July 25, 2014

Endorsements: Sedgwick County Commission, District Court

The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations in the contested races for Sedgwick County Commission and District Court. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates.

The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations in the contested races for Sedgwick County Commission and District Court. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates.

Sedgwick County Commission

District 4

GOP primary

Carolyn McGinn is the clear choice to represent this district that includes part of north Wichita as well as Maize, Park City and Valley Center. McGinn served on the commission from 1998 through 2004. Since then, she has served in the Kansas Senate, including as past chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. As a result, McGinn knows state and local issues well and understands how they intersect. She is concerned about the region’s stagnant economic growth. In order to get businesses to come and grow here, the county needs a stable government structure that provides essential services, she argues. McGinn is a productive problem solver who could have an immediate positive impact on the commission.

Her opponent is incumbent Richard Ranzau, who is completing his first term. He has been a fierce advocate for the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch and for fiscal responsibility. But he also frequently badgers county staff and delivers monologues about federal government problems. He argued that a planning grant was an attempt by President Obama “to circumvent the will of Congress, the states and the people.”

The winner will face Democrat Melody McCray-Miller in the general election.

District 5

GOP primary

Two strong candidates are vying to replace outgoing Commissioner Jim Skelton in this district that includes Derby, Mulvane and southeast Wichita. But the best choice is Dion Avello, who has a long and impressive record of serving the community and getting results. Avello served eight years on the Derby City Council and has served the past 12 years as mayor of Derby. He also has been involved in Friends of McConnell, the Regional Economic Area Partnership, and other governmental boards and projects. His priority on the commission would be creating an atmosphere that attracts businesses to the area and helps existing businesses stay and grow. “We haven’t touched the potential of this community,” he said. Avello also believes that people in his district want to see a collaborative County Commission that works together to solve problems. “I’ve been a consensus builder all my life,” he said.

His opponent also has a strong background in public service. Jim Howell has served two terms in the Kansas House, where he showed himself to be diligent and determined. He championed efforts in the Legislature to increase state funding for the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch and would like to reopen the ranch on Jan. 1. “It’s a core function,” he argued. Though he doesn’t rule out the use of economic development incentives, Howell doesn’t want to give any business a financial advantage over a competitor and would prefer to lower property taxes on all businesses.

The winner will face Democrat Richard Young in the November election.

18th Judicial District

Division 5

GOP primary

Neither of the two Republicans in this primary contest fared well in the recent survey of attorneys conducted by the Wichita Bar Association and The Eagle, especially compared with the Democrat they seek to unseat, Judge Gregory Waller. But the better pick is Seth L. Rundle, a public defender in Sedgwick County who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his active-duty service in the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Department and is now in the Kansas Air National Guard. Though he’s never tried a civil case, he has prosecuted and defended cases before federal, state, and military judges and juries in seven states and has advised clients on civil legal matters. Rundle comes across as thoughtful and fair-minded, and his perspective as a public defender would be valuable on the bench.

The other Republican is Linda D. Kirby, an experienced attorney with a limited private practice who also has applied for the opening on the Kansas Supreme Court. Kirby also scored poorly in the attorney survey of 2012, when she lost in the primary to Judge Phil Journey.

Division 19

GOP primary

Michael J. Hoelscher, a Wichita assistant city attorney since 2008, gets the nod because of his fine reputation in the legal community, his extensive courtroom experience and his self-described “even demeanor.” A former machinist who graduated from Washburn University School of Law, Hoelscher prosecuted everything from misdemeanors to serious felonies, also working on consumer fraud and juvenile criminal cases, while with the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. He now handles the city’s criminal jury trials as a city attorney. Though his campaign’s politicization of the race for what is a nonpartisan job has been disappointing, his 80 to 100 jury trials and other time in court have prepared him well to manage his own courtroom and to give attorneys and other parties a fair hearing in pursuit of a just result.

Republicans have another good candidate in Diane Sherwood, an attorney and mediator and a former executive with a construction company. Sherwood’s practice in alternative dispute resolution has put her in the middle of many difficult family conflicts, and would make her a good fit in parts of the District Court. But her self-described “significant courtroom experience” has not included trying criminal cases or jury trials in county court, putting her in the position of having to rely on “judges’ school” to learn the basics.

Because no Democrat filed in this division, the winning Republican will succeed retiring Judge Mark Vining.

Endorsement Schedule

Thursday: Kansas House

Friday: Sedgwick County Commission, District Court

Saturday: Kansas governor, secretary of state, insurance commissioner

Sunday: U.S. Senate, U.S. House

Endorsements can be read online at Kansas/opinion.

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