June 11, 2012

Dozens file to seek Kansas public office under new legislative maps

A frenzied rush to file candidacies in the newly redrawn state legislative districts has matched some familiar faces against each other and brought a host of political newcomers to the process.

A frenzied rush to file candidacies in the newly redrawn state legislative districts has matched some familiar faces against each other and brought a host of political newcomers to the process.

The period to file for the 2012 election ended much like it began, with confusion and uncertainty. The inability of the Legislature to draw district lines, amid a bitter feud between conservative and moderate Republicans, forced reapportionment of the state into the hands of three federal judges.

And as a result, potential candidates had only 1½ business days and an intervening weekend to decide whether to file for office.

Dozens of seasoned politicians and political hopefuls descended on the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday to stand in line to beat the deadline. And shortly after Secretary of State Kris Kobach banged the gavel to end the filing period, 250 candidates stood for the 125 seats in the House and 100 had filed for 40 Senate seats.

The new districts, drawn with little regard for politics or privileges for incumbency, force a number of lawmakers to face those who were their legislative allies a few weeks ago. In two Senate districts and 24 House districts, incumbents will run against incumbents. One House district has three incumbents.

The judges also left a number of districts with no incumbents, creating a slew of opportunities for new candidates to seek a seat. Four of 40 Senate districts have no incumbent and in the House, 25 of 125 seats are open.

At least five incumbent officeholders and one challenger chose to move their residence rather than run in the districts they were drawn into. Others shifted the race they’re running in after finding themselves in political subdivisions where they didn’t want to be.

While it was chaotic, Kobach said there was a big silver lining.

“It opened up a lot of opportunity by creating districts where there was no incumbent,” he said. That allowed newcomers “to step forward and have an even shot at running for office, not fearing an entrenched opponent.”

The new maps have set up several marquee matchups in Sedgwick County and south-central Kansas, including:

• State Sen. Jean Schodorf vs. Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell: O’Donnell, a conservative Republican elected to the council less than two years ago, is challenging moderate Republican Schodorf in District 25, which now represents west-central Wichita, the Riverside area and part of south Wichita.

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr, another conservative, had been preparing for months to challenge Schodorf. She decided to seek re-election to the House after she was drawn out of the Senate district by a few blocks.

“My record and Jean’s record are a stark contrast for the voters of the 25th District,” O’Donnell said.

He said Schodorf has been too quick to support tax increases and “doesn’t want to do anything to stop Obamacare.”

Schodorf has said she wants to keep parts of the national health-care law that preclude insurance companies from rejecting people for pre-existing conditions, and that allow young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance to age 26.

Schodorf trekked to Topeka, even though she already had filed for re-election. She said she just wanted to make sure no technicalities would keep her off the ballot since she originally filed before the new district lines were drawn.

Schodorf said a major priority is to help the Legislature get beyond the divisiveness and political infighting of this past session.

“We’ve got to start working together for the good of Kansas,” she said.

The winner of the Republican primary will face one of two Democrats, Perry Schuckman or Timothy Snow.

Schuckman is executive director of the Nonprofit Chamber of Service of Kansas.

Snow, a former National Guard member, is taking online classes through Wichita State University to complete a degree in social work.

• Landwehr vs. Rep. Nile Dillmore: Although she had bade farewell to her colleagues in the House, Landwehr will seek to rejoin them in what is expected to be a highly competitive race with Democratic incumbent Nile Dillmore.

Neither candidate has a primary opponent, so the matchup will be decided at the Nov. 6 general election.

Redistricting drew Landwehr out of Schodorf’s Senate District 25 and into Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau’s heavily Democratic District 29.

The new House District 92 in west-central Wichita is about 55 percent Dillmore’s former district and 45 percent Landwehr’s.

Landwehr said “it’s a little tough” to retool for the House run after spending the last few months running for Senate.

She had considered swapping homes with her son to get back into Senate District 25, but decided "I like where I live."

