Abandoned Republican with issues wins Wichita-area legislative race

The Kansas Statehouse
The Kansas Statehouse The Wichita Eagle

Even though his own political party had withdrawn its support after he faced allegations, Wichita Republican Michael Capps won election Tuesday to the 85th District legislative seat.

According to the unofficial vote count in Sedgwick County, Capps won with about 52 percent of the vote, compared with about 48 percent for Democrat Monica Marks. The 85th also includes a precinct in Butler County, where the unofficial tally showed that Capps had 728 votes compared with 285 for Marks.

Referring to what he overcame and how voters responded, Capps said: “They (voters) made it very clear. They’re tired of the false allegations, and they’re tired of the smear campaigns. And the voters sent a very clear message tonight — they’re ready to move forward. I’m ready to put this election behind us. The voters weren’t looking at the party … They were looking at who was going to represent them.”

It’s the first time that Capps has been elected to a political position, although he had been the incumbent after Republican officials chose him to fill the vacated 85th District seat this summer.

Even in election victory, Capps still isn’t welcomed by his party. Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold said Tuesday night of Capps: “He’s persona non grata to us.”

The race pitted Capps, a 40-year-old who was appointed in June to fill the District 85 seat, against Marks, a 44-year old Democratic precinct committeewoman.

In other Wichita-area legislative races, Steven Crum, a Haysville Democrat and an elementary school teacher, lost in a race with Ron Howard to represent the 98th District. Crum lost with about 48 percent, compared with nearly 52 percent for Howard. The district includes Haysville and parts of Oaklawn and south Wichita. Crum first won the seat in 2016.

In other House races, Republicans Nick Hoheisel and J.C. Moore won two open legislative seats in the Wichita area. All other Wichita area House incumbents easily won re-election.

The district that Capps won includes parts of north Wichita, Bel Aire, Kechi and Benton. It is staunchly Republican. In 2016, Republican Chuck Weber, who chose not to run for re-election, got 61 percent of the vote.

After Republican officials chose Capps to fill the seat and before the party withdrew its support from him, a Republican statement described Capps as an entrepreneur and “devoted social and fiscal conservative.” He had ownership in five Wichita companies, according to a form filed with the state in June.

He listed endorsements from Kansans for Life, Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Family Policy Alliance.

His challenger, Marks, described herself as a community organizer seeking government transparency and criminal justice reform.

Capps had negative issues to overcome.

On Aug. 31, the Kansas Department for Children and Families said an investigation found that Capps had emotionally abused boys. The state Republican Party severed its ties with him after allegations became public.

Capps dismissed the allegations as “categorically false.” According to an Eagle article at the time, he said the allegations came “in retaliation after he told DCF a foster parent was putting children at risk by allowing a registered sex offender in her house.”

The state Republican Party said the allegations against Capps were “beyond troubling.” The party said Capps had been asked to withdraw from his race earlier but refused.

The allegations stemmed from Capps’ time as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer. DCF said it investigated Capps and found that that he had been emotionally abusive but didn’t say when the abuse occurred.

After he appealed the decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings, it reversed the finding because of a technical error, DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said at the time.

“The reversal did not address the underlying facts of the finding. However, absent new information or a new event, the agency cannot issue a new finding to correct the error,” Forrest said in a statement.

Sedgwick County CASA said it suspended Capps when it learned of DCF’s investigation and that he resigned as a volunteer.

In a statement, Capps criticized DCF and both the Republican and Democratic parties.

“The real problem is that we have two political parties and a DCF system that values covering their own backsides politically over the safety and well being of children in their care,” Capps said. “They value protecting convicted sexual predators over those in the system that are falsely accused every day, such as me.”

Capps also was at the center of another controversy.

In June, he stayed on the ballot after Democrats had tried to remove him as a candidate, contending that he didn’t live in his House district. But a Republican-controlled state board dismissed the challenge.

Capps had earlier filed as a candidate for House District 97 — using a South Chase address in Wichita. But then he filed on June 1 in District 85 — using a Governeour address after Rep. Chuck Weber withdrew his re-election bid there.

After Weber resigned to head the Kansas Catholic Conference, Republican officials in the district chose Capps to serve the remainder of Weber’s term. The Legislature has not met since he has been in office.

Contributing: Hunter Woodall of The Kansas City Star and Jonathan Shorman and Chance Swaim of The Eagle