited.

Biographical Information:

  • President & CEO, Made Men Inc.
  • Former Louisiana Democratic Representative – House District 90 (1987-1991)

Personal Information:

I am the son of the late Mildred Gabriel and Nelson Robertson; the Godchild of the late Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial, New Orleans’ First Black Mayor. I am the proud father of three children: Damielle, Coby and Neichelle.

Campaign website/Facebook/Social Media:

What is your response to the Black Lives Matter movement?

As a private citizen, I can understand the pain, anger disappointment and disillusionment that every protester feels. I feel it just as intensely. My race has been the victim of a collective trauma for over 250 years and counting. A hard-fought fight to be treated as a human worthy of acknowledge, opportunity, and life is still a fight that has not been won. Even now, in our “progressive”, modern society, we continue to exist in a state of walking PTSD where no law can protect our right to live unharmed and enjoying the everyday activities that most take for granted.

However, as a public official, I have the added obligation of not just feeling, but responding. Addressing the issues that have brought BLM to bear is a two-sided coin. Just as much as the public needs to voice their feelings loudly to demand justice and change, the political structures that manage our society must be responsive. Because of BLM, these political structures are no longer able to deflect their responsibility for protecting all citizen’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I believe that change will come and I look forward to being an active advocate and participant in it.

What do you think needs to be done to promote social and racial justice?

I believe there are several things that can be done to promote social and racial justice. One key way to start educating ourselves on the issues supporting institutional, structural change. Based upon that education, we need to connect with other people who are doing the same thing and ask the important question: How are we going to make this world a different place? We have to study change and how it happens and gather together and make changes wherever we can make changes, even if they appear to be small.

Are you in favor of police reform? If so, what should it look like?

I am very much in support of police reform. While it is true that police have had to be responsive to a changing society that has seen increases in drug abuse, organized crime, trafficking and the like, it is also true that while the police have been changing, they have also lost sight of their greatest advocate and partner: the people. Somewhere along the line, police have become more less service-focused and more militaristic, less collaborative and more authoritative, and less empathetic and more jaded. Like any organization, continuous training is needed to reinforce values, foster good partnerships, create and maintain a safe, equitable working environment and to maintain a servant-leader relationship with the public. I believe police reform starts with proper funding that allows a police force to have proper service levels with the proper equipment. Police reform also begins with opening up its inner sanctums to have more regulatory and administrative entities that are populated by both members of the public and police administrators collaboratively. I am also very much in favor of staffing more human service personnel such as counselors, substance abuse resources, and mental health professionals to provide an intermediary in situations where talking and providing help needs to rule the interaction over force. Ultimately, any police reform effort will need to address the disparity in the racial breakdown of officers. Reform will need to be intentional about diversity. Pick any random police force in our country and it is almost guaranteed that the majority of the officers having to interact with the public are not a reflection of racial profile of that public.

Did you or do you support business shutdowns to control the spread of the coronavirus?

Recognizing what a complex issue it is to contemplate shutting down entire cities and states, I do support shutdowns in such extreme situations as we are experiencing now. However, I believe it is imperative for governments to commit to supporting its populace financially, medically, and socially during such shutdowns to ensure that the cumulative time that an economy must be shut down is as minimized as possible. If people are worried about how they will pay their rent when their employers are closed because they can’t depend on a stipend of some kind and protections from evictions and repossessions or employers are worried about how they will stay open in the long-run because there are no business loans/subsidies to help bridge the gap, this sets the stage for the type of reactive behaviors that make shutdowns last unnecessarily longer than they should.

Would you support another statewide shutdown if coronavirus cases continued to rise? If so, what are the factors that would lead you to that decision?

I would support another shutdown as dictated by objective medical/scientific determinations. The existing metric of infection rate seems to be data-driven enough for governments to be actionable.

What do you think should be done to help the Kansas economy recover?

Small business will provide the gas to get the economy going again. What COVID has shown us is that big business has not done a great job at staying properly leveraged to better whether rare events such as COVID. I believe that if generous business loans/grants were provided for businesses of 250 or less employees, this would begin to provide the impetus for smaller companies with relatively smaller overheads to be able to start to ramp up again quickly, become stable and begin to expand into spaces formally held by large companies. With the increased revenues that come from a cabin-fevered public, the state itself can start make small steps toward strategically thinking about what the next few years can look like.

Would you cut money for social services if it means lower taxes? Would you favor higher taxes for more social services?

As COVID continues to wreak havoc on society and economy, I believe the that the need for social services will only increase, not decrease. Prioritizing the funding of social services over for-profit businesses will serve to better triage and address the greater public needs in a much more efficient manner. If it were my choice, social services would be one of the last budget items I would seek to cut. In terms of taxes: in the short-term, I don’t believe introducing higher taxes to a populace already trying to recover financially is viable, but in the long-term, yes, that same collective recovery that needs to happen will be happening for years to come and at some point, there may need to be some level of increase to continue to meet the need.

What should Kansas do to balance its budget? Will you support budget cuts for schools?

Understanding that balancing a state budget is not a black and white answer, I believe that honest, pragmatic assessments of every line item will have to be done at a minimum. I would favor an across the budget cut rather than risk hurting one sector more significantly than the other. Given that this next school year may well be online or potentially a mix of on-site/online, the state must remain responsive to this new reality. This past year has been a good stress test on how well local school districts responded. I would be open to assessing school districts at an individual level to better understand the needs versus the wants to adjust budgets from there.

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