But she said she thinks the remapping will be good for Kansas because it’s bringing new people, ideas and philosophies into the process.

Dillmore promised a spirited campaign.

“We’ll run on the record that I established over the last 12 years, fiscal conservative and social moderate,” he said. “It’s been a good fit for the 92nd and I think it’ll continue to be.”

• Sen. Dick Kelsey vs. Rep. Dan Kerschen: Kelsey, the incumbent in Senate District 26 in south Sedgwick County, will face a Republican primary challenge from Kerschen, who took over the House seat Kelsey left to run for Senate four years ago.

Kerschen saw his House district shredded in the court-ordered reapportionment, putting him on a collision course with Rep. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie.

Kerschen said the new district contained too much of what would have been unfamiliar political ground for him.

“I lost my district,” he said. “The only way I can keep representing the constituents I’ve been representing is to represent them in the Senate, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Kelsey said he’s disappointed to have to face Kerschen.

“Dan and I are friends,” he said. “We vote alike. The difference between the two of us is I have been much more independent on issues than he has. I speak out when I see things."

Kelsey said the race is evidence that Gov. Sam Brownback and his supporters are targeting legislators who don’t stand behind the governor’s policy initiatives.

“Sure, I have been targeted by the governor and his allies, even though I vote with them 98 percent of the time. They don’t like the fact that I’ve taken positions contrary to what they do, at all. I have my own tax plan, I don’t agree with their KanCare plan, things like that.”

KanCare is the governor’s plan to privatize Medicaid services.Despite the challenge, Kelsey said he’s “not going to change my stripes.”

“I will be who I am,” he said. “I’m going to run a very aggressive campaign, and I believe that I am going to win.”

• Rep. Jim Ward vs. Rep. Judith Loganbill: In what is expected to be a hard-fought Democratic primary, legislative allies Ward and Loganbill will be running against each other in House District 86 in south-central Wichita.

When the district maps came out, Ward said he considered a run for the Senate to avoid having to go against Loganbill.

The two have been much like a tag team on the House floor, defending Democratic positions.

Loganbill, a teacher, is one of the party’s leading voices on education and women’s issues. Ward, a lawyer and former prosecutor, has been one of the Democrats’ go-to lawmakers on criminal justice and judiciary issues.

But, “in the end, this (running for the House) was the best fit,” Ward said.

Although he got drawn into an incumbent-vs.-incumbent matchup, Ward said he doesn’t begrudge the judges who drew the district.

“They did what they had to do,” he said. “And we have to pick up the pieces.”

He said he’s excited by the interest in running that the new districts has sparked.

Looking over the crowd of registrants in Topeka on Monday, Ward said, “You’ve got all these people saying ‘I can make a difference. I can run for public office.’ I think it’s a validation of public office.”

Loganbill said she was surprised Ward chose to run against her instead of running for the Senate.

“He called me last weekend,” she said in a statement. “He said he was running for the Senate, so at first I thought this was a mistake. Of course, it’s disappointing on many levels. We’ve served together. I have no idea why he didn’t tell me the truth.”

Loganbill noted that about 9 of 10 voters in District 86 have been her constituents.

“I sincerely want my new constituents to know that I’m available to them, and I’m eager to visit with my many friends in the district,” she said.

A third Democratic candidate, Matthew Collins, could not be reached for comment.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Wichita Pachyderm Club President John Stevens, the only Republican to file for the office.

• Rep. Benny Boman vs. former Rep. Tom Sawyer: Sawyer, a fixture in Democratic politics, will try to take back a House seat at the expense of Boman, a freshman Republican representative in District 95 in southwest Wichita. About 65 percent of the district remains the same.

Sawyer, a former House minority leader, majority leader and Democratic candidate for governor, left the Legislature in 2009 to take a position as a member of the state Parole Board.

He was knocked out of that job last year when Gov. Sam Brownback abolished the board and put parole functions under a Department of Corrections committee.

