The incumbent is a shy campaigner, one challenger is a frequent flyer in political campaigns and the other is new to the whole gig.
Janet Miller is seeking a second four-year term representing District 6 for the Wichita City Council. Her opponents in Tuesday’s primary are recurrent candidate Marty Mork and Richard Stephenson, a community activist in his first race.
Miller said she enjoys serving on the council and finds the work rewarding, but can’t say the same about campaigning.
“That’s the part I shy away from,” she said. “It goes against everything that you’re taught as a decent human being. You make yourself the center of attention. You talk about why you’re better than other people. It’s real uncomfortable for me.”
Mork ran for mayor in 2003 and 2011 and for U.S. Congress in 2004 and 2006. He considered running for governor in 2010 but pulled back. That he has never made it past a primary doesn’t discourage him from trying again.
“It’s the fight for freedom,” Mork said of what motivates him. “I’m just tired of big government. There’s too much government control.”
Stephenson, 28, a member of Occupy Wichita, said he has encountered ups and downs in his first race. “You don’t like being sneered at and having people getting angry at you. But I like working with people and the ideas they have. Lot of times, if people think through ideas, there’s more agreement. That’s what I like – finding ways to agree. I love that.”
District 6 covers central and west-central Wichita. Only residents of the district can vote on the candidates. Two will advance to the April 2 general election.
Among the biggest challenges facing the council, Miller cited helping create jobs, managing the budget with revenue expected to be flat, paying for major infrastructure needs and redesigning and funding the transit system in a sustainable way.
The best thing the council can do to help with the ongoing jobs issue is to encourage an environment that makes it attractive for businesses to either expand or come to Wichita, she said.
Same goes for attracting or retaining a skilled work force. “A work force more and more chooses its community on quality of life elements more than it has in previous generations,” said Miller, 47, who is married to Kansas Rep. Nile Dillmore.
She said the council should do what it can to promote such things as access to parks, arts, culture, low traffic snarls and positive steps in environment issues.
“Those things are very appealing to some of the most skilled and creative work force out there,” she added.
As for the city using economic development incentives for businesses, she said, “You can’t lead with those. A business or industry first has to be interested in your community for multiple reasons.”
If the business then decides it’s intrigued, she said, “Then you follow with some incentives to help give yourself an edge.”
Miller said she also wants the city to be more proactive in talking with existing companies to determine what would make it easier to do business in Wichita. She noted the timing might be right to make strides in that area with the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition recently hiring a new president, Tim Chase.
Stephenson said district residents have told him that Miller is slow to respond to constituents. “She doesn’t seem to want to interact with people,” he said.
“I would suggest that might be one individual’s perspective,” Miller said. “I think if you had the opportunity to visit with other constituents, you would hear a different perspective.”
Mork is campaigning largely on reducing the size of government.
“If I’m elected, I’m going to fight for people’s freedom and for lower taxes,” said Mork, a 49-year-old former aerospace worker now on disability.
He wants to eliminate property taxes, especially on houses. “When you buy your home,” Mork added, “you shouldn’t have to keep paying for it.”
He said he wouldn’t want to offset that revenue loss by raising sales taxes.
“I want to put more money in people’s hands instead of the government’s hand,” Mork said. “That builds the economy. At the same time, I’m not one to say cut from the poor and needy. Let’s stop giving money away on forgivable loans to businesses.
“Janet Miller, to me, is a lady who is big brother.”
He would also like the city to take one of the closed schools and use it as a homeless shelter. He said he strongly supports gun rights and strongly opposes abortion.
Mork worked at Boeing for five years and was laid off in 2002. He said he was injured in an accident in 2004 while working at a warehouse and has rheumatoid arthritis.
A former grain inspector for the state, he said he would help create jobs by bringing in factories for cereal producers to take advantage of the state’s abundance of grain.
Mork served a two-year probation after a 1992 Sedgwick County felony conviction for attempted possession of marijuana with intent to sell. In 2001, he was found guilty in Wichita’s municipal court of an amended misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records. The arrest came after a routine traffic stop, records show.
“What (the police officer) found was a fourth of a joint,” Mork said.
He said he doesn’t think those convictions prevent him from being a good council member.
Although Stephenson is new to political campaigns, he’s been involved with community action groups for a while.
He cites the spike in police shootings as the main reason he’s running for a council seat.
“And the city council shutting out our group or even working on the demands in any way, shape or form,” he said.
He also wants to reduce what he calls “mass incarceration,” make the public transit system more useable by running it later in the evening, create “worthwhile work” and increase community involvement.
“Right now, seems like the main thrust for community involvement is through voting or running as a candidate,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t have the resources to do that.”
He said decriminalization of marijuana in the city would help decrease the jail population.
Stephenson has a chemistry degree from Emporia State University. He said he used that degree only briefly while working for a company in McPherson, although he helps tutor chemistry students at Wichita State University.
As for jobs, Stephenson said a good source would be employing residents to update the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
When he was 22 and in college, he said he was arrested for breaking and entering an unoccupied residence because he wanted to wait inside to see a girl. He said the charges were dismissed.
A check with Lyon County’s court records didn’t show anything about the incident.
“I always like to come clean,” he said of bringing up the issue. “It was just a really dumb, drunk thing over a girl. When you’re drunk, you don’t really think much.”
But he said the incident caused him to rethink his life.
“That’s when I stopped drinking so much,” he said. “I started to take life seriously at that point instead of going from gig to gig. I was, like, ‘I have to be serious and actually care about people and do the right thing.’ ”