Jeff Longwell had planned to run for mayor of Wichita.
But other community leaders persuaded him to seek the District 3 seat on the Sedgwick County Commission, he said.
Businessmen and elected officials “asked me to run,” he said, because of his philosophies about economic development and job growth.
Longwell, a Wichita City Council member, is challenging incumbent Karl Peterjohn in the Republican primary. District 3 covers the western half of the county. Whoever wins Aug. 7 faces no opposition in November.
The 53-year-old has been on the council since 2007. He has the support of two county commissioners, Republicans Jim Skelton and Dave Unruh. Longwell also has received endorsements from aviation’s heavy hitters, including Spirit AeroSystems’ Jeff Turner, former Cessna Aircraft chairman Russ Meyer and Yingling Aviation CEO Lynn Nichols.
The biggest difference between him and Peterjohn, Longwell said, is “our stance on economic development policies and the way that we look at federal grants.”
For example, Longwell supported an incentive that would have given $2.25 million in bed tax money to developers of the downtown Ambassador Hotel. Voters defeated the measure 61 to 38 percent. Peterjohn had opposed the incentive and carried a petition against it.
Longwell said he didn’t consider the outcome a failure.
“We’re all thrilled that Wichita is getting a new downtown hotel,” he said.
Longwell said he doesn’t think all tax increases need to be approved by voters, something Peterjohn advocates.
“As elected officials, we’re paid to make those decisions, and as a commissioner, you’re very well paid,” he said.
Commissioners are considered full-time county employees with a base salary of $83,718. City Council members make about $35,000.
Longwell voted to support Wichita’s participation in a $1.5 million sustainable communities grant to the Regional Economic Area Partnership from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Peterjohn has voted against the county participating three times, saying the grant is wasteful spending.
Taking a regional approach to planning just makes sense, said Longwell, chairman of REAP’s legislative committee.
“It’s a little foolish to give that money away to other communities and neighbors,” Longwell said.
That’s one reason Unruh is supporting Longwell.
“They’re both committed public servants,” Unruh said of Longwell and Peterjohn. “They both have a desire to help the community, but it just seems like Councilman Longwell makes decisions that are more consistent with the way I think and the way I would vote.”
Longwell said he helped the city save money by outsourcing some work. He noticed that the city did printing in-house in the basement of City Hall. Outsourcing that work, he said, has saved the city about $500,000.
Outsourcing mowing also made sense, he said.
Longwell said he believes he has a “proven ability to work with a variety of people” from differing viewpoints.
Part of being a leader, he said, is “finding compromise. That’s what you have to do, and I think I’m better at it.”
Longwell, in his second term as a council member, also served on the Maize School Board for 12 years. That got him into politics.
The school district passed two bond issues while he was on the board.
As a council member, he said, he has been instrumental in building a new fire station, improving infrastructure and getting a new bridge over the floodway.
“West Wichita has high expectations of their government officials,” he said.
Mike Kuckelman is Longwell’s treasurer and has been a longtime friend.
“I appreciate his ability to see solutions and help people on the same issue when they’re from opposite sides and find some common ground,” he said, “instead of the polarization that our political arena inspires today.”
He said he also agrees with Longwell’s take on business. Longwell is a small businessman and has owned Ad Astra Print Resources for four years. He is a one-third partner in an outdoor billboard advertising company, Luminance Display.
If he wins the commission seat, Longwell said, his wife, Susie, would operate Ad Astra.
He said he helped Thermal Trade Graphics grow from a family business with four employees to 75 as general manager. That company was sold to a business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he said.
“I have a vast amount of business experience,” he said. “I understand tough economic times.”
He said that would benefit the county. Longwell has been critical of the county for using some of its reserves, although its rainy day fund is larger than the city’s.
“We’re in the same economic times as the county,” he said of the city, and “we’ve been able to balance our budget without dipping into reserves.”