Politics & Government

Sedgwick County Chairman Richard Ranzau target of recall push by immigration group

Sandrine Lisk, managing director of the Immigration Advocacy Network, speaks to a room of concerned people and local leaders who came to protest the Sedgwick County Commission’s plan to cut WIC funding. (Oct. 19, 2015)
Sandrine Lisk, managing director of the Immigration Advocacy Network, speaks to a room of concerned people and local leaders who came to protest the Sedgwick County Commission’s plan to cut WIC funding. (Oct. 19, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

The Sedgwick County Commission chairman could face a recall attempt over his positions on health care and illegal immigration.

The Immigration Advocacy Network announced Monday it will seek to recall Sedgwick County Commission Chair Richard Ranzau.

“Mr. Ranzau has failed in providing and protecting the health and welfare of Sedgwick County citizens who he was elected to protect,” Sandrine Lisk, director of advocacy for the group, said in describing the legal justification for the petition.

“He’s got to go,” Lisk said to cheers and applause at a news conference attended by community and advocacy groups. They criticized the County Commission majority for several months of decisions they say are harming public health.

The network plans to apply within the week for a petition seeking a recall. If the district attorney’s office finds sufficient grounds for a recall, supporters would try to seek about 9,400 signatures of north-central Sedgwick County residents to force a special election.

Lisk said the potential recall is a direct backlash to Ranzau’s view that illegal immigrants shouldn’t benefit from the federal Women, Infants and Children program. It issues checks to low-income families for foods like milk, eggs, cereal, cheese and baby formula. It also provides nutrition education.

Ranzau told The Eagle that he thinks a majority of his constituents feel the same way he does. He represents District 4, which includes Valley Center, Maize, Park City and parts of northern and central Wichita.

“If they want to start a recall petition because of my position on this particular issue, then so be it,” he said.

‘I stand by that’

County commissioners voted this month to reduce WIC funding by $320,000, saying they were trimming administrative and overhead costs.

During that commission meeting, Ranzau tried to eliminate three part-time breastfeeding peer counselors for young mothers. That vote fell short 2-3.

Last week, Ranzau sent a letter to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment asking that Women, Infants and Children participation be limited to “United States citizens, nationals and qualified aliens.”

“I have stated that citizens of this country should not be forced to subsidize illegal immigration and I stand by that,” Ranzau said Monday.

The state would need to seek federal approval for such a restriction on eligibility, which would be the first of its kind in the country.

Lisk tied the recall effort to Ranzau’s views on the Women, Infants and Children program.

“The WIC issue put it over the edge, but we have been concerned with his repeated decisions to turn away funds that were meant for our benefit,” Lisk said.

Ranzau has also proposed asking all users of health department services their citizenship or immigration status. He says that would be for data collection and would not be used to deny services.

‘These men should be ashamed’

Representatives from several advocacy groups criticized the current Sedgwick County majority’s approach to public health spending.

The commission’s majority took a more conservative tilt after Jim Howell won the seat in District 5, which includes Derby and Mulvane, last November. Ranzau, who was re-elected in November, became chairman in January. He was first elected in 2010.

Commissioners Howell and Karl Peterjohn have sided with Ranzau on most of the county’s recent votes on public health issues.

The three commissioners voted against accepting a $580,000 grant from the state to try to prevent and control obesity, diabetes and heart disease among residents. They also voted to cut a tax-funded position tied to Healthy Babies, a program meant to lower infant mortality rates.

They voted for the final version of the 2016 budget, which included about $540,000 in cuts to programs meant to measure health data and provide health education, immunizations and cancer screenings. Nonprofits and the county commission disagree about the effects of the cuts.

All of these public health votes came under attack Monday.

“The county is in the deny-human-dignity business,” Djuan Wash of the Kansas People’s Action. “These men should be ashamed of themselves.”

Lisk said public health cuts ignored the will of citizens at two county budget hearings in July and August.

She criticized the commission majority, but said she blamed Ranzau for the recent public health votes.

“We think it is Mr. Ranzau who is driving these decisions,” Lisk said.

Nearly every speaker at the news conference criticized the recent changes to the Women, Infants and Children program. They say the county’s cuts for the administration of the program will eventually affect its services and benefits.

Sharon Ailslieger, with the local League of Women Voters chapter, said access to care like WIC must be available to everyone.

“Who denies health care to babies and children up to five years of age?” she asked. “I’m sorry, but that is unacceptable. We are not a Third World nation.”

The recall process

Kansas law provides several steps for a recall of a local elected official.

Petitioners must apply to the county with their request, which would include the justification for the recall and who will circulate the petition, says Sandra Gritz, the county’s chief deputy election commissioner.

“They would have to have a list of the actual people circulating the petition,” Gritz said.

District Attorney Marc Bennett’s office would review it and determine if there were sufficient grounds for a recall.

If there were, petitioners would then have to collect signatures equal to at least 40 percent of the number of votes cast in that official’s most recent election. In this case, that would be the 2014 county commission election in District 4.

Lisk said that adds up to a goal of about 9,400 signatures. She said she was optimistic there are enough voters who object to Ranzau’s positions on public health.

“We think they are able, they are willing and will sign that recall petition once it is prepared and filed,” she said.

If that goal is reached and the signatures are certified, a special election would be conducted within 60 to 90 days, Gritz said.

Ranzau said the potential of a recall will not affect his positions on the Women, Infants and Children program.

“I’m not going to be intimidated about changing my position by people who support illegal immigration,” he said.

Lisk and others promised a strong recall effort.

“He’s about to find out, unfortunately, that citizens are upset enough to remove him from office,” she said.

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.

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