Topeka — A third of Kansas House members will get a free pass this election cycle, earning seats in the 125-member chamber by doing little more than paying the filing fee.
In all, 22 Democrats and 26 Republicans face no opposition in the Aug. 6 primary or Nov. 5 general elections. The contests in another 15 districts will be decided in primaries.
Still, Republican and Democratic party officials said they were pleased about the number of candidates who were willing to put their names on the ballot after the 107-day 2002 legislative session.
"We have 10 incumbent Republicans retiring, which is a pretty small number, considering the difficulty of the session," said Ron Seeber, political director for the Kansas Republican Party. "I would have expected a few more."
The session ended May 31 after legislators wrestled with closing a budget shortfall, leading to passage of a $252 million tax increase and numerous reductions in individual programs. Many left knowing that the work of shoring up the state budget was far from complete.
In fact, leaders said the 2003 session could be as difficult or worse, as lingering problems with depressed state revenues and increased demands for social services remain.
To some degree, Democrats are counting on voter dissatisfaction about the budget and education spending to help chip away at the GOP's 79-46 majority in the House. Republicans also have a 30-10 advantage in the Senate, which is not up for re-election until 2004.
With the uncontested races and primaries that will decide who fills a seat, Republicans already have won 41 seats and Democrats, 24.
"We feel good about the number and quality of our candidates," said Democratic Chairman Tom Sawyer, who is running himself for a House seat from Wichita.
Sawyer said Democrats would like to have fielded candidates for a few more districts, but prospects are good that they would pick up a few seats.
"It's a tough job right now, and the pay is low for the difficulty of the work," Sawyer said.
Despite the lack of contested races, at least a few new faces at the Statehouse are guaranteed when the 2003 Legislature convenes on Jan. 13, including new House leaders for both parties.
House Speaker Kent Glasscock is running for lieutenant governor on Wichita Mayor Bob Knight's ticket, while Minority Leader Jim Garner of Coffeyville is the Democratic candidate for insurance commissioner.
The hot seat
One close race is shaping up in the Republican primary between House Majority Leader Shari Weber of Herington and Bill Kassebaum of Burdick, son of former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker. Weber faced criticism during the 2002 session about her reluctance to support a tax increase to solve the budget situation, although she voted for final package.
Seeber said Republicans would hope to capture five or six seats in the House, enough to give them a two-thirds majority. That would give Republicans the ability to override vetoes if Democrat Kathleen Sebelius is elected governor.