The nuance between “supporting” and “endorsing” a candidate doesn’t just apply to Donald Trump’s nomination as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
It’s also playing out in Sedgwick County.
Commission candidate Michael O’Donnell, a Republican, announced Tuesday that he has the support of all four Republican county commissioners as he campaigns to unseat Democratic commissioner Tim Norton.
“It’s unprecedented to have the support of all four commissioners against a sitting incumbent,” he said.
But commissioner Dave Unruh, a Republican who often sides with Norton on split votes, said he hasn’t endorsed O’Donnell.
“I told Michael that I was Republican and support Republicans but Tim was my friend and I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him,” Unruh said. “I’m not going to actively endorse anybody.
“I’d rather not be used in (O’Donnell’s) campaign,” Unruh said.
Norton, the lone Democrat on the county commission, said he wasn’t concerned about the “maneuverings of politics.”
“The well-being of my community and the citizens is all I care about,” he said.
Three out of four
Unruh and Norton have voted the same on contentious issues of public health and the county’s fiscal strategies. Together, they pushed for an alternate budget last summer that they said would have averted proposed cuts to public health, economic development, culture, arts and recreation.
I’m kind of in a delicate position here. I’m just trying to stay as out of it as much as I can stay out of it.
Sedgwick County Commissioner Dave Unruh
“I’m kind of in a delicate position here,” Unruh said. “I’m just trying to stay as out of it as much as I can stay out of it.”
Republican commissioners Jim Howell, Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau make up the commission’s conservative majority, which favors focusing on core government services like roads and public safety and reducing the county’s debt burden.
“From Richard Ranzau to Dave Unruh, the support of all four commissioners transcends political ideology and shows my ability to work with anyone, regardless of political views,” according to an O’Donnell campaign news release.
“Why would he use my name?” Unruh asked when read that part of the release.
O’Donnell said Unruh has offered “to help me a lot” in a few meetings they’ve had recently.
(Dave Unruh) could use an ally and a friend on the commission that also is friends with the other commissioners.
Sen. Michael O’Donnell, who is running for the Sedgwick County Commission
“(Unruh) could use an ally and a friend on the commission that also is friends with the other commissioners,” O’Donnell said.
Howell and Peterjohn say they have officially endorsed O’Donnell. Howell said O’Donnell “might bring other options to the table” besides the 3-2 margin that often decides close votes in commission meetings. Ranzau said he also supports O’Donnell.
“I think the reality is we need someone in that position that is going to open the discussion and work to find solutions we can find compromise on,” Howell said.
During Norton’s 2012 race for office, Republican commissioner Jim Skelton was censured by the Sedgwick County Republican Party for supporting Norton. Skelton, Unruh and Norton formed the last commission majority before Skelton left office in 2015.
Unruh brought up that incident on Tuesday.
“I intend to continue being a Republican,” Unruh said.
Norton and O’Donnell face no primary challengers before the Nov. 8 election in Sedgwick County’s District 2, which includes parts of south Wichita and all of Haysville and Clearwater.
O’Donnell is leaving the Kansas Senate after one term as a senator. He previously served on the Wichita City Council.
Norton, the former mayor of Haysville, has been on the commission since 2001. He says this will be his last race for public office.