Politics & Government

Jim Skelton won’t run again for Sedgwick County Commission

Jim Skelton is greeted by a supporter as he awaits election returns at his campaign party a the Scotch & Sirloin Tuesday night, November 2, 2010.
Jim Skelton is greeted by a supporter as he awaits election returns at his campaign party a the Scotch & Sirloin Tuesday night, November 2, 2010. The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton said Friday that he will not seek re-election and is planning to get married and change careers.

However, he did say that he will oppose the man who would have been his primary opponent, state Rep. Jim Howell of Derby.

Skelton’s decision could open the way for another commission run by Derby Mayor Dion Avello, who said Friday he is considering entering the race.

Skelton beat Avello and Derby City Council member Chuck Warren to win the Republican nomination for the seat four years ago. Warren said Friday “I’ve had my run” for the commission and that he is not planning to enter the race this time around.

Skelton said he decided against running for the County Commission again after giving the matter a lot of thought with his fiancee, Stacy Luke, over several months. He said leaving the commission at age 45 would give him a chance to pursue a new career.

“What we really want, me being elected is not part of it,” he said.

Counting his time in the military and his service on the Wichita City Council before he was elected to the County Commission, “I’ve spent 18 years of my life in service to my country and my community,” he said.

Skelton has served on the County Commission since 2011. He represents District 5, which includes Derby, southeast Wichita and parts of Mulvane.

Skelton has a degree in international business from Wichita State University. Before joining the commission, he served on the Wichita City Council for 5 1/2 years.

He said he was especially proud of shepherding through a fire station for south Wichita, which improved response time to emergencies in the area.

“The city firefighters down there tell me they’ve been able to save some lives because it’s there,” he said.

He also cited his longtime advocacy for rebuilding the freeway interchange at I-135 and 47th Street South, the first local project undertaken with federal stimulus money. Much of the preparatory work is done and the rebuilding will soon begin in earnest.

“I think I’ve provided good service to people,” Skelton said.

He said he plans to actively campaign against Howell, whom he considers emblematic of problems at the Statehouse in Topeka.

“If you want the county (government) to look like the state government, vote for Howell,” he said.

He said his biggest objection to the Derby representative was his support for a bill – passed by the House but stalled in the Senate – that would have allowed businesses and individuals to deny service to gay couples if it conflicted with deeply held religious beliefs.

Howell voted for the bill, which Skelton said would be a license to discriminate.

“If you have objections to doing something for someone because of your religion, you’re not qualified for that job,” he said. “America is a free country and there’s no place for discrimination. These people (state legislators) always talk about the individual rights and free markets. Hogwash.”

Howell said he doesn’t see the bill as discriminatory, but protective of the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Constitution.

“He (Skelton) wasn’t here to hear the debate,” Howell said. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and that’s what that bill was trying to do.”

“It protected deeply held religious convictions,” he said. “That was the intent.”

Skelton also criticized the Legislature as a whole for reducing funds to local communities while passing mandates the local governments have to fulfill.

“That will likely mean more cuts to services that affect our most vulnerable, funding for our culture and recreation venues, and fewer dollars to focus on jobs here in Sedgwick County,” he said in a written announcement of his decision.

Skelton said he plans to continue to serve on the East Mount Vernon Neighborhood Association when his commission term ends in January.

“That’s all the politics I need or care for,” he said.