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Economy’ the buzz word for election, for now

City candidates may try to push other ‘hot-button’ issues

March 5, 2007


All that's missing thus far from the race for three seats on the Lawrence City Commission is Democratic strategist James Carville and his famous 1992 phrase: "It's the economy, stupid."

As results from Tuesday's primary rolled in, the broad issues of the economy and job creation were the factors that many of the front-runners were talking about in the halls of the County Courthouse.

"I think voters are looking for specific ideas on how to increase the number of jobs and businesses we have in the community," candidate Mike Dever said after he learned he'd garnered the most votes in the primary.

Second-place finisher Rob Chestnut had much the same take. He listed economic issues, along with increasing efficiency in the planning and development process, as key points on the minds of voters.

"The message I'm hearing is that there certainly is a desire to see a change in city government," Chestnut said. "Voters want more of a focus on some of those issues."

Third-place finisher and incumbent Commissioner Boog Highberger also acknowledged that the economy and job creation are issues that are motivating voters. But he also said he's not sure that the primary election results are indicative of what the majority of people in the community are thinking because of the low voter turnout.

"It is hard to gauge public sentiment at 14 percent turnout," Highberger said. "I suspect the turnout for the general election will be about twice that amount."

But that's what candidates were saying during the 2005 City Commission primary when only 16 percent of voters turned out. But in that case, the top three finishers in the primary ended up finishing in the exact same order in the general election. The same thing happened with the 2003 primary and general election.

So that raises the question of what could happen in the next four weeks that could change the dynamics of the race? Several campaign observers are saying it may take the emergence of a singular, hot-button issue to get a new set of voters to the polls. Here's a look at some issues that have the makings of a hot-button issue that candidates may try to capitalize on.

The library

It is the $30 million question in the campaign. In some ways it has the potential to be a simple yes-no question because the project has a specific plan attached to it. The city's library board has recommended that the city build the project on the site of the U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Vermont streets.

But thus far, candidates haven't done much to differentiate themselves on the library question because they haven't gotten specific on how they would pay for the project.

"The positive thing is that they all have said that they support the concept of a new library or see the need, although some are probably stronger than others," said Deborah Thompson, a member of the city's library board. "The key piece of it now is how do they pay for it. I would like to hear some discussion about that during the campaign."

Domestic partnership registry

The idea is to allow same-sex couples to register at City Hall and receive some legal recognition for their relationship. Maggie Childs - chairwoman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, which proposed the local registry - said she thought the issue had the potential to turn into a hot-button issue for voters.

The coalition's statewide political action committee endorsed three candidates for the City Commission race based on their support for the registry - Highberger, Commissioner David Schauner and Carey Maynard-Moody.

"We want to work for them in the campaign," Childs said.

Gay and lesbian issues have become a hot-button issue at least once before. In the mid-1990s, the Simply Equal ordinance made Lawrence the only city in the state to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment matters based on sexual orientation.

It is credited with pushing candidate Allen Levine from a sixth-place finish in the primary to a top-three finish in the general election.

Childs, though, stopped short of saying the domestic registry issue would have that type of impact in this race. For one, none of the candidates has said he or she opposes the registry. Dever, Chestnut and James Bush have said they need more information about it before they could support it. Also, there's an outside chance the issue could be decided before the April 3 general election.

Three of the five city commissioners - Highberger, Schauner and Mike Rundle - have said they're ready to approve the ordinance, if a requested legal opinion from the Kansas Attorney General's Office finds that it does not violate the state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman with the attorney general's office, said the first level of review for that opinion is expected to be done by next week but said she was uncertain whether more research would be required. She said it was possible, but not assured, that the opinion could be done before April 3.

Minimum wage

A new Lawrence political advocacy group, Grassroots Action, formed with the idea of studying the issue of a local minimum wage that would require most businesses in the city to pay several dollars more than the federal minimum wage.

But David Smith, an organizer of Grassroots Action, said his group won't be prepared to submit a specific proposal before the general election. Smith said the group was waiting to see whether the new Democrat-controlled Congress approves a significant increase in the federal minimum wage.

Smith, though, said his group may still try to get candidates on the record of whether they support the concept of a local minimum wage.

"I wouldn't say that the issue won't play a part at all in the local election, but since the national situation is not yet clear, it may not rise to the level of a hot-button issue," Smith said.

Smoking ban

The nearly 3-year-old citywide ban on smoking in most Lawrence workplaces still draws strong opinions. The constitutionality of the ban is being challenged in the Kansas Supreme Court.

But none of the six remaining candidates has yet expressed a desire to change the smoking ban.


Whether to build a Wal-Mart store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive was a hot-button issue in the 2003 campaign that resulted in a trio of Progressive Lawrence Campaign candidates sweeping the election.

The issue remains contentious, but for the time being, it is out of the hands of the City Commission. A lawsuit challenging the city's denial of the project is scheduled to begin April 16, two weeks after the new City Commission is seated.

