In one of her campaign commercials, Sedgwick County Commissioner Gwen Welshimer jokes that she's not running on her hair color — red — but her record.
Welshimer, a Democrat hoping to keep her District 5 seat representing the southern part of the county, is touting that she has helped cut taxes for property owners the past three years, fulfilling her promise when voters elected her.
Her stance to cut the mill levy — saving the owner of a $100,000 house about $23 a year — is the core of her campaign against Wichita City Council member Jim Skelton.
Her campaign bills her as "Low Tax Gwen."
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"Under my leadership, the county has rolled back property taxes three years in a row and has maintained services and has a balanced budget with a good amount of reserves," she said during a recent interview at her home in south Wichita.
County commissioners make $83,718 a year. During the most recent campaign finance period, which ended July 22, Welshimer had raised $17,260.
Welshimer, 74, is not one to back away from a fight. In recent years, she has challenged longtime county manager William Buchanan, at one time calling for his firing, and Sheriff Robert Hinshaw, with whom she regularly disagrees about how to handle overcrowding at the jail he oversees.
Looking back, Welshimer says the effort to fire Buchanan was the result of a power struggle among commissioners.
"The manager works for us, and we participate in the policymaking and decision making for the county," she said. "Since we have learned to work with each other, things have been just fine. We work together now, on an even-level playing field."
One area where Welshimer was at odds with Hinshaw involved the work of a consultant hired to reduce the jail's population by 25 percent. Welshimer was Justice Concept Inc.' s main supporter and continued to advocate for it even after the firm missed several deadlines. The county eventually severed its ties with the firm, which Welshimer has said helped the county identify problem areas.
Longtime friend Pat Sloop said she admires Welshimer's ability to speak up for herself and others.
A retired clinical social worker, Sloop is a member of the Comcare community advisory board, appointed by Welshimer.
"I think she truly works for every human being in the county. She looks out for every person's interest and not just downtown or business. She's very determined to get the best, I think, for the people she represents."
Sloop said she wouldn't describe Welshimer as stubborn so much as persistent.
"She holds her own, which I could never do," Sloop said.
Welshimer's tenacity showed recently when she learned she had uterine cancer.
When she announced that she was undergoing surgery, she spoke not of being worried about her health but of trying to get doctors to adhere to her schedule and get her back to the bench.
She said recently that doctors have told her there's a 70 percent chance her cancer will not return. She has elected not to have chemotherapy because she said those are good odds and she can't afford to feel sick during her re-election campaign.
If she doesn't retain her seat, she said her son, who lives in California, has plans for her.
She says she would have a good life. But then she winces and says she wouldn't be making decisions on behalf of county residents.
Welshimer has been busy in recent months writing "concepts," or plans, for the Kansas Coliseum, the jail, taxes and economic development.
She unveiled her idea to court makers of ultralight personal aircraft at a meeting a few weeks ago, repeating a line in a Discovery Channel program that if you can operate a cell phone, you can fly a plane.
Although her comments drew criticism from some who said that she minimized the skill of pilots, Welshimer said she's heard from a lot of people about the idea, including pilots, business people and those in the military.
"That was the purpose of it, was to plant a seed," she said.
She said there's no better place to design and build the planes of the future than the Air Capital of the World.
"What we're trying to hold onto is slipping away," she said of recent layoffs. "We're not thinking new. We're not thinking futuristically, what the world is planning for."