Democrats, long in the minority in the Kansas Legislature, don’t like to lose anybody in Topeka. But they are about to lose one of their long-time members.
Jim Ward and Judith Loganbill are being forced by redistricting to run against each other in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary. They are competing for the 86th District House seat representing southeast and south-central Wichita.
Neither is comfortable with the situation. They are used to being on the same sides of issues in Topeka, and their voting records are similar, if not lockstep.
“I really didn’t want to run against Judy, and I don’t think Judy wanted to run against me,” said Ward, an attorney who has been one of the party’s leaders in the House and Senate. “I like what I do, and I think I’m pretty good at it. We’ll let the people of the 86th decide.”
Loganbill, a teacher who has served the 86th since 2001, also finds the situation difficult.
“It really puts you between a rock and a hard place,” she said. “On the Republican side, I think some — especially very conservative candidates — are drooling over the fact that they have a moderate. But when you have two Democrats, that’s a whole different story. We play well with others.
“It is what it is,” she said. “It’s unfortunate.”
The winner will face Republican John Stevens and Libertarian James Pruden in November.
“They both have some seniority in their party. I’d have a hard time making a choice, if I were voting in that primary,” said Wichita State University political science professor Ken Ciboski, a Republican.
Ward is a former assistant district attorney and former member of the Wichita City Council and Wichita school board. He served in the state Senate in the early 1990s and has served in the House since 2003.
Ward was assistant minority leader until Democrats removed him from the position in 2010 for Rep. Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, Kan., while retaining Rep. Paul Davis of Lawrence as their leader.
“We lost 16 seats and somebody had to pay,” Ward said. “And I had been there longer than Paul.”
Ward also has served as the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee and on the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Last year, he was elected by members of both parties as the South Central Delegation chair.
During the recent session, Ward faced a complaint from Republicans that he misled the House when he offered an amendment to a property tax bill that replaced the underlying Republican-backed idea with a Democrat-backed plan to send $90 million to local governments for property tax relief. Republicans said Ward didn’t explain that his amendment deleted the underlying bill and that he lied when asked about it.
Ward said he didn’t lie and did nothing wrong, and that Republicans simply didn’t read the two-page amendment and voted without knowing what the bill said. A House investigative panel dismissed the complaint.
Loganbill, who is about to start her 23rd year as a teacher at Allen Elementary, has served on the Education, Government Efficiency and Fiscal Oversight committees, and is the ranking member of the Federal and State Affairs Committee. She also serves on the Joint Committee on Kansas Security.
“What is really troubling,” Ciboski said, “is that they’re both related to education in a big way. Jim has served on the school board, and Judy is a teacher. That would be a loss for the party.”
Loganbill came out ahead of Ward in the new redistricting maps drawn by the panel of federal judges. Two-thirds of the new 86th is from Loganbill’s old 86th; only 15 percent is from Ward’s former 88th District.
Ward said he thought about running against Republican Sen. Mike Petersen instead, but Kansas law prevents him from using funds raised for a House race on a Senate bid.
His other options would have meant buying a new house and occupying two residences so he could continue to represent his current constituents while campaigning in a new district. That wasn’t a good idea with two kids in college and a temporary residence in Topeka to support, he said.
Their goals, if they return to Topeka, are similar.
Ward said jobs and job creation are his top goal. He advocates cutting property taxes because that would put more money in people’s pockets and stimulate the economy.
He called Brownback’s tax plan “irresponsible and flawed economic policy” which will put pressure on property taxes and cost schools. “I’ve not heard one person say that it will create the 400,000 jobs that it would take to pay for it and break even,” he said.
Ward also said he supports the new highway plan and has tried to protect it from being raided because it creates good jobs while the aircraft industry recovers.
Loganbill puts education, jobs and the economy at the top of her list.
Like Ward, she thinks the state must fund education.
“We’ve got some districts in this state that, according to the State Department of Education, are on the brink of bankruptcy,” she said.
She also doesn’t think Brownback’s tax plan will create enough jobs to make it work.
Ward and Loganbill have been forced to delineate differences between them to win voters.
Ward said the biggest difference is his ability to quickly understand the issues and recognize their impacts on the state, the city and his constituents, and then articulate plans to address them.
Many House members, including moderate and far-right Republicans, often ask him to explain bills to them because he understands them and can communicate them, Ward said.
“That’s why they elected me to be the delegation chair. Not because they loved me, but they know I’m going to be pretty straight with them,” Ward said. “I’m going to treat them fairly, I’m not going to let the public beat them up unfairly.”
Loganbill predicted that Ward will campaign for a leadership position in the Legislature if he is elected, a move she contends would take him out of the trenches where lawmakers work on behalf of their constituents. “I am perfectly fine and comfortable representing and being in the trenches with a committee assignment,” she said.
Ward said leaders can also work on the trenches, and that Loganbill’s assumption that he will campaign for a leadership role is presumptuous. “I’m not looking past this election for anything else,” he said.
Loganbill said that her strength in the Legislature is that she likes to read bills and examine the language in them to make sure they say what they mean. She said she corrected an immigration bill by Secretary of State Kris Kobach because as originally written it would have made Republican colleague Mario Goico an illegal immigrant. Kobach, she said, agreed to make a change.
“It’s always kind of fun when you go through a bill and find those little goofs and say, ‘You can’t do this,’ ” Loganbill said.
Loganbill also said that as a teacher, she can sit on the education committee and advise members on proposed legislation by explaining how teachers and schools actually work.
Said WSU’s Ciboski: “In many respects, they’re both highly qualified for the position. I think each would continue to represent the district very well.”