An open question in the campaign is whether any of the candidates will take a stand on reopening settlement talks with the proposed developers of the Wal-Mart in an effort to head off the lawsuit.


Richard Heckler 11 years, 1 month ago

***MAINTAINING EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE IS TOP PRIORITY with Cary Maynard - Moody,David Schauner and of course Boog Highberger.

=================================== Boog,Rundle and Schauner have been trying to fix a few things in order that someday our property taxes may see a normal and consistent 3%-4% increase which will take a little more time. Trying to unravel what preceded them with 20 years of rule by the "unwise growth at any expense team" aka real estate,banking and building executives cannot take place over night. Readers please think about this at the polls. One sided growth in housing increased the Cost of Community Services thus increased taxes to pay the bills. Unbalanced growth is not healthy

Since so much special interest money is being pumped into this campaign it leaves me no choice but to vote for Carey,Boog and Schauner. Washington D.C. is a perfect example of what Lawrence politics should not become.

Second the housing bust may be related to poor quality construction no matter what price of some new housing dating back 25 years which is no secret locally and/or a natiowide housing bust.

GMAC Housing Bust:

*New light industry will of course provide some relief for property taxes. Small business fits into this category and more often than not does not require tax abatements. Small business keeps the money local and is not likely to outsource jobs. Big names are equally important however competition for their jobs is brisk therefore small business people can provide a solid balance.

It will be difficult for any candidate to make definite statements about a new library simply because no site has been chosen,no design chosen and there are no hard numbers available

*How about a 17 million dollar library instead of 30 million dollars? Does the Lawrence Library need a 10 million dollar parking package attached to it? NO

Does the city and new retail need more parking? Allow developers to build a new parking garage at 8th & Vermont (existing lot) next door to Chamber and on the Eldrige Hotel lot not at taxpayer expense. ===================================

Richard Heckler 11 years, 1 month ago

Never has there been an economic no growth commissioner....... ever . I do not care for sprawl as new economic growth comes in so many forms. New economic growth is available from existing resources if actively promoted.

Why I do not like sprawl? It's expensive Increases the Cost of Community Services tremendously thus brings on tax increases It's not necessary for supporting a community Organic Farming is a booming business that should be promoted locally. *Over built residential takes up space for green collar employment centers which pay higher rates on taxes than housing. New Jobs also = NEW economic growth ==============================

Green Collar industry = white and blue collar employment. Thus Lawrence carpenters,painters,plumbers and electricians will still be in demand for this big money and booming new industry.

Green Collar employment should address several issues than are of concern locally.

Lawrence should reach for jobs that will sustain our community and take us far into the future. The "Green Collar" sector is new,in demand and booming. Lawrence needs to be sending out invitations. The current commisioners were smart bringing on staff an economic growth position.

Polluting industries cost taxpayers money as the polluter walks away and/or files bankruptcy. No community can afford polluting industries.

Mkh 11 years, 1 month ago

"Good luck to you in pitching your green industry idea to a bank, or maybe the SBA, and starting your own business.

New industries, new jobs, begin with the individuals who have the ideas and the talent and are willing to stake their future on their own promise."

Believe me that a bank is very interested in a company that can convert a 7,000 acre grassland into enough power to run 64,000 homes. Very interested. Those who are in on wind power now will get the coming economic benefits much like those who were "wildcats" in the oil industry 100 years ago.

Stephen Roberts 11 years, 1 month ago

Of the GrassRoots Action people. Who are the employers of the founders?

I am testing a hypothesis. Thanks.

Merrill if you could answer it that would be great.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

Here's an idea for the library.

Move the senior center to the Carnegie Building, sell the parking lot by the Eldridge to them, and use the proceeds to improve the existing library and senior center into the new, improved library, along with a new parking garage to serve it and the swimming pool. (and, yes, I know this would take more money than the sale of the Eldridge parking lot would supply.)

Stephen Roberts 11 years, 1 month ago


First of all, I am not trying to influence the city commission to create policies or am I a member of PAC unlike the Grass roots people. Since they are going to the commisson and getting their names in the paper, I find it funny their spokepeople or person works for KU and the city of Lawrence.

I work for a large company outside of Lawrence. I am one of the thousands who commute to either KC or Topeka instead of trying to work in Lawrence.

What about you log? Do you work for the government, KU, schools , private company or self-employed? i won't ask for you name because i chose not to give mine.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

I don't believe that The Grass Roots group is a PAC, which is required of groups that are raising and distributing money for political campaigns.

Stephen Roberts 11 years, 1 month ago

Bozo- My bad. they are not raising money yet but the are trying to influence the city to increase the mininum wage. To me it is just like the Neighborhood Associations and DLI.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

Alike in what way? Do you think it would be better if they just fire-bombed city hall instead of taking part in the political process?

