Archive for Saturday, June 13, 1998

SLACK SLATES

June 13, 1998

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People may be satisfied with their representation in Topeka, but the lack of competition in the upcoming legislative races also may indicate some apathy.

Regardless of how good a job Lawrence's incumbent state legislators have done, it's a little disappointing to see only one candidate in most of the local legislative races.

The only Lawrence legislator who will face a challenge in November is Republican Rep. Tom Sloan, who represents the 45th District. Democrat Mike Rundle, a former Lawrence city commissioner filed in Sloan's district just before the deadline Wednesday, but even he said he was only serving as a ``placeholder'' in case a more serious candidate surfaced.

Rep. Barbara Ballard and Rep. Troy Findley, both Democrats, are unopposed in the 44th and 46th districts, respectively. Also unopposed are Ralph Tanner of Baldwin and Joann Flower of Oskaloosa.

Another key local race -- an open seat on the Douglas County Commission -- drew only one candidate from each party. Republican Brian Kubota and Democrat Charles Jones will face off in the November general election, but no primary will be needed.

It's no reflection on the quality of work being done by the current legislative delegation to be a little disappointed to see them run unopposed. The lack of competition in the races has several negative implications for the democratic process.

First, it's disappointing that more people aren't interested in running for and serving in public office. Rather than being considered an honor, being elected to public office now is considered more of a burden. Some well-qualified and community-minded people still consider serving in public office as a civic duty and do their best to represent the interest of the people in the community. But, for too many people, it's just too much trouble and too much time.

Having so many uncontested races also results in a lack of public debate on important issues. Candidates without opponents may participate in public forums during the election season, but without challengers they don't have the same motivation to examine policies and consider new initiatives.

The incumbents' advantage is very real. Sitting legislators have name recognition and a track record to run on. But that doesn't mean there aren't equally qualified challengers who might bring something new to the table.

The good news is that people tend to sit back and be less involved in political issues when the state's affairs seem pretty well in order. The state economy is humming, and current lawmakers are keeping a tight rein on the budget. The Legislature is always dealing with important issues such as public schools, higher education and highways, but there are no explosive issues.

Interest in education issues has perhaps resulted into more interest in the badly divided Kansas State Board of Education and the possibility of a major revamp in the governance of the state's higher education system. The state board of education's 3rd District seat, which covers Lawrence, is the only local contest that will require a primary. Two Republicans, former Lawrence school superintendent Dan Neuenswander of Baldwin and John W. Bacon of Olathe, filed for that seat, along with Democrat John Davidson, a retired KU professor.

There has been much discussion in recent years of the need for term limits for state and federal legislators. A far more important concern would seem to be the need to find more qualified people willing to run for those positions.

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