The following are The Eagle editorial board’s recommendations for the Nov. 8 general election for Kansas Senate. Endorsements for Congress, Sedgwick County Commission, Sedgwick County Sheriff and judicial retention will be published on Sunday. We offer these recommendations as information to consider as you make up your own mind about the candidates. Additional candidate information can be found in The Eagle’s online Voters Guide at Kansas.com/politics. Kansas House endorsements are online at Kansas.com/opinion/editorials.
Democrat Gabriel Costilla is a long-shot candidate in this district spanning Butler County and east Wichita. But he has the right temperament and skills to be an effective lawmaker, if voters give him the chance. Electing him also would send a needed message of accountability, as his opponent is a chief architect (and denier) of the state’s fiscal problems. Costilla, a teacher at Wichita West High School, wants to roll back the 2012 tax cuts, expand Medicaid and adequately and equitably fund public education. He knows that climbing out of the budget hole will be difficult. “There are going to be some tough decisions,” he said. But he is willing to face reality and change course, unlike his opponent.
Republican incumbent Ty Masterson helped create the state’s fiscal mess. He supports the tax cuts, including the tax exemption on pass-through business income. As chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, he shepherded an unbalanced budget to passage this year. He also co-authored the unconstitutional school funding block grant law in 2015 and other bad bills. He dismisses reports of state budget problems and blames the media for the public’s frustration. If voters are dissatisfied with the direction of the state, don’t re-elect the person who help place the state on its current course.
Democrat Lynn Rogers is the clear choice to succeed outgoing Sen. Michael O’Donnell in this near-west and south Wichita district. Rogers is most known for his 15 years of service on the Wichita school board, including several stints as board president. He may understand school finance better than any current lawmaker, and his expertise is needed as the Legislature considers a new funding formula. Rogers is also very active in the community, volunteering on several boards and associations. He favors repealing the tax exemption on pass-through business income but recognizes that the state may also have to cut spending to climb out of its budget hole. “We’re broke as a state,” he said.
Republican Jim Price ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House two years ago and for the Wichita City Council last year. He was convicted in an armed robbery in Texas in 1990 and for interfering with law enforcement officers investigating his son’s small marijuana-growing operation in 2012.
Republican incumbent Dan Kerschen is narrowly the better choice in this southern Sedgwick County district that includes Cheney, Garden Plain, Haysville, Mulvane and parts of Goddard, Wichita and Derby. Kerschen is a valuable voice in the Legislature, particularly on agriculture issues. Though he voted for the 2012 tax cuts, he is willing to reconsider the fairness of the tax exemption on pass-through business income. He also is open to considering a revenue-neutral expansion of Medicaid, and he thinks school funding should be increased. Kerschen describes himself as a balanced Republican who votes for the interests of citizens in his district as well as the state.
Democrat Benjamin Poteete, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, is also a good candidate. He wants to repeal the tax exemption on pass-through business income. He also wants to fully fund education at all levels, though he expects that could take several years due to the state’s budget problems. Poteete is enthusiastic and wants to help “turn the state around.”
Democrat Tony Hunter is the better candidate to succeed outgoing Sen. Les Donovan in this district that includes west Wichita, Andale, Colwich and parts of Goddard and Maize. Hunter is an oil and gas attorney who was motivated to run in part to help ensure the state has good-quality public schools. He wants to repeal the tax exemption on pass-through business income and calls Medicaid expansion a “no-brainer.” Though Republicans dominate this district, Hunter hopes voters will recognize the need to change course, saying he is “ready to stand up for what is right and not for what is acceptable to the governor’s mansion.”
Republican Gene Suellentrop is a current state representative known for his ties to Gov. Sam Brownback. He narrowly won the August GOP primary. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee (including a brief stint as chairman), Suellentrop bears considerable responsibility for the state’s financial mess. He backed the tax cuts in 2012, voted in 2015 to raise the statewide sales tax and opposed an attempt last session to revoke the tax exemption on pass-through business income. He now opposes any tax increase to help solve the state budget shortfalls. Suellentrop also irresponsibly called last session for the Legislature to let the Kansas Supreme Court close schools.
Democrat Keith Humphrey is an outstanding candidate and an excellent choice for this south Wichita district that includes Oaklawn, Planeview and part of Derby. This race is a rematch of a close 2012 contest. Humphrey, a Navy veteran who is president and CEO of Jet AirWerks and Jet AirParts, brings a strong business background and commitment to public service. He objects to how recent tax policies – which were supported by the incumbent – benefited wealthy Kansans at the expense of the lower and middle class. For example, Humphrey wants to lower taxes on groceries and reinstate the homestead property tax refund for renters. “It’s time to hold Brownback and his allies accountable for the mess they’ve made, and I plan to do just that,” he said.
Republican incumbent Mike Petersen is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and a conscientious lawmaker. But he has mostly been in lock step with Brownback and GOP legislative leaders, which puts him out of step with the demographics of his districts.
Republican incumbent Susan Wagle is the strongest candidate in this district that includes Eastborough and parts of east Wichita and Andover. As Senate president, Wagle shares much of the blame for the state’s fiscal problems. But she also is in the best position to do something about it. Wagle has hinted that she supports changing the tax exemption on pass-through business income. She also has expressed some openness to Medicaid expansion. If re-elected, she needs to show more independence from Brownback and start dictating the agenda. “I will work to offer pragmatic solutions to fix the state’s budget and get Kansas back on the right track,” Wagle said. Kansans are counting on it.
Democrat Anabel Larumbe is a community activist who has been involved in grassroots efforts on poverty, voting rights and immigration. She is passionate and motivated but lacks Wagle’s experience and understanding of state government.
Republican incumbent Carolyn McGinn is an excellent senator and the top pick of two good candidates in this district that includes Harvey County and northern Sedgwick County. McGinn has stood out – and often nearly alone among Republicans – in resisting the damaging policies of Brownback and GOP leaders. She opposed the unconstitutional school block grant bill, the statewide sales tax increase last year and the unbalanced budget this year. McGinn has previously served as Senate budget chairwoman and has been a leader on water and land issues. As a former Sedgwick County commissioner, she also is mindful of how state decisions can affect local governments. Kansans need more lawmakers like her.
Democrat J. Michelle Vann could also be an excellent lawmaker. A retired Wichita school teacher, Vann is concerned about inadequate education funding. She wants to repeal the tax exemption on pass-through business income, though she realizes it will take time for the state to climb out of its budget hole. She also is concerned about economic and health care disparities in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. “I want to make a difference,” she said.