Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Election by default

In a democracy, a little election competition always benefits voters.

June 20, 2006


Barring unusual write-in successes, a third of the Kansas House of Representatives already has been elected. With the state filing deadline past, 42 candidates - all of them incumbents - have no opposition from either party. In those races, there will be no primary and only one name on the general election ballot.

That is, perhaps, a sign of some degree of satisfaction with the job legislators are doing. By contrast, there is plenty of competition for seats on the Kansas Board of Education. All four board members running for re-election are opposed, and three candidates have filed for a fifth seat being vacated by Iris Van Meter.

But even if constituents are generally satisfied with legislators, it's unfortunate when candidates are elected without opposition. Some of them still will campaign door-to-door and make an effort to connect with their constituents, but, without the need to debate an opponent and formulate a platform, some won't be motivated enough to make that effort.

All of the Lawrence-area House incumbents are seeking re-election. Two of them - Rep. Tom Sloan and Rep. Paul Davis - are unopposed. Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat, will face Republican Rick Davis, and Rep. Tom Holland, also a Democrat, will have a challenge from Republican Roy Dunn.

No incumbents are running for 16 House seats, all of which have multiple candidates. Sixty-five incumbents have at least one candidate filed to run against them. The fact that eight House Republicans face challenges from within their own party may be a byproduct of continuing animosity within the state GOP. However, two incumbent Democrats also face primary opposition.

The incumbent advantage still appears to be strong, but it is not absolute, as some state school board members may learn this year. The race for District 1, which covers much of eastern Douglas County, will be decided in a Democratic primary battle between incumbent Janet Waugh and Jesse L. Hall, both of Kansas City. Republican John Bacon, the incumbent in District 3, is facing competition from two Republicans and a Democrat; the same situation faces incumbent Republican Ken Willard of Hutchinson.

Republican Connie Morris, the District 5 incumbent, has competition from one Republican and one Democrat, and the District 9 race in southeast Kansas has two Republicans and one Democrat on the ballot.

The fact that multiple candidates have filed for seats on the currently controversial board is a positive development for Kansas. The contested elections will force candidates to more fully address the issues of interest to voters during their campaigns. Voters then will have the opportunity - and responsibility - to choose candidates who will best represent their views and philosophies on the state board. The state school board results likely will be closely watched around the state.

Competition always makes an election more interesting, but it also serves voters by providing for healthy debate and accountability among officeholders. The number of House members being elected by default this year actually is slightly lower than it was two years ago, but it's still far too high.


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