Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2000

Dozens of lawmakers ‘home free’ for election

Many state legislators running unopposed

October 7, 2000


— As a youngster, Steve Morris liked to stand in the schoolyard, look up at the jets flying overhead and dream that someday he would be up there with them.

Years later, Morris realized his dream, piloting an Air Force KC-135 tanker plane for five years. Still, he knew that his future wasn't in the skies, but with the land his family has farmed for years in this corner of southwest Kansas.

Four senators and 46 representatives are without opposition in the primary or general elections. Among these are:SENATELana Oleen, R-ManhattanHOUSEJohn Ballou, R-GardnerVaughn Flora, D-TopekaKent Glasscock, R-ManhattanBroderick Henderson, D-Kansas CityDavid Huff, R-LenexaJoe Humerickhouse, R-Osage CityPhil Kline, R-Overland ParkPatricia Lightner, R-Overland ParkRocky Nichols, D-TopekaBonnie Sharp, D-Kansas CityDoug Spangler, D-Kansas CityRalph Tanner, R-Baldwin

So Morris came home and took his turn with the tractor. Then he became involved in politics, first as a school board member for 16 years, then as a Republican state senator.

Such has been Morris' voting record in the Legislature that he got a free ride to a third four-year term this year. He had no opposition from either fellow Republicans or Democrats, who felt opposing him would be a waste of time.

"He's popular and it's a very Republican district. It would take a miracle to beat him," Tom Sawyer, state Democratic Party chairman, said in Topeka.

Smooth sailing to Nov. 7

Morris is among four of 40 senators and 46 of 125 House members getting their campaign ticket punched all the way to the end of the line the Nov. 7 general election.

Like Morris, many of those getting free rides are lawmakers in areas where one political party traditionally dominates.

"If a person is shown to be an effective legislator, people will say they can do something else than run against that guy," said Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis.

Another factor, Loomis said, is how well the officeholder and the voters get along.

"There has to be that kind of identification, that the legislator feels at home with the constituent and the constituent feels at home with the legislator," Loomis said. "After all, it is a representative process."

To friends and neighbors, Morris is known for his quiet, low-key way of getting things done for residents in the seven counties and part of an eighth that make up the 39th District.

When told that folks think he's doing a good job, Morris blushes and simply says, "I hope that is the case."

'A straight shooter'

Asked why he's unopposed this year, Morris shrugged and said, "I don't know. In a rural district it's harder to defeat an incumbent. Fortunately, people have been good to me."

It may be hard to defeat an incumbent, but not impossible.

Morris first was elected in 1992, unseating Democrat Leroy Hayden, who had been in office 16 years. Morris won re-election in 1996 with 79 percent of the vote.

"If you give your word, you need to stick by your word. When you take a position on an issue, you need to let people know why," Morris said. "People need to know where you stand."

Statements like that put Morris in good standing with his constituents. Some of them almost gush when they talk about him, helping to explain why he's unopposed this year.

"He's pretty much of a straight shooter, and he always has time to listen to your problems and situation," said Hugoton Mayor Neal Gillespie. "One call from Steve can turn the situation around."

Morris says he's supposed to provide help, because people back home depend upon each other. His constituents are isolated from Topeka, with his hometown geographically closer to the capitals of Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma than Topeka.

Is it worth it?

Meanwhile, some other incumbents wonder whether it's the long hours and hard work that keeps them in office and possibly keeps people from wanting the job.

"First of all, very few people want to do all this work for little or nothing. You've got to feel you do it to help the cause," said Sen. U.L. "Rip" Gooch, D-Wichita.

Gooch, who starts his third term in January, added, "People feel once they got somebody who closely represents their views, they are willing to let them do it."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.