Four years ago, Karl Peterjohn boycotted a Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce forum, calling a news conference to say the group was committing “political jihad” against him.
Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner rallied against putting Peterjohn in the courthouse as a Sedgwick County commissioner.
Turner went so far to say that if Peterjohn’s “views were to prevail in this community, companies like ours would be hard-pressed to invest anymore in this community.” The chamber’s political action committee endorsed Marcey Gregory, a Democrat, in the 2008 general election.
Despite all that, Peterjohn did prevail, and now he’s up for re-election with an endorsement from the chamber — though not from Turner, who is supporting opponent Jeff Longwell.
Peterjohn, a Republican, goes into his second election cycle with support from the chamber’s committee, U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, former Congressman Todd Tiahrt and Kansans for Life. His opponent in the primary, Wichita City Council member Longwell, also received a nod from the chamber’s committee.
Peterjohn also claims enough support from voters in District 3 to be able to file by petition. District 3 covers the western half of the county, including Goddard, Garden Plain and Cheney. He said going door-to-door paid off. He presented about 1,250 signatures to file by petition and said he collected more than 700 of them himself.
“My platform is very popular with Sedgwick County voters,” he said.
The 62-year-old touts his record of being fiscally conservative — voting against pay raises and tax increment-financing districts, for example — and supporting voter approval of tax increases. Although he hasn’t convinced his colleagues voter approval is necessary, Peterjohn says he will continue to push for it, whether or not he is re-elected.
“That’s not going to change,” he said.
Peterjohn, once a budget analyst for the state of California when Ronald Reagan was governor — a fact he often repeats — is proud of helping make the county more transparent.
He pushed to get the county’s “checkbook” online. The checkbook at www.sedgwickcounty.org shows how much money the county gets and how it is spent.
“I think that’s huge in terms of openness and transparency,” he said. “I’ve gotten good feedback.”
Economic development is a key issue in the District 3 race. Peterjohn has voted against three tax-increment financing districts as a commissioner. A TIF district is a development tool that channels new property tax payments into a fund that pays off bonds on improvements such as streetscaping or a parking garage.
“I consider these some of the hardest votes I’ve cast as a commissioner,” he said. “In a perfect world, the political process would not be allocating capital.”
Peterjohn has supported forgivable loans at times for businesses looking to locate or expand in the area.
“I’ve voted for more of them than I’ve voted against,” he said. “I have voted against them when they didn’t add up.”
An Eagle Scout who grew up in Ohio, Peterjohn ran the Kansas Taxpayers Network from 1993 to 2008. In that role, he led efforts against school bond issues and Intrust Bank Arena.
Peterjohn studied economics and government as an undergraduate and earned a master’s degree in economics. That background is one reason John Todd, a citizen activist who attends local government meetings, supports him as campaign manager.
“He’s bright. He has a wonderful grasp of economics and history,” Todd said. “I think he understands the issues. I think he weighs all the issues and takes a measured response.”
When votes on the commission split, Peterjohn often sides with Commissioner Richard Ranzau in the minority.
Peterjohn has had some tense disagreements on the bench, particularly with District 5 Commissioner Jim Skelton. Skelton called out Peterjohn for “narcing” on him in September, when Peterjohn told an Eagle reporter that a sheriff’s deputy had been dispatched to try to find Skelton when Skelton was late to a meeting.
Beyond that, the two have disagreed on economic development and other issues.
Commissioner Dave Unruh also has endorsed Longwell.
Todd said he thought differences of opinion were good for government.
“I see it as positive personally,” he said. “I think we have better government when there are.”
Peterjohn’s treasurer in the race, Kim Potochnik, doesn’t live in his district, so she won’t be able to vote for him. She said she has served as his treasurer in his runs for school board and commissioner.
“He makes the right decisions,” she said. “He’s very frugal. You know, you look at someone’s personal life, and you hope they’ll do the same thing in their public life, and that’s what he does. He’s very careful with the taxpayers’ money, just like it was his own.”