This week, the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties will hold special nominating conventions to select their candidates to run in a special election to replace former 4th District Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita.
Pompeo resigned from Congress last month after he was confirmed by the Senate as President Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency.
Here’s what you need to know about the process for replacing Pompeo, which will culminate in a special election on April 11.
1. Why are we going through this?
When they wrote the U.S. Constitution, the founding fathers wanted the House of Representatives to be the “people’s house.” So the framers mandated that a House vacancy can be filled only by the people, through a special election.
2. Who’s running?
So far, the Republican field includes former Congressman Todd Tiahrt, GOP activist and Trump campaign staff member Alan Cobb, state Treasurer Ron Estes, Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner, former talk-show host Joseph Ashby and Wichita lawyers George Bruce and Eric Jeffrey Kidwell.
Democrats in the running include former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney, Andover police Officer Charlie Walker, Wichita lawyer James Thompson, two-time 4th District candidate Robert Tillman, international business consultant Laura Lombard and Kevass Harding, a United Methodist minister and former Wichita school board member.
Libertarians seeking the nomination include Gordon Bakken, who ran on the Libertarian ticket last year; farmer/rancher John Kostner; and flight-simulator instructor Chris Rockhold.
3. Can I vote on my party’s nominee?
Only if you’re a Libertarian. The Republican and Democratic parties will choose their candidates at special nominating conventions via their 4th District congressional committees.
Members of those committees are the only ones who will get to choose each party’s nominee.
The Republican committee has 126 voting members; the Democrats have 40 now, although that might change.
The only noncommittee voters who will have a say on their party’s nominees will be members of the Libertarian Party.
The Libertarians have decided to open their nominating convention to all registered members of their party who show up and want to vote.
4. What are these delegates doing to get ready?
Esau Freeman, a delegate and 2015-16 vice chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party, said he’s been enjoying all the interplay with candidates and rank-and-file Democrats.
He said he’s spent about 30 hours so far talking with people about the upcoming decision.
“It’s a great opportunity to get to talk with the candidates in depth and discuss what their platform is,” Freeman said.
He hasn’t picked a candidate yet but said he wants someone who could win the general election by putting together a coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents.
On Friday, he was planning to meet with African-American community elders, followed by a trip to the Republican Pachyderm Club’s forum for GOP hopefuls “to see what the other side’s putting out there.”
Another Democratic delegate, state Rep. Brandon Whipple, said this congressional candidate choice is critically important for the party.
He said Trump’s early days in office have led to “activism on a level we’ve never seen before” and that the Democrats need to capture that energy in the special election.
“It’s our first opportunity to push back against Donald Trump, to push back against the notion of ‘alternative facts’ and bring us back to reality,” he said.
Pachyderm Club president John Stevens, who is a Republican delegate along with his wife, Debra Miller, has been active in the GOP for years but said it’s the biggest political decision he’s ever had to make.
“It’s actually exciting,” he said. “We’re just real proud of Mike (Pompeo) and glad that he has this opportunity (as CIA chief). And we’re glad that we have the awesome duty to help pick his replacement.”
Delegate John Todd said he came out early for Estes, but that hasn’t stopped the other candidates and their supporters from trying to change his mind.
As one of the delegates, I didn’t realize I had so many friends out there. I’m getting scads of e-mails and telephone calls.
John Todd, Republican delegate
“As one of the delegates, I didn’t realize I had so many friends out there,” Todd said. “I’m getting scads of e-mails and telephone calls.”
Phil Journey, a district court judge and former state senator, said the pressure’s gotten so intense that he’s now screening calls for his wife, Suyapa, a Republican delegate.
“She’s a whole lot more popular than I am right now,” he said.
5. Why don’t we just have a primary, as in a regular election?
Time, mostly. The longer the seat stays open, the longer the 4th District goes without a congressperson. State law, amended last month, says the general election must be held within three months after the vacancy occurs. The governor may appoint someone to a Senate seat, but the Constitution is clear that no interim appointments are allowed in the House.
6. If I can’t vote, can I still go to the party nominating convention?
Yes, the conventions will be open to the public.
