Topeka — Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is facing a serious challenge to her re-election within the Republican Party, from a legislator who argues she isn't pro-business enough.
Rep. Eric Carter, of Overland Park, began this year with nearly $94,000 for his campaign. Praeger, from Lawrence, had about $138,000 in campaign funds at the start of the year.
"It's certainly a good indication that this race may be more interesting than anybody thought," Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said Monday.
The campaigns disclosed the figures in reports filed last week with the secretary of state's office, detailing fundraising and spending for 2005.
Praeger, 61, was elected commissioner in 2002 after serving 12 years in the Legislature, including as chairwoman of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. Carter, an attorney, is serving is his second two-year term in the House, where he is vice chairman of the Insurance Committee.
Though other Republicans expressed surprise at Carter's fundraising, Praeger said she had expected him to attract significant financial support.
"A regulator's never going to be popular with everybody we regulate, and I have a record now that someone can look at and find ways to attack," Praeger said. "I know we have not made everyone happy, and I'm sure there are ways to exploit that."
Reducing regulatory burden
Carter said he has been able to raise money because of his support for lessening the regulatory burden on businesses and for limiting the scope of litigation against them.
He noted that in 2004, Praeger endorsed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's health plan, under which the federal government would have reimbursed employers for up to $50,000 of a worker's medical bills and expanded government health care programs. She criticized President Bush's plan to allow employer groups to create unregulated, self-insurance plans.
Later, Praeger joined Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in outlining a health care plan that depended on increasing tobacco taxes by $50 million a year.
"In a statewide Republican primary, a liberal has historically suffered at the hands of grass-roots Republican activists," Carter said.
Praeger defends record
Praeger said she has a strong record upon which to run.
"I believe our department is doing an excellent job of balancing those consumer needs with the company needs," Praeger said. "We're bringing companies back to the state, and at the same time, we've recovered over $30 million for Kansas consumers in the last three years."
Praeger's campaign finance report showed that she raised more than $153,000 in cash contributions last year and spent nearly $35,000 on campaign-related activities.
Accounting for more than half her spending, about $20,000, were payments to the Dublin Group, an Overland Park consulting firm. Those payments covered consulting fees, campaign planning and the group's expenses.
Carter spent about $9,400 in his campaign last year, after raising more than $103,000.
Praeger has long been identified with GOP moderates, while Carter is part of the party's conservative wing.
Beatty said Carter's challenge is part of a broader national trend in which conservatives, having tasted some political success, want to capture more statewide offices. He noted that before conservatives won a majority on the State Board of Education, it was considered a backwater of Kansas politics.
"If you put a conservative in as insurance commissioner, I have no idea what he might do," Beatty said. "You're having policy wonks, good-government types, meeting head on with movement conservatives. In politics, success breeds more interest."