Correction: An earlier version of this story contained the wrong title for John Carmichael's position in the state Democratic Party.
State Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said he will resign his seat in the Legislature after the special session early next month, opening the possibility of comeback tries by two Wichita political heavyweights and an opportunity for the state’s Democratic Party secretary.
Former Republican senator and recently minted Democrat Jean Schodorf and former Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr, who found themselves sidelined after losses in the 2012 elections, are both expressing some interest. John Carmichael, secretary of the state Democratic Party, has already launched a bid for the seat as well.
Dillmore, a 13-year veteran of the Legislature, said he is retiring from his regular job with a Wichita credit union in October and that “it’s time to look around for some other things to do.”
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Dillmore, 65, represents the 92nd District in northwest Wichita. He is married to Wichita City Council member Janet Miller.
In 2012, he won re-election and ousted longtime Republican Rep. Landwehr after the two incumbents were thrown together in the same district in a court-ordered redistricting.
Landwehr said she might run again.
“I’ll look at the makeup of the district and make a decision in the future,” she said.
Schodorf, a former state senator who lives in Dillmore’s district, said she’s interested in submitting her name to the Democratic precinct committee members who will choose his replacement for the 2014 legislative session.
“First, I want to say what a good job he’s done and how sorry I am he’s resigning,” Schodorf said. “He represented people very well, and he’s defended the rights of people for voter registration and education.”
Schodorf served in the Senate from January 2001 to January 2013. She was ousted in the Republican primary last year by then-Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell, who benefited from a business-led spending blitz to rid the Senate of moderate Republicans who had opposed some of Gov. Sam Brownback’s plans on taxes, education and other issues.
Carmichael, a Wichita lawyer and longtime Democratic Party activist, on Thursday appointed a treasurer and started a campaign for the seat.
“I was surprised and dismayed to hear of Nile deciding to resign,” he said. “He has been an outstanding legislator.”
In addition to his current position as state party secretary, he is the immediate past chairman of the party for the 4th Congressional District.
Carmichael has never held elective office, but served on appointed boards and commissions under the last three Democratic governors.
Carmichael is also a member of the small precinct committee that will choose Dillmore’s interim successor.
Dillmore said he will announce his resignation publicly during the DemoFest event this weekend in Wichita. He said he has already informed precinct committee members.
The seat will be up for election in November 2014.
Dillmore said he will turn in his resignation paperwork at the end of a special session that begins Sept. 3 in Topeka. The primary purpose of that session will be to revise the state’s Hard 50 sentencing law to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar Virginia law as unconstitutional.
Ken Ciboski, a professor of political science at Wichita State University, said Dillmore’s resignation is understandable.
As a representative, “You’re one of 125 in the first place,” Ciboski said. Also, “the Democratic Party is not in very good shape (in the state Legislature) and it’s frustrating to be in the minority. You can’t get a lot done.”
Ciboski said Dillmore’s resignation could further erode the small Democratic contingent in the House, which now stands at 33 members.
The 92nd District is one of only a few swing districts in the Wichita area, he said.
Dillmore’s immediate replacement will have a chance to represent the district and build a track record and name recognition before the 2014 election, he said.
But the offset is that Republicans will have an opportunity to find a candidate and mobilize to try to take the district back, he added.
If Landwehr does decide to run, it could set up a clash that Wichita political observers long expected but that never materialized.
Landwehr, a conservative Republican, had lain the groundwork to challenge Schodorf for her Senate seat in 2012. But although they are fairly close neighbors, the court-drawn redistricting lines put them in different districts.
Rather than move into the district, Landwehr decided to run to retain her House seat instead of challenging Schodorf, and then lost to Dillmore in the general election.
After losing to O’Donnell in the Republican primary, Schodorf switched her registration to Democrat after finishing her Senate term.
“I’ve been a Democrat since January,” Schodorf said. “The Republican Party had left the moderates behind.”