Jim Skelton is likely to become the swing vote on some issues when he joins the Sedgwick County Commission early next year.
Skelton, a Wichita City Council member, will be sworn in with fellow Republican Richard Ranzau on Jan. 9.
Skelton sees himself likely aligning most often with commissioners Dave Unruh, a Republican who kept his District 1 seat representing the northeast part of the county, and District 2 Democrat Tim Norton, who represents the south-central part of the county.
And Ranzau thinks he most often will vote similarly to current board chairman Karl Peterjohn, a Republican who represents District 3 in the western part of the county.
That means Unruh and Norton might again find themselves in the majority on issues about which the board is not unanimous.
When votes on the commission have split, Norton and Unruh typically have voted together, with Peterjohn and commissioners Kelly Parks and Gwen Welshimer voting as a coalition.
For example, Norton and Unruh voted to apply for a $500,000 federal grant for regional planning. Peterjohn, Parks and Welshimer voted against it, saying government spending was out of control.
Peterjohn, Parks and Welshimer voted to transfer $1.6 million from the Intrust Bank Arena sales tax fund to the county's general fund to cover the cost of staff time spent on the venue. Norton and Unruh voted against the transfer, saying voters expected county staff to work on the arena and that arena sales tax money was not supposed to end up in the county's general fund.
"I don't want to say I'm going to be voting with someone all the time. I just don't know," Skelton said this week after the election. "But I can say that typically and historically over the last year or two years, I could see myself voting with Norton and Unruh on several things. I seem to be more aligned with them than the other three."
Skelton has been generally supportive of downtown development efforts. But he has been critical of the city's use of community improvement districts, which allow developers to tack on a 2 percent sales tax that the developer gets back to spend on development and operating costs at their business. He opposed such a tax at the Drury Plaza Hotel, formerly the Broadview, after developers said they wouldn't absolutely need the incentive to complete the project.
Skelton has pushed the city to spend more on deteriorating roads and bridges. He pressed hard for elevated railroads in south Wichita and led the charge for a new fire station in south Wichita.
Skelton has also been the loudest voice on the council in favor of recycling and seeking competitive bids on residential trash service, something the county wants cities to do by next year.
He has taken socially conservative stances on several issues before the city council. For example, he opposed the council's action to allow Sunday alcohol sales and spoke out against sexually oriented businesses
Skelton this week defeated Welshimer, a Democrat, and will represent District 5 in the southeast part of the county, including Derby and Mulvane.
Ranzau won over Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau and will represent the north-central part of the county, including Valley Center. He will replace Parks, a Republican who did not seek re-election.
A physician assistant, Ranzau is new to public office, though he did run for governor in 2006 on the Reform Party ticket.
Ranzau said it's "probably reasonable" to assume he will vote the same as Peterjohn on many issues, particularly those involving the county's checkbook.
"In general, I think that's accurate," Ranzau said. "I think everyone understands that we're going to have to make some tough decisions. I think there's going to be some willingness to look at spending pretty critically. We will probably put off some stuff that we used to say 'yes' to."
Peterjohn said he could see coalitions coming together on some issues.
"I think it will be on a case-by-case basis," Peterjohn said.
The county's finance staff recently told commissioners that while the county still is in a strong financial position, it will have to draw on its reserves. County Manager William Buchanan is leading an 18-month review of the services the county provides.
"The good news is we're taking a proactive look at budgeting and finances," said Norton, 63, a Democrat who represents the south-central part of the county, including Haysville. "We're not in trouble right now. We've got some reserves. We didn't have to slash and burn community services to make the budget fit this year. But we know in 2012 and 2013, the story could change."
Peterjohn said he is interested in how Ranzau's military service and background in medicine will affect his votes.
He also noted that Skelton, 42, and Ranzau, 45, will be "younger than anyone currently serving on the commission."
"The fact that Jim's going to bring some City Council-related experience will be a positive just like Richard's background from the military side," said Peterjohn, 60.
Unruh, 67, said it's "too early to tell" how votes will shake out, but he also thought Peterjohn and Ranzau would take a similar stance on issues.
"They share a lot of very conservative views, so I would expect them to be in harmony on many issues."