WWoftheW 11 years, 1 month ago

Commuter - Grass Roots Action, LAN and DLI try to influence the city. Don't forget your good buddies the Chamber of Commerce.

justthefacts 11 years, 1 month ago

I will try to make it super easy and simple - for all.

No one should spend money they do not already possess.

Not a person, family, group and especially not a government.

We as a city, county, state, country and world need to stop spending more then we take in. We have borrowed and gambled away our progeny's futures. There will have to be hundreds of sacrifices made, at all levels, to get us back onto a path of financial and fiduciary stability.

But it must be done. If we do not stop spending money that we do not have, we will go so far into debt that all the oil and gold and diamonds on earth could not get us out of bankruptcy!

Stop spending money we don't have. Cut services. Cut entitlements. Cut out trying to find new places/things to spend money upon. Stop trying to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. Get out of debt and stay out of debt. Concentrate on the basics, until/unless there is a surplus of cash!

I will vote for the candidates who promise to do this (and whom I believe mean it and will do it!).

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

"No one should spend money they do not already possess."

The banking industry will be sorry to hear that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

"The pot smoker and his two stooges never figured it out..."

Who are you referring to?

Mkh 11 years, 1 month ago

"I think voters are looking for specific ideas on how to increase the number of jobs and businesses we have in the community," candidate Mike Dever said after he learned he'd garnered the most votes in the primary."

Great Dever, so Where Are these "specific ideas"???? I have neither seen nor heard any specific new ideas on how to create job growth. NONE...just a bunch of meaningless, empty jargon with no specific, realistic plans.

Lawrence is missing a golden opprotunity right now to set-up green industries based in Lawrence that operate throughout the state. Specifically, we need to attract wind farm companies, who produce about 200 jobs for every farm they construct. Many different companies from Other States have been capitilizing off the growing wind farm movement in Kansas. There is no reason why Lawrence could not be the ones leading the state in this new technology and providing hundreds of well paying jobs in the process.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

The way to creat job growth is to lower taxes. That is a tried and true economic engine.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

The commissioners are not responsible for creating new jobs, but they have a role in stimulating (or stifling) job growth.

Reducing taxes is a tried and true method of stimulating job growth.

opinion 11 years, 1 month ago


"Lawrence is missing a golden opprotunity right now to set-up green industries based in Lawrence that operate throughout the state."

Why would "green industries" be more inclined to set up shop here anymore then the other industries that AREN'T. We can start naming what kind of industries and jobs that we want to come in but fact of the matter is, few are even considering Lawrence.

Question 11 years, 1 month ago

It is time for the three Amigos to move on. Lawrence will be better served without them. Schauner said it best and i quote"i am a questioner,i ask a lot of questions" maybe its time to start acting. How many more questions is he going to ask. Time for a change!! And just for Schauners info-nobody had to BUY my vote. So dont be a sore looser and ask your self this question. Is lawrence a better place without me, ANSWER- YES

Mkh 11 years, 1 month ago

opinion: "Why would "green industries" be more inclined to set up shop here anymore then the other industries that AREN'T"

Well that is a reasonable question, with a very simple answer. I didn't pick the wind farm industry out of thin air (pun intended). The reason why that would work over others is that Lawrence is located approximately one hour away from the third largest wind source in the nation, The Flint Hills. Combine that with the bonus of having KU's environmental science department and you have the perfect way to attract one or two of these companies. Just takes some common sense.

Godot 11 years, 1 month ago

MKH, government does not get to pick the industries that come to Lawrence. Not if the government of Lawrence wants Lawrence to grow new jobs, that is.

The government of Lawrence needs to foster an environment that welcomes new ventures. Lawrence needs to become the wild, wild west of bio-tech, green-tech, and, may I suggest, any tech that has anything to do with the arts.

The gold in Lawrence is scientific and artistic talent. We should mine these talents, foster them, and grow with them.

Good luck to you in pitching your green industry idea to a bank, or maybe the SBA, and starting your own business.

New industries, new jobs, begin with the individuals who have the ideas and the talent and are willing to stake their future on their own promise.

As I said, good luck. Really.

Lifelong_Lawrencian 11 years, 1 month ago

Lawrence does have a new wind technology firm. 3 employees. JW prairie windpower. 2721 West 6th. I don't see them making a major difference in the Lawrence economy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 1 month ago

Believe it or not, Godot, I agree with your last post. And one way government might be able to make a difference is to contact businesses like the wind technology company Lifelong Lawrencian mentioned and see what they need to make a go of it.

As Tim Miller points out in his latest column in the Lawrencian,

Lawrence has the lowest unemployment rate of any metro area in the state, and one of the lowest in the whole country. We really don't need that many more jobs. We do need better paying jobs.

So instead of stressing out about how to bring in companies from who knows where, and giving away the family jewels to entice them, why not look at who is already here, and how they can be helped, encouraged, whatever, to pay the employees they have a little better, and maybe add an employee here and there. Multiply that by the hundreds of small businesses in this town, and you have real and meaningful economic growth.

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