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Archive for Saturday, January 4, 2003

Delegation changes

January 4, 2003

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Local voters had their say on their state representatives, but precinct committee members will have the last word.

An unusual set of circumstances will result in many Lawrence voters being represented in the upcoming session of the Kansas Legislature by two people they didn't elect.

On Friday, Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, announced he would resign his seat in the Kansas House to take a job as legislative liaison for Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius. Findley's legislative seat now will be filled in the same way State Sen. Sandy Praeger's slot was filled after she was elected state commissioner of insurance.

Last month, the Republican precinct committeemen and committeewomen in Praeger's district met to elect Mark Buhler, a former county commissioner, to fill the post. The Democratic committee members in the 46th District now will be responsible for filling the office, to which Findley had just won re-election.

The loss of Findley and Praeger, along with Tom Holland's victory over incumbent Ralph Tanner in the 10th District, will mean significant changes in the legislative delegation that will represent Lawrence this year. The changes are particularly surprising considering the fact that incumbents dominated most of the legislative races both locally and statewide.

In Lawrence, Rep. Tom Sloan, Rep. Barbara Ballard and Findley all were re-elected without opposition in the general election. Now, only Sloan and Ballard will remain from the core group of local incumbent legislators.

Competition for Praeger's seat had been building since she announced her candidacy for the insurance job. Findley's departure is a much greater surprise and his seat will need to be filled quickly to provide proper representation for his district. It will be interesting to see which Democrats surface as possible replacements for Findley and how quickly the local party will make its selection.

The committee members who will make the choice were chosen in the primary election last August, an election that was marked by extremely low turnout, especially among Democrats who had few significant choices on the ballot. Many of those Democrats may now be wishing they had paid more attention to their precinct representatives on the county's central committee.

The shifts in the local delegation offer both positives and negatives for Lawrence constituents. It's wonderful to have local residents in the insurance commissioner's office and a key post on the governor's staff, but the local legislative delegation's seniority and clout will be seriously diminished. Only one other senator, the replacement for State Treasurer-elect Lynn Jenkins, will have as little seniority as Buhler. Holland, and Findley's replacement, will be on the bottom of the heap among House members. Hopefully, all of the newcomers will quickly become the best possible advocates for their constituents.

For better or worse, most of the people in Findley's southeast Lawrence district, which lies largely within Praeger's Senate district, will be represented for the next two years in the Kansas Legislature by two people for whom they never had an opportunity to vote. The residents of that area can only hope that the respective party leaders' choices will prove to be wise ones that will serve the districts well.

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