Topeka — The results of the legislative session will help House incumbents and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as the campaign season shifts into gear, political analysts say.
Bipartisan support of the school funding plan, business tax cuts and increased punishments for sex offenders will be viewed by the public as positive, predicted Joe Aistrup, head of the political science department at Kansas State University.
"Those pieces of legislation help incumbents all over," Aistrup said. "Incumbents walk away from this being able to beat their chests."
With the end of the 2006 legislative session last week, candidates are ramping up for the political party primaries on Aug. 1. The primary winners then face off Nov. 7.
All statewide offices will be on the ballot, in addition to the 125 House seats, four congressional places, five State Board of Education slots and numerous other jobs. State Senate positions are not up for grabs this year.
Sebelius and Johnson County
"Sebelius benefits from this session," said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University. "A lot of things got done."
More about the primaries
- On the street: Do you think Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will win another term?
- 2006 primary list
- Mays drops out of race for governor (11-24-05)
- Governor's race will be uphill battle for Emporia senator (10-24-05)
- Familiar face joins GOP race (08-20-05)
- Frequent candidate enters governor's race (08-03-05)
- Moran won't oppose Sebelius (08-03-05)
But some say that Sebelius' support of the three-year, $466.2 million increase to schools will hurt her in vote-rich Johnson County.
Sebelius, a Democrat, depends on the support of pro-education Republicans in Johnson County, to overcome the disadvantage Democrats labor under in statewide voter registration. Of the state's 1.7 million voters, approximately 780,000 are registered as Republican; 450,000 Democrat and 450,000 unaffiliated, with the rest registered with minor parties.
But many Republican legislators from Johnson County who supported increases in education funding say the new school plan shortchanges their districts. They say it doesn't allow greater flexibility in the use of local property taxes to supplement school funding.
"The governor is going to need votes out of Johnson County, and her heaping praise on this school finance plan may not help her," said John Martellaro, board president of Kansas Families United for Public Education. "What the impact of this debacle is, is anybody's guess."
Sebelius noted she and legislative Democrats supported Johnson County's attempts to use local taxes many times, but that about half of the county's own legislative delegation kept voting against those measures.
"The real problem is that we need more pro-education votes out of Johnson County," Sebelius said.
Aistrup said Sebelius could suffer minor damage in Johnson County over the school bill, adding, "if she gets in a close race, that marginal decrease may come back to hurt her. We are a Republican state, after all."
The major candidates in the Republican Party primary for governor are Sen. Jim Barnett of Emporia, former House Speaker Robin Jennison of Healy and Ken Canfield of Overland Park, an author and founder of the National Center for Fathering.
The political landscape could change if the Kansas Supreme Court rejects the new school funding plan and the Legislature has to return for a special legislative session this summer.
But Beatty said that again could work to the advantage of incumbents.
"Popular opinion may turn against the court. Any way you slice it, $400-plus million over three years is a lot of money," he said.
Another wild card could be the effects of State Board of Education races.
At stake is the 6-4 majority on the board that has voted for science standards that criticize evolution, made moves to require abstinence-only sex education and hired Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who had no background in education administration and has pushed for vouchers.
"The issues there are on the cutting edge of the cultural conservative movement," Aistrup said.
Four seats of the six-member majority are in play. Incumbents John Bacon of Olathe, Connie Morris of St. Francis and Ken Willard of Hutchinson all face Republican Party challenges, and there is a GOP primary battle for the southeast Kansas seat being vacated by Iris Van Meter.
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Tim Shallenburger said he didn't know how those races would finish.
"You're going to see which team has the most players," Shallenburger said.
Another sign of Republican Party in-fighting can be seen in the challenges to two GOP statewide officeholders, Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, and Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. Thornburgh faces Sen. Kay O'Connor of Olathe, and Praeger faces Rep. Eric Carter of Overland Park.
Shallenburger says there's nothing wrong with primary challenges of incumbents, but urged candidates to keep it clean.
"If they run on issues and political philosophy, it shouldn't hurt. If it gets into name calling, that doesn't help," he said.