Liz Hicks has lived in the same west Wichita house for 40 years, time enough to see the area’s political makeup change dramatically.
“When we moved here, it was a Democratic area," she said. “I felt quite comfortable. I watched it as a precinct person changing. I just kept watching it and wondered why is this occurring? I don’t know."
The district now has about 5,100 registered Republicans, 4,400 unaffiliated voters and 3,000 Democrats, plus 105 Libertarians.
Hicks will try to reverse that trend as the Democratic candidate for the House 105 seat, running against Republican Mark Hutton and Libertarian Randall Batson. The district runs roughly from Maple in the south to 29th Street in the north, split down the middle by I-235. The incumbent, Republican Gene Suellentrop, was moved to District 91 because of redistricting.
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Both Hutton and Hicks say they’re running for office because they’ve reached a point in their lives where they have time to spend in the Capitol. But they’d spend the time quite differently if elected.
Hutton, 58, is CEO of Hutton Construction Corp., a commercial building business he started in 1992. He describes himself politically as a “fiscal conservative and unapologetic capitalist." He’s spent time in Topeka as past president of the Associated General Contractors of Kansas and current chair of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Committee. He grew up in Wichita and has lived in the district 14 years.
He backs the majority of Gov. Sam Brownback’s agenda, including the income tax cuts enacted during the last session. Hutton believes the tax cuts will “begin the process of making Kansas competitive again."
Hutton supports Brownback’s plan to privatize Medicaid, further restrictions on or the elimination of abortions, the sale of wine and liquor in grocery stores and the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses by qualified people. He would give the governor control over appointments to the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. He opposes the expansion of gambling in the area.
On other issues — for instance, whether it is possible for the state to opt out of the federal Affordable Care Act — Hutton said he needs more information before making up his mind. “It’s incredibly complex," he said.
Two of Hutton’s top priorities — improving government efficiency and addressing school funding — appear to dovetail. Hutton said there needs to be an agreed-upon measure of progress in schools before funding is increased.
“I’m not about slash-and-burn politics," he said. “When they fix that side of it, I think it’s going to help with people saying I can get behind it."
Hicks, 68, is a semi-retired pharmacist who’s been a Democratic Party precinct committeewoman and served on a number of local boards, including the Sedgwick County Council on Aging, Wichita Housing Board and Wichita-Sedgwick County Board of Health. She describes herself politically as a “practical consensus builder."
Hicks thinks Brownback’s tax bill was the worst piece of legislation passed during the most recent session, and believes the state has not been providing adequate funding for schools and should not fight the Affordable Care Act. “We are already wasting taxpayer money going to court on several issues," she said.
She supports the current system of picking higher court judges, keeping Medicaid in the hands of state government and expanded gambling in Kansas. She doesn’t think grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine and liquor and supports a woman’s right to have an abortion. “Those laws (restricting abortion) also cost us millions in court cases that prove they are unconstitutional," she said.
Batson, 36, could not be reached for comment. He was an unsuccessful candidate for House District 95 two years ago.
In a written questionnaire, Batson described himself as a “Minarchist," which he said is “someone who believes in government at its absolute minimum.” He would support further tax cuts and reductions in government regulations on businesses, opting out of the Affordable Care Act and allowing qualified people to carry concealed guns on college campuses.
Hicks and Hutton, despite their differing views on the issues, are maintaining a cordial tone.
“I respect his right to think the way he does and I hope he respects mine," Hicks said.
“I’ve met Liz and she’s a nice lady," Hutton said.
Hicks, who worked at Gessler’s Drug in east Wichita for 25 years, said she’s been interested in politics "for decades and decades." She was in her 30s when her husband died, leaving her to raise her daughter as a single mother. She’s a member of a singing group and for years has made presentations about the role of women in Kansas history.
“I think of myself as a practical negotiator, a person who works with people to build consensus," she said. “While I know the political process can be antagonistic, we have to be able to find ways in which we can do the better good for Kansas."
Hutton and his wife, Mary, have two sons and six grandchildren, with a seventh on the way. He’s involved in real estate development as well as construction and enjoys woodworking during his time off.
Hutton said he’s been trying to knock on 100 doors a night in the district.
While he understands that many people are busy, he said it’s a little discouraging that more don’t want to talk about the issues facing Kansas.
“You get three or four that really want to talk to you, a couple who will run you off the porch, and most are polite, say thank you and that’s it,” he said. “This is people’s one really good shot to have that direct connection with the people that represent them. I would like to see people more engaged.”