The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations in the contested races for the Kansas House, districts 91 through 105. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates.
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Republican Gene Suellentrop, who has represented District 105 since 2009, is the clear choice in what has been Rep. Brenda Landwehr’s district but was redrawn to span north Wichita, Park City and Valley Center. A conservative who is valuable for his business experience, Suellentrop wants to see a simpler school-finance formula and more money reach classrooms. If re-elected, he should drop the bad idea of selling University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
Democrat Katelyn Delvaux did not answer questions for The Eagle’s voter guide.
In this Riverside-area district, 11-year Democratic incumbent Nile Dillmore is the better choice in a clash of two outspoken titans of the Wichita delegation who were thrown together by redistricting. Dillmore knows taxes and other issues cold, speaks truth to the GOP power in the House, and will be a forceful voice of reason on behalf of K-12 schools and the social safety net as the income-tax cuts kick in and revenues slow. “Someone has to stand up and say, ‘What a minute – does this work?’” says Dillmore.
Republican Brenda Landwehr has represented District 91 since 1994, shaping state policy on health care and child welfare as a committee chairwoman and voting conservatively across the board. In recent years she has tried to roll back the indoor smoking ban, and led a pointless state-level fight against Obamacare.
Republican George (Joe) Edwards of Haysville is narrowly the best choice among three capable candidates in this large district in southwest Sedgwick County, where the winner will succeed Rep. Dan Kerschen. Edwards’ experiences as a retired business owner, a pastor and a school-bus driver, as well as his long involvement in politics, have given him a good grasp of the district’s needs and values as well as state issues. Though conservative, he seems likely to exert some independence within the House majority.
Democrat Sammy Flaharty of Garden Plain would be a stronger advocate for education and social services. But she lost the primary to an opponent who didn’t want the job, and was placed on the Nov. 6 ballot via a party decision.
As a Democratic House member from 1995 to 2004, Dan Thimesch showed innovative leadership on a number of issues, and he has it right about the need for better cooperation at the Statehouse. But his tax and financial woes, and decision to run as an independent, make this too long a shot.
Voters in this west-central Wichita district should return longtime Democratic legislator Tom Sawyer to the House after his stint on the now-disbanded Kansas Parole Board. Sawyer is a former House majority and minority leader and was his party’s gubernatorial nominee in 1998. His knowledge, experience and balanced, commonsense approach to lawmaking would be invaluable next session, when so many legislators will be new.
Republican Benny Boman has had a weak first term, tilting at windmills like Agenda 21 and favoring tax cuts at all costs.
Democrat Brandon Whipple is the clear pick in this south Wichita district, where the seat is open because of redistricting. Whipple, who also ran in 2010 and formerly chaired the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, would bring energy, brains and a strong grasp of the issues to the job, and be an advocate for schools and small businesses. He is rightly wary about the potential for the governor’s income-tax cuts to lead to local property-tax hikes, which would fall hard on retirees.
Republican Rick Lindsey, who has worked in security and retail management, favors the governor’s tax strategy and likely would be a reliably conservative vote on fiscal and social issues.
Voters in this southwest Wichita district should return Democrat Dale Swenson to the House, where he served well for 16 years mostly as an independent-minded Republican until his loss in 2010. As the tax cuts’ effects are felt (“The only people left paying taxes are retired and working people,” Swenson complains), he would be a strong, pragmatic, pro-education voice in the House.
Having succeeded in unseating Swenson after multiple attempts, and party switching himself, Republican Leslie Osterman has not made much of a mark in Topeka. He would support increasing base per-pupil state aid, but also voted for the tax cuts that will make that difficult.
Democrat Geraldine Flaharty is the clear choice in this contest between two south-side incumbents. A retired teacher who has been a strong and responsive voice for her constituents since 1995, Flaharty would continue the fight for schools, disability services, and balance among property, sales and income taxes.
Two-term Republican incumbent Phil Hermanson, displaced from District 96 by the new House maps, has mostly been just another conservative vote in the House, and his record has been marred by a May campaign ethics violation and past DUI and tax issues. His budget priorities are public safety, infrastructure and education.
Republican Daniel R. Hawkins is the better candidate in this northwest Wichita district, which became an open seat when redistricting put Rep. Mario Goico in District 94. Hawkins’ conservative views reflect the district; he wants to limit government and stop raiding transportation funding. His perspective would have the benefit of valuable experience owning an employee benefits insurance agency, serving in the Kansas Army National Guard and leading charity boards.
Democrat John Wallace Willoughby, an educator and entrepreneurship mentor, mostly filed to give voters a choice. In the House, he would work to reverse the tax plan and promote civility.
Republican Mark E. Hutton, CEO of Hutton Construction, is narrowly the best choice in this west-side Wichita district, which opened up when redistricting landed Rep. Gene Suellentrop in District 91. Hutton’s involvement in the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political activities, including working to oust capable state senators in the primary, is a concern. But his chamber ties and business record also give him a keen sense of what the state economy and a post-Boeing Wichita will need to gain strength.
Democrat Liz Hicks is also an excellent candidate – a semi-retired pharmacist with a long record of civic engagement on health, housing, aging, women’s rights and other issues. She wants to reverse cuts in school funding, and would be a vocal advocate for Kansans with disabilities.
Libertarian Randall Batson also is on the ballot.
Thursday: State House districts 81-90
Friday: State House districts 91-105
Saturday: State Senate
Sunday: U.S. House, Sedgwick County Commission, sheriff, District Court judge, Kansas appellate courts, fluoridation and watercraft ballot questions