The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for the Nov. 8 general election for the Kansas House, Districts 81-90. Endorsements for House Districts 93-105 will be published on Thursday.
In many past years, the recommendations tended to be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. This year, the combination of quality Democratic candidates and the gross mismanagement of the state by GOP incumbents tipped the balance in favor of Democrats in House races.
Additional candidate information can be found in The Eagle’s online Voters Guide at Kansas.com/politics.
One-term Republican incumbent Blake Carpenter is narrowly the best choice in this district that includes parts of southeast Wichita and Derby. Carpenter may be most known for casting the deciding vote last year to increase the statewide sales tax. But to his credit, he also co-sponsored a bill last session that allows legislative committee hearings to be broadcast over the internet. Carpenter is young and enthusiastic and believes “in less government and more personal freedom.”
His challenger is Democrat James W. McCluer, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He says the Legislature has been too focused on corporate interests and needs “to get back to what the citizens want and need.”
Democratic challenger Danette Harris is the best candidate in this district that includes parts of Derby and Mulvane. Harris, who also ran for this seat two years ago, is a physical therapist and a decorated combat veteran who served multiple deployments in Iraq. She is a captain in the Army Reserves and trains Brigade and Battalion staff. She blames Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies for producing budget shortfalls that have resulted in cuts to essential services. “We must restore a fair and balanced tax policy,” she said. Harris describes herself as “an independent and analytic thinker” who is “committed to representing Kansas values, not political ideology.”
Republican incumbent Pete DeGraaf is known for his fiscally and socially conservative views. His solution to the state’s budget shortfall is to significantly cut state spending, not revisit the tax cuts he supported that created the fiscal mess. Both spending cuts and more tax revenue likely will be needed to climb out of the state’s budget hole. DeGraaf has had his season in Topeka. It’s time for a new voice and new representation.
Democrat Henry Helgerson is the clear pick in this east Wichita district. He served in the Kansas House from 1983 to 2000 and the Kansas Senate in 2004. He was chosen in December to replace Rep. Carolyn Bridges, who resigned. Helgerson says that the “financial mismanagement by the Brownback administration and current legislative leadership is the biggest issue” facing the state. He supports closing tax loopholes that benefit the wealthy and developing a bipartisan three-year master plan for education and health services. Helgerson is an independent thinker and problem-solver who sees both the big picture and important details.
Republican M. Lewis Ackerman wants to decrease both state income taxes and state spending. He thinks the Legislature needs to be more responsive to voters and not rely on the governor or the courts to make decisions.
Democrat Patty Beamer is the best choice in this northeast Sedgwick County and western Butler County district that includes Benton and parts of Wichita, Bel Aire and Kechi. Beamer is a clinical educator in the nursing program at Wichita State University and a retired member of the military, having served in both the U.S. Air Force and the Navy. She supports increased education funding, Medicaid expansion and repealing the tax exemption on pass-through business income. She believes politics are too divided between “us and them” and that state lawmakers must do better at working together to get things done.
Republican Chuck Weber was chosen in January to replace Rep. Steve Brunk, who resigned. After many GOP conservative incumbents lost in the August primary, Weber accused Democrats and moderate Republicans of buying Topeka. He also complained: “Everything happening in Topeka these next two years will be driven by Big Education and for Big Education. Not for teachers, and certainly not for students.”
Incumbent Democrat Jim Ward is a leading advocate in Topeka for public education and vulnerable Kansans. He is the clear pick in this southeast Wichita district. His priorities include ending the tax exemption for pass-through business income, investing more in education and expanding Medicaid. Ward, who has also served on the Wichita City Council and Wichita school board, is a strong voice for rational and responsible state government.
Libertarian James Pruden, who also ran for this seat two years ago, supports repealing state tax cuts and returning money transferred from the highway fund. Also running is Republican Christopher Drake, who didn’t complete The Eagle’s Voter Guide questionnaire.
Republican Roger A. Elliott is the best choice among three good candidates vying to replace outgoing Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, in this east Wichita district. Elliott is a retired banker who also worked in economic development. He served on the Andover school board for 12 years, so he understands the needs of public education. He supports ending the exemption on pass-through business income, expanding Medicaid and investing more in education – as do the other two candidates. Elliott’s experience and pragmatism are needed in Topeka.
Democrat Tonya Howard is a middle school teacher who says she would be “a fresh and new voice who is not afraid to stand up for our values.” Marco Giorgi, a retired Navy flight officer, is running as an independent.
Democrat Elizabeth Bishop is the clear choice in this southeast Wichita district. Bishop has extensive community and public service experience, including serving on the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and as executive director of Wichita Independent Neighborhoods. She supports repealing the tax exemption on pass-through business income and wants the legislative decision-making to be more thorough and transparent. “I hold a strong value for citizen engagement and participation in our democratic processes,” she said.
Republican incumbent Joseph Scapa championed an effort to block state education standards and backs other misguided causes. He won this seat six years ago, lost it in 2012 and then won it in 2014 by only 28 votes. Voters should continue this cycle by electing Bishop.
Democrat Lou Cicirello is an excellent candidate and the best pick in this north Sedgwick County district that includes parts of Wichita, Valley Center, Maize and Park City, along with Andale, Colwich and Mount Hope. Cicirello, who has served on the Valley Center City Council since 2007, wants to put state finances back in order. He supports repealing the exemption on pass-through business income and ending annual raids on the state highway fund. He also objects to the Legislature’s interference with local government decisions. He describes himself as a realist and also a fighter.
Incumbent Republican Steve Huebert has served eight terms in the House. He backed the tax cuts that created the state’s budget problems, voted to increase the statewide sales tax and voted against an attempt this year to repeal the exemption on pass-through business income. It’s time for new representation.