The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for the Aug. 7 primaries for U.S. House, Sedgwick County Commission, sheriff, district attorney and State Board of Education. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates. Visit Kansas.com/opinion to read all of The Eagle’s endorsements.
Robert Leon Tillman is making his second run for Congress and is the better choice based on his life and work experiences. A retired court services officer who has served on various nonprofit boards, Tillman supports President Obama and Democratic Party positions on tax reform (he wants to allow taxes to increase on the top 1 percent and to close tax loopholes), regulating industry, health care reform and immigration reform. Tillman would boost job growth through more infrastructure projects and low-interest loans to small businesses.
His opponent is Esau Freeman, a maintenance painter and ceramic artist. He supports a living wage, marriage equality, immigration reform and legalization of marijuana.
The winner will face GOP incumbent Mike Pompeo and Libertarian Thomas Jefferson in November.
Two experienced candidates are vying to represent northwest Wichita and western Sedgwick County. Jeff Longwell is our pick based on his record of working with others to find real solutions.
Longwell, who is in his second term on the Wichita City Council and who previously served 12 years on the Maize school board, has demonstrated in his public life an ability to find consensus. He also believes in working with other cities and governments in the region to improve planning and economic development.
Longwell said he is running for the commission because “I think I can make a difference.” He wants to apply some of the budget lessons from the city to help solve the county’s budget shortfall, such as privatizing and consolidating some services.
Incumbent Karl Peterjohn hasn’t been the wrecking ball that many in the business community feared when they opposed his candidacy in 2008 – though that could be because he has mostly been in the minority on the commission. Peterjohn has been pragmatic at times, going against his free-market ideology in supporting tax incentives for some businesses. He also has done good work supporting and highlighting programs aimed at diverting inmates from the Sedgwick County Jail. But Peterjohn also has turned the commissioners’ comments time at the end of meetings into a soapbox for partisan rants.
Longwell is more constructive and would be a better commissioner.
No Democrat is running for this office.
Because of serious allegations of abuses at the Sedgwick County Jail, Wichita police Capt. Jeff Easter is our choice for sheriff.
Easter has served 23 years with the Wichita Police Department and is currently captain at Patrol North, where he oversees more than 125 people. He has done extensive field service work and investigations and led a multi-agency task force that used federal RICO laws to target gangs.
Easter describes himself as very “team-oriented,” and he wants to bring a collaborative management style to the Sheriff’s Office, which he contends has become stagnant. He also wants to raise the hiring age of jail deputies from 18 to 21 and promises to improve coordination and communication between the Sheriff’s Office and the Wichita Police Department.
Incumbent Sheriff Robert Hinshaw is dedicated and takes his responsibilities very seriously. He worked his way up through the ranks, including serving as undersheriff before being elected to the top job in 2008. During his first term in office, he has done good work targeting Internet crimes against children and helping develop diversion programs for the jail (though he still believes that the jail needs to be expanded in the future). But there have been allegations of terrible abuses at the jail. A lawsuit prompted by the beating of a mentally ill inmate alleges that jail deputies regularly mocked and mistreated mentally ill inmates, with the knowledge of jail supervisors. Then a jail deputy was arrested last month and charged with sex crimes against six inmates. The timing of the election is difficult, and perhaps unfair to Hinshaw, as the courts have yet to rule on these cases. But the allegations are so serious that change in leadership in justified.
The winner will face Democrat Jefrey Weinman in the general election.
In a battle of two tough prosecutors to become the first new Sedgwick County district attorney in 24 years, Marc Bennett wins our endorsement for his outstanding track record in the courtroom and sterling reputation in the legal community, as well as his steady temperament. Deputy district attorney in the largest trial division in the current office, where he’s been a prosecutor for 15 years, Bennett is in charge of the prosecution of sex crimes, domestic violence charges, elder abuse and financial crimes. He’s prosecuted more than 130 jury trials and tried 17 homicide trials, including four capital murder cases. Bennett is highly regarded as knowledgeable, professional and trustworthy by his peers, according to the attorney survey conducted by the Wichita Bar Association and The Eagle. “The only reason I’m doing this is the victims,” he told the editorial board.
One concern in the community is whether Bennett is too close to retiring District Attorney Nola Foulston to make changes needed in an office now viewed by many as rudderless and unresponsive. Bennett told the editorial board he thinks the office needs to be restructured to reduce delays and better use limited resources. Whoever wins will need to step in and repair public trust.
The other formidable candidate is Kevin O’Connor, a former deputy district attorney who spent 17 years in the office and recently has prosecuted cases for the Attorney General’s Office. O’Connor can be as hardheaded as he is aggressive, drawing especially mixed reviews for his temperament in the WBA/Eagle attorney survey. He could be a good district attorney, but there are concerns about his ability to work well with and manage others.
The winner will take office in January, as no Democrat filed for the race.
State Board of Education
Kathy Busch is an excellent candidate and the clear choice to represent this district, which includes much of Wichita and eastern Sedgwick County. Busch, who recently retired from USD 259, has been a teacher, middle school and high school principal, and assistant superintendent. She would bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the state board. “I know the questions to ask, and I’m not afraid to ask them,” she said.
Busch is sharp and thoughtful and would bring valuable expertise on curriculum and teacher licensure issues. She also is a consensus builder who is willing to listen, unlike her opponent. As does her opponent, she supports the teaching of evolution.
Incumbent Walt Chappell was elected in 2008 as a Democrat but switched parties last year. He is smart and has a broad background but has been a disaster on the board. He has been publicly rebuked by the board several times, and has not demonstrated the capacity to work collaboratively and productively.
There is no Democrat running.