At first glance, the Kansas Senate race in District 25 sounds a lot like the presidential campaign.
One candidate is talking about cutting taxes, supporting business and shrinking government; another about maintaining essential social services and bolstering education.
And they’re busy taking shots at each other about their backgrounds.
Republican Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita City Council member, says he’s not in lockstep with Gov. Sam Brownback. Yet he is solidly in the limited government, lower taxes, pro-business camp.
Democrat Tim Snow makes no bones about running against Brownback’s agenda, saying the governor is negligent in funding education and promising to work to bolster the state’s social safety nets for the poor.
Libertarian Dave Thomas, a friend of O’Donnell’s, suspended his campaign on Oct. 19.
That’s the state of the race to replace longtime Sen. Jean Schodorf, who was among a number of moderates ousted in the Republican primary by conservative challengers backed by the state and Wichita chambers of commerce and Brownback supporters.
O’Donnell said he would bring a youthful outlook to the state Legislature.
“Federal and state governments aren’t looking toward the next generation,” he said. “They’re looking toward the next election. We have to start looking out for the long-term future of America, and that starts in the state capitols of America.”
O’Donnell, who handles marketing for Wink Hartman’s businesses, stands firmly behind efforts to shrink the powers of the federal government while shifting most federal functions to the states.
“What we need in Topeka is some separation between the federal government and the state government,” he said. “I think Topeka will now be able this next legislative session to start empowering the 10th Amendment, which gives Kansans the right to decide what’s best for Kansans in our health care, our education, our environmental standards and let the federal government stick to its core job, which is to protect the people.
“National security issues, and delegate the rest of the powers back to the states.”
Snow vehemently disagrees with O’Donnell, saying the governor’s disregard for Kansas education makes such a philosophy dangerous.
“Education, education, education. Proper funding of our education system is primary to the future of Kansas, so it’s my priority one,” said Snow, 46, a student.
“It’s underfunded and I am absolutely unhappy with Brownback’s stance on education funding right now. We’re funded at 1990s levels essentially, not adjusted for inflation, and per capita spending per pupil needs to go up quite a bit in my estimation.”
Snow is an extremist, O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell is inexperienced and unequipped to handle the problems of ordinary citizens, Snow said.
“Far left, but it goes further than that,” O’Donnell said of Snow. “You can be far left and not endorse the Occupy movement. He gets a 100 percent score from the Occupy movement, which is a completely anti-capitalist organization is my view.”
“He doesn’t know the real world problems of everyday citizens,” Snow said. “He doesn’t even know if he pays rent or not.
“There’s no way whatsoever for him to understand the increase in property taxes that is inevitable under the Brownback tax cuts. It’s impossible for him to know how that affects the average family because he doesn’t even pay rent, apparently.”
The rent Snow refers to is for O’Donnell’s home at 1435 W. Haskell, a tax-exempt parsonage at Grace Baptist Church, where his father , the Rev. Michael O’Donnell, is the pastor.
The Sedgwick County Appraiser’s Office has ruled that the house must be placed back on the tax rolls since the council member, not a member of the clergy, has been living there. The church will receive a bill for a little more than $2,000 for taxes back to 2010, but plans to appeal to the state board of tax appeals.
O’Donnell has alternately explained the living agreement at the Haskell residence with the church as a rental agreement, and as compensation for his work as a church maintenance man. O’Donnell says now that he has not paid rent for the house.
Snow has had several legal issues. He faced misdemeanor charges for writing bad checks and driving under the influence, along with five civil lawsuits over unpaid debts and taxes from 1996 to 2007, court records show.
One case involved a tobacco wholesaler in Sedgwick County. The others occurred in Morris County, where Snow ran a bait and smoke shop before moving to Wichita about 3 1/2 years ago.
Snow said he had a drinking problem until about five years ago and he acted irresponsibly, missing several court appearances that resulted in default judgments against him.
In the DUI and bad-check criminal cases, both in Morris County, he negotiated agreements with prosecutors to have the charges dismissed after he paid fines and fees, the records show.
“I have made some mistakes in my history. It has seasoned me and made me wiser,” Snow said.
Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Eagle