7. Can I run?
Ironically, you could run for the seat even if you can’t vote at the convention. You’d need at least one member of the district committee who is willing to put your name in nomination.
8. When and where will the conventions be?
Republicans: 7 p.m. Thursday at the Friends University Davis Administration Building Auditorium, 2100 W. University, Wichita
Democrats: 1 p.m. Saturday at the Sedgwick County Courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita
Libertarians: 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Alford Branch of the Wichita Public Library, 3447 S. Meridian, Wichita
9. What’s the process?
For the Republicans, each candidate will have their name placed in nomination by a surrogate. Each nominator will get one minute to extol his or her candidate. That will be followed by candidate speeches of five minutes each.
Then the committee members will vote. If no one gets a majority, the lowest vote-getter will be dropped and the delegates will vote again. That goes on until somebody emerges from a vote with a majority. In the Republicans’ case, that will be 64 votes.
Democrats are still working out their final rules, but the process will be similar to the one the Republicans are using, said state Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who is drafting the rules.
10. Why are the Republicans and Democrats holding candidate forums when nobody but committee members get to vote?
“Good question,” said Clayton Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party. He said that some of the groups holding the forums might have delegates as members or friends of delegates who might influence them to vote a certain way.
Freeman, the Democrat, also said it’s puzzling.
“To me, that seems like a lot of practice,” he said. “But if they (the candidates) are excited, who can blame them for wanting to get out there?”
The forums are apparently popular.
Friday’s Pachyderm Club forum drew a record crowd of more than 190, some of whom had to eat their lunch standing up, said Shirley Koehn, one of the cashiers for the club’s weekly meetings and a 4th District delegate.
That’s a bigger crowd than the club has drawn for appearances by Gov. Sam Brownback or Pompeo.
The South Sedgwick Democratic Club will hold a forum for its party’s candidates on Wednesday. Doors open at 6:15 p.m., with the forum beginning at 7 p.m.
11. So when do I actually get to vote?
Brownback has scheduled the special election to take place on April 11. There will almost certainly be only three candidates: a Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian.
Although the Legislature lowered the number of petition signatures required of an independent to make it on the ballot from 17,000 to 3,000, potential independent candidates such as Miranda Allen, who ran for the seat in November, say it’s still nearly impossible to collect that many voter signatures in the 25 days the law allows.
12. How do I vote on April 11?
It will be just like a regular election. You go to your polling place, show your photo ID and cast your ballot. If you are not a registered voter, contact your local voter registration office. In Wichita, that’s the office of the Sedgwick County Election Commissioner, 510 N. Main; 316-660-7100.
13. Can I get an absentee ballot?
Yes. In fact, the state Legislature just rushed through a bill to push the deadline for the special election back about a month to accommodate absentee voters and comply with federal law requiring that military and other overseas voters get sufficient time to receive, mark and send back their ballots.
You can contact the Sedgwick County Election Commissioner’s Office now to request a mail-in ballot. The office will begin mailing (or in some cases, e-mailing) to military and overseas voters on Feb. 25. Domestic absentee ballots will be mailed beginning March 22.
14. What happens with our representation in the House in the meantime?
Short answer: There is none. No one can debate on the floor or vote on laws representing the Kansas 4th District until the voters select a replacement for Pompeo.
15. But I’ve got a problem with Washington that I need to deal with now. What do I do?
Until a new representative is seated, the congressional office remains open, with the staff operating under the supervision of the Clerk of the House. The staff can handle only routine business, such as answering questions and helping resolve constituents’ issues with federal agencies.
Choosing congressional candidates
The Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties in Kansas will choose candidates this week for the race to replace Mike Pompeo, now CIA director. All the nominating conventions are open to the public. Only chosen delegates are allowed to vote at the Democratic and Republican conventions. Any registered Libertarian can vote.
Republicans: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friends University Davis Administration Building Auditorium, 2100 W. University, Wichita
Democrats: 1 p.m. Saturday, Sedgwick County Courthouse, 525 N. Main, Wichita
Libertarians: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Alford Branch of the Wichita Public Library, 3447 S. Meridian, Wichita