In an anticlimactic end to a long evening, Karl Peterjohn – after winning re-election to the Sedgwick County Commission – joked to a mostly empty room, “Anyone want to hear a victory statement?”
Peterjohn’s victory on Tuesday over Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell could set the stage for a possible change in the county board’s majority.
Despite leading for most of the night, Peterjohn waited for final numbers from the Sedgwick County Election Office before declaring victory. That did not happen until after 11 p.m., and by then most of his supporters had left his election watch party at West Acres Bowl.
“It’s been a long challenge from the snow and cold in January to the sweltering heat in August,” Peterjohn said. “I’m very pleased to be re-elected to a second term.”
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Peterjohn said he knocked on doors for his re-election campaign, electing to file by petition instead of paying a fee. He stopped going door-to-door when temperatures soared above 100 degrees, staying inside and making calls from his home, as he did this past weekend.
“Daddy’s going to win!” Peterjohn’s son, Alex, shouted when results came up about 10:05 p.m. showing Peterjohn was ahead.
The former taxpayer advocate ran on a record of being fiscally conservative, pushing for voter approval of property tax increases and decreasing the inmate population at the Sedgwick County Jail.
Longwell’s campaign focused on growing jobs and businesses. Longwell said he put aside his desire to be mayor after city and county leaders urged him to run for commission. He pointed to his ability to bring people together and work from both sides of Central.
“Right now all I’m going to worry about is representing District 5” at City Hall, he said. “I have 2 1/2 years left to represent District 5.”
He said he thought negative campaigning late in the race affected the results.
Peterjohn last week questioned campaign contributions to Longwell from Michigan construction executives with ties to the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport expansion project.
“If they want to try to connect those dots, then come out and tell me that I’m on the take,” Longwell said at his watch party at NewMarket Square. “That’s almost what they did. There were some radio personalities that basically said I was on the take.
Peterjohn said he would continue to focus the major cornerstones of his campaign: voter empowerment, fighting against spending federal dollars on a sustainable development grant and whittling the county’s budget.
Commissioners will vote Aug. 15 on County Manager William Buchanan’s recommended $408 million budget. Buchanan’s plan would close the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch for juvenile offenders, eliminate 113 jobs and give less money to senior centers, the Sedgwick County Zoo, Exploration Place and the extension center.
Peterjohn said he won’t approve the budget with Buchanan’s recommended 3 percent pool for performance-based raises.
“That dog’s not going to hunt in my office,” Peterjohn said Tuesday night.
Peterjohn said he recognized that the county has many good employees, but “with the economic situation we face, there’s no way we can do a 3 percent raise pool.”
Peterjohn has spent the past two years in the minority. When the commission splits votes, Peterjohn and Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who attended his watch party, often vote together.
That could change if Republican challenger Ben Sauceda defeats Democratic incumbent Tim Norton in the District 2 race in November.
Peterjohn, Ranzau and Sauceda would form a conservative majority, which could change the way the county approaches economic development, incentives for businesses and spending in general.
Wichita certified public accountant Robert Gutschenritter said he voted for Peterjohn because “he’s pretty conservative, although he’s not even as harsh as he used to be. I think he’s learned a few lessons and learned that there’s more than one view on things.”
Another voter casting her ballot at Country Acres Baptist Church said he supported Peterjohn because she was concerned about local government giving too much in incentives to businesses.
“I went with Karl over Jeff for that reason,” she said.
The woman gave her name to an Eagle reporter and then returned and asked that it not be published because she knew Longwell.