Voters in Delano and much of south Wichita will have a clear choice Nov. 6 in the race for the District 95 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Incumbent Republican Benny Boman, a supporter of Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative budget policies, will face Tom Sawyer, a critic of those policies and a longtime fixture in Kansas Democratic Party politics.
Boman and Sawyer faced each other for the seat in 2006 and 2008 — when Sawyer was the incumbent — and Sawyer won both races easily.
After Sawyer gave up his seat in 2009 to join the Kansas Parole Board, Melany Barnes was appointed to replace him. She was defeated by Boman in the 2010 election. Sawyer returned to private life after the Patrol Board was disbanded in July 2011, setting up the rematch this year.
At the beginning of October, the district had this breakdown of registered voters: 29 percent Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 39 percent unaffiliated.
The candidates agree on few issues.
Boman says he supports school vouchers and would like to see the governor appoint appellate court judges. He supports a “personhood” amendment that would define life as beginning at conception. He said he opposes expanded gambling and opposes the sale of wine and liquor in grocery stores.
Sawyer favors a woman’s right to choose an abortion, says the current system of selecting judges appears to be working but is open to suggested changes, and thinks the state needs to adequately fund public schools. He said he has concerns about expanded gambling but supports the idea of letting Sedgwick County voters decide whether to put slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. He said the state’s “very antiquated liquor laws” need to be updated.
Boman, 77, is married with four children and six grandchildren, and has lived in the same house in the 1900 block of South Euclid for 55 years. The retired electronic technician and battery shop owner says he’ll be the oldest elected official in Topeka if he’s re-elected.
Boman has run for what was then the Wichita City Commission and the Wichita school board. He was a Conservative Party candidate for the Kansas State Senate in the 1970s.
“It’s not that I happened to wake up one morning and decided to get into politics,” he said. “I’ve been involved, you might say, in watching the political scene since the 1970s.”
Boman said the tax cuts passed by the 2012 Legislature have made Kansas one of the 10 most attractive in states in the country for businesses.
“We’ve changed the climate of things,” he said. “We balanced the budget without increasing taxes in the toughest economy, as far as I’m concerned, since the 1930s.”
If re-elected, he said, he will try to make the state even more business-friendly by working with the Kansas Legislature to further reduce taxes.
“I’m too old to build a career in politics,” he said. “I’m just trying to help get them started in the right direction so my grandkids can have a future.”
Sawyer, 54, is single, an accountant and small-business owner. He was the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor in 1998, losing in a landslide to incumbent Republican Bill Graves.
Tea party activist Craig Gabel challenged Sawyer’s residency status this year by claiming Sawyer didn’t live in the home in the 1000 block of South Elizabeth where he’s registered to vote. Sawyer said he’s lived in the home for 20 years, and the State Objections Board ruled last month he could remain on the ballot.
Sawyer said he doesn’t buy the argument that the business climate in Kansas has changed for the better.
“It’s hard to see much evidence of that,” he said. “We’ll see, I guess, but the evidence doesn’t seem to be there right now.”
He cited the recent announced closing of the Hallmark plant in Topeka that will cost 300 jobs, the downsizing of Siemens Wind Energy in Hutchinson that will cost 146 jobs, and the impending closing of the Boeing plant in Wichita that will cost more than 2,000 jobs.
Sawyer said he watched in frustration this spring as the Legislature passed tax cuts that he said would cripple the state financially.
“We’re looking at some pretty big education cuts in the next few years if we don’t change things,” he said.
He said he was equally frustrated when the Legislature was unable to reach an agreement on redistricting, forcing a three-judge federal panel to draw the boundary lines for the Kansas House, Senate, and U.S. House districts
“The last straw was when they failed to draw the redistrict lines,” he said. “What they couldn’t do in 90 days three judges had to do in eight days. I decided it was time to go back.”