Wichitan Jo Ann Pottorff, the longest-serving woman in the Legislature, is retiring after 27 years.
That leaves Democrat Carolyn Bridges and Republican Tim Garvey running for the District 83 House seat in the Nov. 6 general election.
Bridges faced no opposition in the primary. Rodney Wren, Garvey’s GOP opponent, said he suspended his campaign in July because of attacks on him and his fiancee by Garvey and his supporters. Garvey denied the attacks.
The race’s outcome likely will depend on what unaffiliated voters do. The 83rd District’s 11,170 registered voters are almost evenly split between unaffiliated, Democrats and Republicans. Fewer than 50 registered voters separate the Democrats and Republicans.
Bridges and Garvey offer east Wichita voters two distinct choices.
Bridges, 66, a retired teacher and principal, dislikes the state income tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law. Garvey, 25, a property manager, said he believes state income taxes should be eliminated completely.
“There’s a clear difference in our experience,” Bridges said. “I’ve had a whole lifetime of paying taxes.”
Garvey said, “I have a lot more business experience than Carolyn. I’ve been around it my whole life.”
Bridges said she’s running because “I’m fairly intelligent and can figure out issues. Why not me?”
She considers herself following Pottorff, a Republican, as a strong voice for education. She said she was a registered Republican in 2010 so she could vote for Jean Schodorf in the GOP’s 4th Congressional District primary that year.
Bridges took early retirement in 2000 after working for 32 years in the Wichita school district, 25 as a principal. She moved to Florida that year, spent six months working for Disney World and taught at an inner-city Orlando high school.
Bridges, who has two grown daughters and three grandchildren, said she moved back to Wichita when “I couldn’t talk my kids into moving to Florida.”
She worked as an assistant professor for Baker University’s Wichita campus. In 2006, she spent 10 months in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar helping a local principal open a high school for girls.
Bridges later supervised student teachers at Wichita State University and Southwestern College and worked as a tax preparer for H&R Block. She currently is an education consultant for Cambridge University’s International Examinations program and owns residential rental property.
Restoring funding cuts to public education would be her top priority in the Legislature, she said. She said the state needs to pay its teachers more and do a better of job of providing classroom supplies so teachers don’t have to pay for them out of their pockets.
Beyond the funding issue, Bridges said, “I would hope we’d have some civil discourse on education. I’m tired of people talking about how awful public education is.”
Public safety through adequate funding for police, fire and highways is also a high priority for her, she said.
Bridges said she is dismayed by the contentiousness of the last legislative session and wants to change that culture.
“We can disagree amicably,” she said. “We don’t need to be calling each other names and sniping at each other.”
She described herself as a pragmatist and a practical person.
“Sometimes you reach the ideal,” Bridges said. “So what’s practical? Politics should be the art of compromise. That doesn’t mean compromising beliefs. But it does mean that you can’t stick to one thing and expect everybody else to do all the compromising.”
In applying that thinking to school financing, she said, “Some people say, ‘Give us all the money there is.’ The fact is that’s not going to happen. So I literally say, ‘Tell us what you need, explain it to us and we’ll go from there.’ ”
Politicians are not ‘pop stars’
Garvey said he’s running because “I’m sick of politicians taking advantage of the system. Politicians forget it’s a civic duty, a service to their fellow citizens. They’re not pop stars.”
He said he attended Kapaun Mount Carmel High School as a freshman, then was home-schooled his last three years of high school. He also said he attended Schreiner University in Texas for a year and later studied business at Johnson County Community College while working for a construction company.
Garvey lives at home with his parents.
“Both my parents lived at home until they were married. What’s wrong with that?” he said. “It saves money.”
He said he has gained a lot of business experience from growing up as the grandson of Willard Garvey, a Wichita entrepreneur who with his family created an empire that once ranked them among America’s richest families. Willard Garvey died in 2002, but his legacy is carried on by his widow, Jean, and other family members.
Besides managing property, Garvey is also on the board of Petroleum Inc., which is headed by his father, John Garvey. The company handles real estate, deals in the stock market and has some oil holdings.
Tim Garvey said he takes an active part in board meetings.
“I speak up more than the other advisers for the most part,” he said.
Garvey said eliminating state income taxes would keep businesses or attract others. That would grow the economy and offset the state’s loss of income from taxes, he said.
“Kansas is a great, centrally located state,” he said. “We should have the most business-friendly place.”
On education, Garvey questions the number of administrators and why they make so much more money than teachers. As it is now, he said, teachers are constantly looking over their shoulders to see what administrators think.
“Just stay out of it,” he said. “Let parents and teachers decide what the kids need to learn. Administration is kind of out of the loop, just worrying about their own paycheck.”
Garvey said he is also concerned about financing public education, but he added he wants a system that pays bonuses for teachers who do a good job. He also supports school vouchers.
“It creates a lot more competition,” he said.
Garvey said he wants to restrict the amount of legislation that is presented each session because legislators don’t have enough time to actually read what comes before them now.
Both candidates have had issues involving legal action.
Bridges had problems paying some credit card bills when she lived in Florida, according to court records.
“When I first moved to Florida, everything that could go wrong financially did,” she said. “My house in Wichita didn’t close for a while.”
Credit card companies filed five suits against her in Florida’s Lake County District Court between 2002 and 2004. Three of those were resolved and dismissed. The other two were reopened on Feb. 5.
One of the reopened cases involved Discover, which said the original amount owed by Bridges was more than $11,500, including principle, interest, attorney fees and court costs. The other reopened case was with Chase Manhattan, which sued her for a balance of $1,660.
Bridges said she was unaware that either case had been reopened. She said she had an agreement with Discover to automatically withdraw a certain amount from her bank account.
“They quit taking it out of my account so I figured it was paid off,” she said.
Bridges also disputed owing anything to Chase Manhattan.
“I had a Chase card,” she said, “but it’s been closed for years. I got all that stuff cleared up.”
Garvey was cited for a DUI in 2009 after being stopped for an improper left turn. The case was dismissed a year later after he completed a diversion agreement, according to Sedgwick County District Court records. That agreement included paying more than $900 in fines and court costs and attending an alcohol and drug safety program.
“When I went to the classes,” he said, “I learned a lot. If I have two beers I say, ‘OK, I’m not driving.’ I tell my friends, ‘If you need a ride, call me any time.’ ”
Garvey also recently put a post on his personal Facebook page that used the f-word in addressing President Obama. The post drew national attention.
“I should have shown more respect,” he told The Eagle in a story that ran Oct. 10.