Topeka — Candidates for the Kansas House headed into the final weekend of the primary campaign making a push to get their names before voters and touch on issues that resonate.
This year, 109 of 125 incumbents are seeking re-election: 69 of the 83 Republicans and 40 of the 42 Democrats. Thirty-six House candidates - 18 from each party - face no opposition.
Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said the Republican primary Tuesday is highlighting a split among House candidates that's different from the split present in statewide races.
"Some of what I've seen is the old-fashioned GOP split, which is about taxes," Beatty said.
Statewide races have featured the moderate-conservative split over social issues, but Beatty said House races come down to which candidate will raise taxes to pay for state government.
Taxes are a key issue after the Legislature approved a three-year, $541 million school funding boost, financed with existing state revenues.
Conservatives argued during the session that the plan was too big and would put the state in red ink, absent tax increases in the second and third year of the plan.
They are now targeting moderates who supported higher taxes to keep the state financially solvent. Conservatives argued Kansas needs to adopt something similar to Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights to curb government spending.
Free rides into House seats
Some area Kansas House candidates have no opposition in the primary or general elections, including:
¢ 22nd: Sue Storm, D-Overland Park. ¢ 28th: Pat Colloton, R-Leawood. ¢ 32nd: Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City. ¢ 33rd: Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City. ¢ 35th: Broderick Henderson, D-Kansas City. ¢ 37th: Mike Peterson, D-Kansas City. ¢ 38th: Anthony Brown, R-Eudora. ¢ 40th: L. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth. ¢ 41st: Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth. ¢ 42nd: Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing. ¢ 51st: Mike Burgess, R-Topeka. ¢ 57th: Vaughn Flora, D-Topeka.
Beatty said victories for conservative Republicans could bode well for Democrats in the fall, by pushing moderate Republicans to vote for them. And Democrats need to make gains in the House if they're to play a larger role in setting policy.
House Speaker Doug Mays, a Topeka Republican who isn't seeking re-election, said voters are concerned about rising property taxes, pushed higher by increased valuations and more spending by schools and local governments. Thus far, he said, no issue the Legislature has addressed in the past two years has emerged as a reason to throw out incumbents of either party.
"There aren't a lot of things that have turned around that bite us at the state level," Mays said.
And while immigration and the economy are concerns with voters, he said, most Kansans realize any significant solutions must come from the federal level.
Turnout for the election could be influenced by the crowded field for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, with seven hopefuls, and primaries in State Board of Education races.
Several organizations have renewed their traditional calls for voter participation. Support typically falls on either side of the debate over education funding, both for K-12 and higher education.
The Johnson County-based Kansas Families United For Public Education has been perhaps the most active, conducting numerous candidate forums and endorsing a slate of hopefuls. The organization ramped up its presence in recent years because of litigation over school funding.
The organization is backing a slate of candidates whom it thinks will continue adequate funding for schools, including raising taxes if necessary.
Election 2006 - Kansas races
More on the 2006 Elections in Kansas
- 6News video: Low turnout may result in new primary election date (08-30-06)
- 6News video: Candidate speaks at university forum (08-30-06)
- 6News video: Evolution supporters will hold board majority (08-02-06)
- 6News video: Snag-free night for primaries (08-02-06)
- 6News video: County puts new voting machines to test (08-01-06)
- 6News video: Praeger holds up over opponent (08-01-06)
- Low turnout prompts call for new primary date (08-31-06)
- Publisher blasts candidate for illegally stuffing newspapers (08-04-06)
- Election hailed as pro-evolution (08-03-06)
- New voting machines perform well on first test (08-03-06)
- Barnett wins GOP bid to take on Sebelius (08-02-06)
- Voter turnout among lowest in memory (08-02-06)
- Eudora takes plunge on pool (08-02-06)
- Praeger prevails in 'negative' contest (08-02-06)
- Primary election results
- See how the voting went in select races
- Campaign finance reports
- Statewide office
- Board of Education
- Election 2006 - Kansas races
But education and taxes aren't the only issues on the stump.
House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, who was first elected in 1992, said affordable health care and access to treatment also are concerns. The Greensburg Democrat faces no opposition in either the primary or the general election.
Public school funding remains an issue across the state, he said, and the concerns are as diverse as the state's landscape: "Johnson County that wants funding to keep strong schools and rural schools that want enough money to keep them open. Rural schools are a critical part of their community."
McKinney thinks Democrats will hold their own in the 2006 election cycle and maintain their 42 seats in the House.
Also weighing in on the primary campaigns are a slew of social and religious organizations, aimed not so much at particular issues as reversing a trend of voter apathy.
Kansans for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group, has endorsed candidates in 21 House primaries. The conservative Kansas Republican Assembly has preferred candidates in 54 districts.
And Kansans for Faithful Citizenship, a statewide nondenominational organization that formed in 2005, calls on voters to become informed on issues that include abortion, capital punishment, poverty, immigration and environmental policy.
"The words and actions of Christ in the gospels set a standard for us all," said spokeswoman Janelle Lazzo. "And we, as an informed electorate, must ask ourselves if our elected officials support the common good, especially the weak and the vulnerable."
In that vein, bishops of the United Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal churches in Kansas also are calling their members to vote, although the churches are not endorsing a particular person or party. The bishops wrote a letter to their pastors, hoping the ministers will read it Sunday, describing voting as part of being a Christian.
United Methodist Bishop Scott Jones said the three denominations are speaking as a counterbalance to the more fundamentalist congregations in Kansas that provide a big part of the political base for conservative candidates.