Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of years Dillmore has served in office.
TOPEKA – Voters in Riverside, Indian Hills and Benjamin Hills should have it easy when it comes to picking their next state House representative in District 92.
Their two choices – Democratic Rep. Nile Dillmore and Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr – are both well-respected, long-time incumbents who ended up in the same district after judges redrew political boundaries.
They couldn’t be much farther apart on some of the state’s biggest issues.
Dillmore, 65, fought against the massive income tax cuts Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law earlier this year, a move expected to lead to cuts in state government spending.
He was the Democrats’ lead advocate in their losing battle to cut property taxes instead.
He says eliminating income tax for some businesses and cutting rates for individuals creates an artificial budget crisis.
It could lead to $2.5 billion in cuts to state spending over six years, state researchers say.
“Buckle up,” Dillmore said. “There’s a big hole in this budget that’s going to have to be cut out.”
Landwehr, 57, voted in favor of the cuts, noting that they leave more dollars in Kansans’ pockets and saying that forcing the state to cut spending is a good thing.
“We can sit and do nothing,” she said. “Or we can try something to create jobs. You create jobs, you create new revenue. You don’t tax people to increase revenue. You increase jobs and you increase revenue.”
Both candidates say they’ll oppose the continuation of the temporary 6/10 of a cent sales tax that is set to expire next year. Some expect Brownback to advocate continuing that tax to make up for income tax cuts.
Meanwhile, Landwehr has been pushing back against the federal Affordable Care Act, trying to find any way possible for the state to avoid taking part in the new healthcare plan, even though legal experts say the state can’t skirt the federal law.
“We continue the fight of saying we’re not going to do Obamacare in Kansas,” she said. “We still have state sovereignty, and I just think it’s a fight we’re going to have to fight.”
Dillmore says the state should focus on making the federal law the best it can be for Kansas – not on trying to avoid the inevitable.
“It’s unrealistic,” he said of fighting the federal law. “It can’t be done. It’s a straw man. It’s outdated and it’s disingenuous to the voter.”
Dillmore doesn’t think the state should change how it appoints appellate or Supreme Court judges.
A panel of lawyers evaluates candidates and sends top picks to the governor to select someone that the Senate confirms. Landwehr is on board with the conservative push to cut out the panel of lawyers and instead have the governor appoint judges and the Senate confirm them, as is done for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Landwehr favors allowing concealed guns on college campuses. She voted in favor of the 2005 law that allowed Kansans to carry concealed weapons.
Dillmore says let students decide if they want guns on campuses, and he opposed the 2005 law.
The two have stood on opposing sides of several big issues in the past decade.
Dillmore opposed putting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions on the ballot in 2005. Landwehr was for it.
Landwehr opposed a move to override Brownback’s veto of the budget for the Kansas Arts Commission, which ultimately led the state to lose arts grants for at least a year. Dillmore voted to fund arts.
GOP advantage, unaffiliated targeted
The District 92 that Dillmore has represented for 12 years lost much of its southern part between Douglas and Central in redistricting. It grew to the more Republican-oriented northwest near 25th and I-235, where Landwehr lives.
The new district has almost 1,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. It also has about 4,000 unaffiliated voters. Overall, it’s roughly 37 percent Republican, 29 percent Democratic and 33 percent unaffiliated.
It’s about 45 percent of Landwehr’s former District 91 and 55 percent of Dillmore’s former District 92.
Both candidates say they’ve got strong grassroots support.
Dillmore, a land and home development specialist at Mid-American Credit Union, is married to Wichita City Council member Janet Miller. They live in Riverside.
Landwehr co-owns with her husband, David, LT Care Solutions, which provides insurance consultations. They live in the Benjamin Hills area.
Whoever loses the race will be missed by colleagues at the Capitol. Both are known as humorous and knowledgeable – as well as fierce advocates and adversaries on key topics.
One of the most outspoken opponents of abortion, Landwehr broke down and admitted she had had an abortion decades ago during a 2006 speech on the House floor in the Statehouse while lawmakers were debating a bill to restrict abortions.
Landwehr, who has three sons, told House members why abortion clinics should be subject to tougher regulations and greater scrutiny than other medical clinics. She said that the emotional pain it can leave people with is among the reasons.
"How many of you have sat down and really talked to a young woman who’s gone through with an abortion, and what she’s living with today?" Landwehr asked, before pausing. "You live with a lot. I’m one of those women. I live with that pain every single day. Because I killed a baby. It’s more than just a surgical procedure, having a knee repaired or a hip replaced."
Dillmore angered conservative Republicans and the governor’s office during negotiations over income tax-cutting bills by calculating how tens of thousands of high-paying jobs would be needed to make up for lost state revenue.
Though a staunch Democrat, Dillmore has the reputation of working with Republicans on key issues.
In the midst of the Iraq war, he tried to put things in perspective in a letter to the editor in The Eagle about a week after the 2008 primary election.
“Regardless of your party or ideology, you had the opportunity to overthrow or affirm your government at the polls without fear of violence or social disruption,” he wrote. “In the global scheme of things, that is quite remarkable. This process should not be taken for granted. If you were one of the many who chose not to participate, I would say to you that you will get the government you deserve.”