Dan Thimesch is out to buck a very long trend.
He was elected to the state House five times as a Democrat, but waited until just before this year’s filing deadline to run as an independent in District 93.
“I’ve been told the last independent in the state of Kansas was elected in 1942," Thimesch said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not."
Actually it’s been even longer. According to the State Library of Kansas, the last independent elected was Rep. Walter Hammel of Clay Center in 1930.
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Thimesch, who’s from Cheney, faces Republican George “Joe” Edwards of Haysville and Democrat Sammy Flaharty of Garden Plain. The district also takes in Clearwater, part of Goddard, several hundred voters in southwest Wichita and lots of rural territory.
The incumbent, Republican Dan Kerschen, was moved out of the district by redistricting; he won a Republican primary for the District 26 Senate seat and faces no opposition Nov. 6.
Edwards, 58, is the retired owner of J&S Towing Co., a part-time bus driver for the Haysville school district and an ordained minister who travels through the region preaching at revival meetings.
“I can be heard without a microphone, I promise you," he said.
Edwards backs Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, believes the state should resist implementing the federal Affordable Care Act and would try to stop all abortions. He favors giving the governor control over appointments to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, opposes any expansion of gambling and would allow qualified people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
Edwards said he’s been active in politics since his teens, starting out as a Democrat but changing parties as a result of his admiration for President Reagan. He said he campaigned for Thimesch during one previous election. Edwards ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Haysville in 2004 and 2008.
Despite describing himself as a “free market/social conservative" Republican, Edwards said he wouldn’t be a rubber stamp for the Brownback administration.
“That’s not saying I won’t go with the administration, but I will look at everything and look at all sides," he said. “I will make a decision that will be appropriate for the 93rd District.”
Edwards has signed a pledge not to raise any taxes — “including sin taxes," he said. “I think we have enough taxes."
Edwards said the state needs to reduce regulations on businesses, blaming them for economic woes and the state’s population decline. Even though he’s the dominant political party’s nominee, Edwards said he isn’t taking anything for granted, having put 6,000 miles on his new pickup during the campaign.
Flaharty, 64, retired from a job with the Kansas Corporation Commission in Wichita and now is a substitute teacher in several rural school districts.
She said Brownback’s tax cuts will damage the state. She backs the Affordable Care Act and believes in a woman’s right to have an abortion. She likes the current system for picking higher court judges, favors expanded gambling and says the idea of guns in classrooms makes her nervous.
Flaharty said a formative event in her life was the death of her first husband, Calvin Miller, from cancer. At the time, he had been laid off from his job and she was self-employed. The family had no health insurance, and medical bills mounted.
“It was a terrible time in my life. I found out I could survive anything,” she said.
Flaharty, who has remarried, also ran her own hair salon for about 20 years. She describes herself as “somewhat to left of center" politically and said she has campaigned for Democrats for years.
Flaharty said she is “just scared to death" of the tack taken by Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature.
“Granted, my one vote in that Legislature isn’t going to mean much, but I will vote against them," she said. “We need to have more Democrats up there to change the direction the state’s going. We’re headed straight for disaster as far as I’m concerned."
Flaharty lost the Democratic primary to Pamela Frieden, who had already decided she didn’t want to run. When Frieden’s name was taken off the ballot, Flaharty was chosen as the nominee by a three-person precinct committee that included her and her husband.
Although history suggests any independent is a long shot, Thimesch thinks his previous stint in the Legislature may help his chances. He’s running as an independent, he said, because the two major political parties — as well as the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican majority — are unable to work together.
Thimesch, 61, served in the House from 1995 to 2004.
He’s a self-employed builder, and owes more than $200,000 in back property taxes on lots he was trying to develop when the housing market collapsed in 2008. About 45 lots he owns in a Garden Plain development are in foreclosure. (See related story.)
Thimesch said tax cuts usually benefit the economy but he thinks Brownback’s may have to be modified.
He thinks the Affordable Care Act is unworkable for the state and would like to see more public education about the “negative effects of abortion on our families."
He says the governor should control appointments to the appellate court and opposes any expansion of gambling.
Thimesch said the political atmosphere in Topeka was different, and better, when he served in the Legislature.
“When I was up there, when we got done with campaigning, we felt like we had to try to do the work of the people that sent us there," he said. Today, he added, “There’s no working together, there’s no compromise."
He hopes the creation of dozens of open seats through redistricting may send to Topeka more lawmakers who are willing to work together.
Edwards said he was surprised that Thimesch decided to run, recalling that Thimesch congratulated him on being the Republican nominee and gave no indication that he was getting into the race. Thimesch confirmed that it was a last-minute decision.
“Here’s what happened," Thimesch said. “I had 18 people come into the front room of my house and continue to try to change my mind and encourage me to run. They said they would help me. I was taken back by that."