Conservatives on the State Board of Education up for re-election this year now face opponents in the primary and general elections.
The latest candidate to announce is Jack Wempe, of Lyons, a Democrat and former chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents. Wempe also is a former legislator and school superintendent.
Wempe will seek the seat now held by Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican who represents District 7, which includes all or parts of 20 south central counties.
"I've had concerns about the direction the board has been taking," Wempe said. "I've voiced concern about it. I've attended meetings about it. I've been encouraged to run. So I decided to do it."
Conservatives said they welcomed the challenge. And board opponents disgruntled by recent board decisions dealing with evolution, sex education teaching and other board controversies also welcomed news that there are a full slate of challengers.
Kansas Board of Education seats sometimes have had trouble attracting candidates.
"For those of us who are looking for a change, it's encouraging," said Boo Tyson, a Lawrence resident and executive director of the MAINstream Coalition. "It means we've got a shot at them (conservatives) in the primary and a shot at them in the general. If you're a moderate - Republican or Democrat - it's great."
Terms for four of the six conservatives on the 10-member board draw to a close this year.
Wempe's candidacy means three of the four conservatives will have opponents in both the primary and general elections. Conservative board member Iris Van Meter has said she would not run again.
Cindy Duckett, a conservative advocate in Wichita, took the news in stride.
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"It's to be expected, really," Duckett said. "The things the board has been dealing with - sex ed, evolution, vouchers - are controversial. And any time you take on controversy, you're going to hear from the other side.
"Quite frankly, I think it's a good thing," she said. "I think it's healthy. Let's get the opinions out there, let's let the people speak, let's see what happens."
Duckett predicted at least two of the three conservative incumbents would retain their seats.
"I think Ken Willard will win. I think John Bacon will win," she said. "If anybody's vulnerable, it's probably Connie Morris, but she could pull it off. I wouldn't bet against her."
Morris, a conservative from St. Francis, will be opposed in the primary by Sally Cauble, a former elementary school teacher and a former member of the Liberal school board.
The winner will meet Democrat and former Garden City mayor Tim Cruz.
Bacon, a conservative from Olathe, will be opposed by Harry McDonald, a biology teacher at Blue Valley High School and a member of Kansas Citizens for Science board of directors, in the primary.
The winner will run against Don Weiss, an Olathe Democrat.
Wempe was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1999 by then-Gov. Bill Graves. He served as vice chairman in 2001 and 2002; and chairman in 2003.
Wempe said he was "disappointed" in the state board's push to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution.
He declined comment on board decisions to require students to get their parents' permission before taking sex education, and to hire Bob Corkins as education commissioner despite Corkins' having no administrative or classroom experience.
"I'm trying not to get into too many specifics until after I find out what's going on in the trenches," Wempe said.
Wempe, 71, said he planned to visit each school district in District 7 before the Nov. 7 general election. He campaigned Monday in Hutchinson.
"I sense that there's a dissatisfaction with the direction the board is taking," Wempe said. "The problem is, this district is so big, I have no way of knowing what people are thinking 100 miles south of here. That's what I'm going to find out."
A former Little River school superintendent, Wempe served eight years in the Kansas House of Representatives.
Willard, a Republican from Hutchinson, spent six years on the Nickerson-South Hutchinson school board, including two years as vice president, one year as president. He has filed for re-election.
In the Aug. 1 GOP primary, Willard will be opposed by McPherson school board president Donna Viola.
Incumbent Janet Waugh, a Democrat from Kansas City, has filed for a third term. As yet, she has no declared opposition.
The filings mean that in 2006, there will be at least three primary races and at least four general-election races involving state board candidates.
In 2004, there were two primary races, one in the general. In 2002, there were five primaries, one in the general.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, said the four-fold increase in school board races on the general election ballot likely signaled a long-anticipated change in voter sentiments.
"Kansans aren't happy with the image that's being projected for the state, whether it's evolution or gay marriage or the Fred Phelps protests," Beatty said.
"Now those aren't all State Board of Education issues, obviously, but they're pushing candidates to run," he said. "And what candidates are finding out is that Kansans love Kansas; they think this is a great state - a great state that's headed in the wrong direction. It's an undercurrent that I think is going to show itself in a lot of races this year."