‘Small but mighty’: Newcomer Cruse unseats Ranzau on Sedgwick County Commission

Lacey Cruse, a hospice consultant and folk singer whose campaign poster proclaimed “No More Old White Guys,” will be the only woman on the Sedgwick County Commission after unseating Republican incumbent Richard Ranzau on Tuesday.

Cruse led Ranzau throughout the evening, and final results showed her with about 55 percent of the vote in District 4, which stretches from central Wichita to the north and west.

“As a mother of two daughters, I want to feel like I have a seat at the table, and I want my daughters and other women in Sedgwick County to understand the potential that they have to change this county for the better,” said Cruse, who became active in politics after the Women’s March last year.

“We need representation at all levels of government. Why not start here? And if nobody’s going to run for this seat, why not me? I just think it’s important that we all band together and understand what we can do. We’re small but mighty.”

The last woman to serve on the Sedgwick County Commission was Gwen Welshimer, a Democrat who represented District 5 from 2006 to 2011.

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner, a Republican, edged out Democrat Renee Duxler, a first-time candidate, to win the District 1 seat being vacated by outgoing Commissioner David Unruh.

At a watch party at Central Standard Brewing, Duxler said she felt good about getting nearly 47 percent of the vote in her district, which includes central and east Wichita, Eastborough, Bel Aire and Kechi.

“Really I should have a snowball’s chance in hell of making this race,” Duxler said. “The fact that it is so close makes me feel really good about our campaign and the conversations that we started and the people that we got engaged.”

In District 5, incumbent Republican Jim Howell held off Independent challenger Jim Skelton, winning his race by a 56-to-44-percent ratio.

The two new commissioners will join the board as some members are under investigation by the FBI for potential obstruction of justice based on possible whistleblower retaliation.

Meitzner said Tuesday that it’s important for the County Commission to “win back the trust of the public.”

He said he would need more information before deciding what to do about county personnel matters.

“We’re in a very positive situation in this region. . . . We’re all coming together to make this region a very productive and positive place,” Meitzner said.

“We want to keep these young people here and have them come back. We’ve got a lot of good going on, and I hope we can accelerate that. I’m going to work hard on it.”

Ranzau has been the most outspoken opponent of the board majority’s ongoing investigation into the county’s management, contending that it’s a veiled effort to fire County Manager Michael Scholes for political reasons, and probably illegal. With fellow Commissioner Howell, he has boycotted closed-door meetings to move that investigation forward.

At a GOP watch party Tuesday, Ranzau said he was disappointed he lost but proud of his work on the commission.

“We work hard and we try to stand up for what’s right, particularly in this climate and this environment, the things that have been going on,” Ranzau said.

“I said several months ago that I would lose an election before I lose my soul,” he said. “And I thought I did what was right.”

Howell, who won re-election Tuesday in a district that includes southeast Wichita, Derby and Mulvane, has supported keeping Scholes in place and has said he’s not a subject of the FBI investigation.

He said he thought his race would be close — at least in part because of voters’ confusion and concern over the current turmoil — and was relieved by the final results.

“There’s so many reasons why we need a good County Commission and good leadership in this county. Providing good services to this community is so important,” Howell said.

“I’m just honored that they trust me for another term.”

Cruse has said she supports the investigation into the county’s management. She said she has heard complaints from several employees alleging “deplorable” working conditions, rampant sexism in leadership and “unreasonable demands and expectations” from commissioners.