Derby lawmaker exploring run against Jim Skelton for Sedgwick County Commission seat

There could be a face-off among two Republicans next fall for the District 5 seat on the Sedgwick County Commission.

Republican incumbent Jim Skelton has said he plans to run again.

Republican state Rep. Jim Howell announced Friday that he plans to form an exploratory committee for the commission seat, which represents Derby, Mulvane and parts of south and east Wichita. He said he has already filed the paperwork with the county to run and has opened an account for campaign contributions.

Howell, who described himself as a conservative Republican and family man, said running against an incumbent can be difficult.

“It doesn’t feel comfortable to have to go against someone who’s a sitting incumbent from the same party, but I believe the people of the district need a conservative voice and I’d like to give them an option,” Howell said.

He said he has closely followed the actions of the County Commission and thinks that if he were elected, the local political landscape would change more drastically than if he were to remain in the Legislature.

“As a conservative Republican in the state Legislature, I’m among many that share my ideals. … In a local commission, a conservative voice has a lot of weight because many of the decisions made on the commission currently are 3-2 decisions,” Howell said.

Howell said that many times, Skelton has been more moderate and voted with Tim Norton, a Democrat, and Dave Unruh, whom Howell also labeled a moderate Republican.

He used a recent vote over a tax-increment financing district in Derby as an example. A majority vote of Skelton, Unruh and Norton essentially allowed creation of the district.

“As a conservative, I have a lot of questions about this TIF district in Derby,” Howell said. “It’s a misuse of a government tool.”

Skelton agreed that in economic development issues he has tended to vote more with Norton and Unruh, but said it really depends on the issues and what his constituents want.

“I do differ with Richard (Ranzau) and Karl (Peterjohn) sometimes. It’s not an insult. It’s a statement of fact,” Skelton said. “I support incentives because if we don’t, industry will leave.”

“I concentrate on serving the public instead of painting labels,” Skelton said. “If he wants to view me as a moderate, that’s fine. … I consider myself an American and a Republican.”

Skelton was first elected to the commission in 2010. He also served more than five years on the Wichita City Council.

“I am committed and I don’t need a committee to know I want to serve my constituents,” Skelton said. “I’ve talked to many constituents about running again and believe I have the necessary support to be victorious.”

He was already aware that Howell was planning to run for the seat, he said.

“He’s been telling people he’s going to run for about a year,” Skelton said. “I’m ready.”

Howell has been a state lawmaker since 2011. He was not aware of anyone expressing interest in the District 81 legislative seat, but said he expected to hear of interest as soon as the news spreads that he is not running for it again.

Two Republican lawmakers – state Rep. Pete DeGraaf of Mulvane and state Sen. Michael O’Donnell of Wichita – attended Howell’s announcement news conference Friday.

County commissioners are paid $83,718, according to the county.

The primary election will be Aug. 5, 2014, and the general election will be Nov. 4, 2014, according to the county election office.