The last time Dale Swenson and Les Osterman squared off in south Wichita's 97th House District, Swenson was the Republican and Osterman the Democrat.
This time, Swenson's the Democrat and Osterman's the Republican.
The turnabout came after Swenson announced he was switching to the Democratic Party on Jan. 12, 2009. Osterman switched from Democrat to Republican five days later.
"I switched parties because there were things the Republicans were doing that violated my values," said Swenson.
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"The Democratic Party's values and ideology did not match up with mine," he said.
Both Osterman and Swenson describe themselves as social conservatives and against abortion; they differ on financial issues and school funding.
Swenson has served in the Legislature for 16 years and said he doesn't expect that most Republicans in his district will turn against him now that he's changed parties.
"It's a very socially conservative district and I represent it that way," Swenson said. "It's also a working-class district and I represent it that way too."
For years, Swenson listed his occupation as "unemployed," after he was laid off from his job as an aircraft painter for Boeing. Now 53, he lists himself as "retired."
Swenson said his break with his former party is mainly in areas such as education and consumer protection, onetime Republican priorities that Swenson said have been dropped for policies favoring powerful corporations and special interests.
"Leadership in the Kansas House has moved decidedly to the right," he said. "The Republican Party has become more of a pup-tent party. The Democrats' tent became bigger, more tolerant of diversified points of view."
As a Democrat, Swenson gained his first committee leader position as the ranking minority member of the Insurance Committee. He said he is using that influence to work on issues such as coverage for autism, coverage of oral chemotherapy medications and a ban on using credit ratings as a basis for insurance premiums.
"Stuff like that isn't supported by the Republican leadership," he said. "The Democrats found some value in me and frankly, I'm getting more done."
Osterman's race against Swenson in 2000 is so far the high-water mark of a campaign career now featuring two races for the state House of Representatives and two for the Wichita City Council.
In the 2000 House race, Swenson beat Osterman 67 percent to 33 percent. Osterman lost a 1999 council race to Bill Gale 73 percent to 27 percent and in 2007, he lost 75-24 to current council member Paul Gray.
He says this time is going to be different.
"I've got a lot more knowledge of what's going on now than I did back then," Osterman said. Also, he added, "I didn't have enough money to get my message out."
This time around, he said he's "knocked on every door in the district and talked to a lot of people," and is getting support from the Sedgwick County Republican Party, which paid postage on a mailer he had printed.
Another difference: "When I ran in 2000, I was not a minister," Osterman said.
Osterman, 63, said he became a minister in the Church of God through weekend courses, online classes and on-the-job training with a senior pastor.
The church he served in Newton was closed by the denomination and he now participates primarily in evangelism events and officiates at weddings and funerals, he said.
Before the ministry, he trained as a locksmith but said he couldn't make it work as a business because of high taxes. He also operated the Re-Nu-It upholstery business with his late mother, until she became ill with cancer, closed the shop and moved to Nebraska.
In the 2000 election, school finance was a major issue. It still is, and Swenson and Osterman have widely divergent views.
Osterman echoes a contention of some Republican leaders that only about half of the government money going to schools is spent on actual classroom instruction.
He said he's a strong supporter of a proposal by House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, to require that 65 percent of new state funding go to the classroom.
"If I get into office I'm going to push hard on that," Osterman said. "It's great to build new schools but at the same time, you've got to put the money into teaching the kids."
The calculation that only about half of the money to schools goes to instruction is based on research by anti-tax groups and includes voter-approved bond funding for buildings, which can't legally be used for operational expenses.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculates that 61.54 percent of the $2.9 billion in operational funding for Kansas schools went to instruction in the 2008-09 school year. An additional 9.1 percent goes to student support including counselors, speech pathologists, career centers and libraries.
Swenson is a strong supporter of funding for schools, one of the factors that put him at odds with Republican leadership in the House.
He said he plans to fight potential cuts.
"What does he (Osterman) want to eliminate? The nurses? School counselors? The buses?" Swenson said.
He said he opposes O'Neal's effort to mandate the percentage spent on instruction.
"Mike O'Neal is the one who keeps trying to strip schools of their money," Swenson said. "He's not my idea of a friend of the schools... I think I'll trust the school districts to spend their money without micromanaging it from Topeka."