Sawyer said he decided to run again after watching the contentious session this year, where conservative-vs.-moderate gridlock caused legislators to fail to redistrict the state and forced the federal court panel to draw new political boundaries.

“I think we need someone in Topeka who can solve problems again,” Sawyer said. “It was pretty frustrating from a distance seeing what was not getting done in Topeka.

Boman, a staunch conservative Republican, could not be reached for comment.

• Rep. Les Osterman vs. Goddard school board member Jeff Blubaugh vs. former Rep. Dale Swenson: The Republican primary for the District 97 House seat in southwest Wichita will match Osterman and Blubaugh, with Swenson waiting in the wings for the general election.

Swenson, a Democrat, served 16 years in the Legislature —15 of those as a Republican — but lost his seat in 2010 to Osterman.

Swenson had beaten Osterman in 2000. But both men switched parties in 2009 — Swenson went from Republican to Democrat and Osterman, five days later, switched from Democrat to Republican.

• Sen. Carolyn McGinn vs. Gary Mason: Mason, a political newcomer, is part of an effort by conservative Republicans to break the narrow moderate majority in the Senate.

Mason, who heads ISI Environmental in Wichita, decided to run a year ago and moved over the weekend to Park City into McGinn’s district in the wake of the redistricting.

He criticized McGinn’s record and said he believes the Kansas Senate should cooperate more with Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislative agenda.

“I have a feeling she believes more in big government and that it’s the answer to problems,” he said. “I’m more about getting out of the way of the private sector and allowing it to solve problems.”

Mason said he doesn’t agree with every element of Brownback’s legislative agenda but thinks Brownback is headed in the right direction.

“I think the Senate leadership worked hard to fight the governor,” Mason said.

McGinn is a well-known political figure in District 31, which covers part of northern Sedgwick County and all of Harvey County. She has served in the Senate since 2005. Before that, she represented the north Sedgwick County area on the County Commission for six years.

An agricultural producer and resident of the rural community of Sedgwick, McGinn chairs several Senate committees, including the Ways and Means Committee, which drafts the Senate’s budget.

McGinn categorically rejected Mason’s characterization of her record.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only Ways and Means chair in Kansas history that has cut the budget this much,” she said. “We have cut the budget over $1.5 billion, historic cuts to bring things back into alignment with our revenues and primarily due to the recession. It gave us an opportunity to re-evaluate how we serve the citizens of Kansas. We made some tough decisions and made a lot of cuts.”

McGinn said she remains committed to fiscally conservative government, while preserving essential services.

“I think the public wants us to continue to ensure that government is very efficient and not wasteful of their tax dollars,” she said. “At the same time, to have a healthy economy that supports business, you have to have students coming out of our school systems, technical education and higher education with quality educations to take those jobs on.”

No Democrat filed to run, so the Republican primary will decide the election in District 31.

• Geraldine Flaharty vs. Phil Hermanson: The two incumbents were redistricted together into District 98 in south Wichita.

Flaharty, a Democrat and retired teacher, has been in the House since 1995. Hermanson, a Republican, has served for four years.

Neither candidate appears to have a strong home-field advantage.

Nearly 45 percent of the voters in the redrawn district are Flaharty’s current District 98 constituents, compared with about 30 percent coming with Hermanson from District 96.

About a quarter of the voters haven’t been represented by either candidate, shifting in from District 93.

• There’s a wide-open race in House District 89, where eight-year incumbent Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, decided not to seek re-election.

The district includes parts of north Wichita, Park City and Kechi.

McCray-Miller said she’s leaving to concentrate on growing the business she owns, Miller Inc., which sells barbecue baked beans nationwide.

She said she may consider a run for Sedgwick County Commission in 2014. She served on the commission from1995 to 2000.

Three ministers — Peggy Elliott, David Hanson and Roderick Houston — will square off in the Democratic primary.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Emanuel Banks, an unemployed computer engineer who has run for the House before.

Contributing: Rick Plumlee and Bill Wilson of The Eagle

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