Ottawa — Once a week, a small group gathers around a piano in the senior citizens' center downtown, to sing old standards and hymns like "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."
One visitor is Max Shoemaker. After lunch, with some prodding, the retired postal worker talks about politics and issues surrounding the state pension system.
Ballot boxVern ChesbroAge: 74Hometown: OttawaPolitical career: Long active in local Republican politics; served as executive director of the state Republican Party, 1984-85, then as state chairman, 1986-87.Robert TysonAge: 59Hometown: ParkerPolitical career: Helped form Young Republicans chapter as a student at Ottawa University and active in GOP politics since then; elected to state Senate, 1996.
Pension issues are going to be part of the race for the Republican nomination in the 12th state Senate District, which includes Ottawa. The incumbent, Sen. Robert Tyson of Parker, faces Vern Chesbro, a retired Ottawa telecommunications executive who is chairman of the state pension fund's board of trustees.
Chesbro opposed proposals from Gov. Bill Graves to divert money from the pension system and another benefits fund to other government programs. He said those issues pushed him to challenge Tyson.
Shoemaker sides with Chesbro. Though Graves and many other Republicans contend the governor's plans wouldn't have hurt anyone's benefits, Shoemaker sees the proposals as the state "sliding more into the federal government."
"I'm very much opposed to it," the 84-year-old Shoemaker said. "In my opinion, it's just not honest business."
Chesbro is a longtime Republican activist who served as state party chairman in 1986-87, but Tyson has been involved in GOP politics for nearly 40 years.
Because Tyson is a conservative and Chesbro is a moderate, the outcome of the primary could help determine which group controls the Senate's leadership.
The east-central Kansas district covers Anderson, Franklin and Linn counties, most of Miami County and northern Bourbon County.
"I think it's going to be a tight race," said Trent LeDoux, GOP chairman for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes the 12th state Senate District.
One key question in the Aug. 1 GOP primary is whether enough voters like Shoemaker will be upset enough over pension issues to cause Tyson political problems.