A new majority likely will rule the Sedgwick County Commission after Richard Ranzau retained his District 4 seat in a close race and Jim Howell handily won the District 5 seat on Tuesday.
The outcome of the two races likely will move the commission to a more conservative bent.
Ranzau trailed Democrat Melody McCray-Miller most of the night but pulled in 51 percent of the votes to McCray-Miller’s 48 percent when results for all precincts came in. Howell defeated Democrat Richard Young with 63 percent of the vote to Young’s 36 percent.
McCray-Miller said she was “very proud of the race that I ran. Of course I’m disappointed in the outcome.”
She said she had some questions about election results. McCray Miller, a former state representative and commissioner, said she went to five different polling places and heard that poll workers were mixing up paper ballots with provisional ballots. She also said she wanted to get more information about a server crash that affected results early in the evening.
“I’d like to know what the count was before that,” she said.
Ranzau and Howell watched results and mingled at the Sedgwick County Republican Party’s gathering at the Wichita Marriott.
It’s likely Howell, Ranzau and Karl Peterjohn, also a Republican, will move soon to reopen the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch.
“Absolutely,” Ranzau said as he received congratulations from supporters who flocked around him when final results were announced.
The county closed the boys ranch in July, saying it could no longer afford to make up the difference in cost between what the state paid – $126 per boy per day – and what the county’s cost was to operate the youth residential center – about $200.
The ranch was a key issue in the District 5 race. Young said initially that he would support reopening the ranch but later changed course after speaking to County Manager William Buchanan. Young said he decided the county could not afford to keep subsidizing the ranch, which is a state program.
Howell pushed hard for the ranch as a state representative, helping to secure a one-time grant of $750,000 and asking for a rate study of youth residential centers and outcomes.
Howell, 50, is wrapping up his second term in Topeka. He won his primary election, defeating Derby Mayor Dion Avello. District 5 covers the southeast part of Wichita and Derby.
Avello ran against Jim Skelton four years ago, and when Skelton, a former Wichita City Council member, decided not to run for re-election, he asked Avello to run.
“I’m obviously very happy about my race,” Howell said.
Young said of his defeat: “It’s hard to fight somebody that’s got more money.”
Despite supporters telling him through his 14-month campaign that he would win, Howell said, “I refused to accept the preliminary feeling I was winning. We continued to the very end. I never wanted to relax.”
Howell said he was “looking forward to transitioning from my private-sector job.”
He brings with him an extensive background in aviation, mostly in flight test instrumentation. Boeing laid him off in January, and he said he has been working a contract job for Cessna Aircraft on the Scorpion program.
Ranzau, 49, ran on a campaign of “Fighting for Our Future,” touting ways he has helped save the county by asking questions before signing off on projects.
Ranzau was visibly nervous throughout the night at the Republican watch party, where red “Fire Harry Reid” stickers were out in full force.
“Are you kidding?” Ranzau said, smiling, when asked whether the night was nerve-wracking. “We were behind the whole night.”
He said he thought his win came down to boots on the ground.
“We went to the homes of over 14,000 people and knocked on close to 10,000 doors,” Ranzau said.
Howell was hesitant to say on the campaign trail that he would side with Ranzau and Peterjohn, but he has more common ground with them than with Commissioners Tim Norton, a Democrat, and Dave Unruh, the board’s Republican chairman. Unruh ran unopposed Tuesday night.
And when a supporter approached him at one point Tuesday night, Howell exclaimed, “We have a new majority!”
Howell and Ranzau took a few photographs together at the urging of election watchers.
Norton, Unruh and Skelton have made up the board’s majority, with Peterjohn and Ranzau often voting together – but not always – on the losing end.
Ranzau has voted against all incentives that have come before him in the past four years. Howell said he would take each request on a case-by-case basis.
McCray-Miller criticized Ranzau during the campaign for voting on ideology and not in the best interest of his district, which covers north-central Wichita, Park City and Valley Center.
The new majority could affect spending on economic development and how the county approaches incentives for businesses. The commission faces some big decisions next year.
Buchanan, the county’s longtime manager, announced recently he was retiring July 1. The county also is still working to figure out where to relocate the law enforcement center it shares with the city.
Original plans called for the county and city to train with the Kansas National Guard at the Heartland Preparedness Center at I-135 and K-96, but costs sent both back to the drawing board. Mayor Carl Brewer still wants to build at Heartland. Commissioners have said the county can’t afford its $15 million share.
The city and county have looked at former Cessna Aircraft buildings along 21st Street, but those don’t appear to be viable options. Law enforcement officers train at a former school at 37th Street North and Meridian. The roof leaks, the heating and cooling system is obsolete, and in the winter, snow blows inside through skylights, windows and doors.
The city and county said Sept. 23 that they would review their options for another 30 days. That deadline has passed.