Coal a burning election issue

Legislative contenders gear up for fall races

Important dates for 2008 election

Republican and Democratic party primaries: Aug. 5

General election: Nov. 4

Offices to be elected or retained

President/vice president

One U.S. senator

All four U.S. representatives

All 40 state senators

All 125 state representatives

State Board of Education, Districts 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.

Two Kansas Supreme Court justices (retention)

Four Kansas Court of Appeals judges (retention)

District court judges (60 retention; 44 election)

District magistrate judges (20 retention, 38 election)

Six district attorneys, including Douglas, Johnson, Reno, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties.

Source: Kansas Secretary of State office

Although much attention will be given to the presidential and congressional campaigns this summer and fall, it’s the results of the legislative races that may have the biggest impact on Kansans.

Retiring legislator Kenny Wilk, a Republican from Lansing, put it this way: “This is the place to be. One person can make a difference.”

Recent history makes the point.

In the past legislative session, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed bills allowing two coal-fired plants in southwestern Kansas. Her veto has survived override attempts by less than a handful of votes in the House.

And in 2006, a three-year $466 million school finance plan that ended years of litigation and political brawling was adopted by the Legislature with the bare minimum required votes in the Senate and just four votes to spare in the House.

In Kansas, all 125 state House districts and 40 state Senate districts will be up for grabs in the Nov. 4 general election – and many will have primary contests Aug. 5.

Locally, the Lawrence legislative delegation has remained fairly static during the past several years, but change could be coming.

State Sens. Marci Francisco, a Democrat, and Roger Pine, a Republican, are seeking re-election to four-year terms.

Pine likely will face a challenge from state Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, who is expected to announce his candidacy soon.

And although no Republican has announced against Francisco, several Lawrence residents have reported receiving telephone poll questions that mention state Rep. Tom Sloan, a Republican from Lawrence, as a possible opponent. Sloan has declined to comment on his intentions.

The deadline for candidates in the two major political parties to file to run is June 10. Independent or third-party candidates face a noon Aug. 4 deadline to file.

State Reps. Barbara Ballard and Paul Davis, both Democrats, have said they would seek re-election.

Ballard, who has served eight two-year terms, said she believes the running debate over the coal-burning plants project will spill over into the Lawrence political contests.

“It’s one of the biggest issues across the state, and in the city of Lawrence it was the issue,” Ballard said.

The city of Lawrence officially opposed the project, and many of the environmentalists who led opposition to the proposal are based in Douglas County. The Sebelius administration has rejected the project based on its annual emission of 11 million tons of climate changing carbon dioxide. But plant supporters say the units will be among the cleanest burning coal-fired plants in the nation – and their construction will benefit the western Kansas economy.

“If you were voting for the project in areas where the people wanted you to, then you’re probably safe, but if you were voting for it in areas where people were against it, there could be fallout,” Ballard said.

A Pine-Holland matchup and a Francisco-Sloan matchup would feature opposite positions on that issue. Both Pine and Sloan supported the coal plants, while Holland and Francisco opposed them.

And, of course, changes in the party makeup of the Lawrence delegation would have an effect on the overall count in the Legislature.

Currently, Republicans hold a 30-10 advantage in the Senate and 78-47 margin in the House.

Area legislators’ plans

State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, will seek re-election; no challengers have filed yet.

State Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, has filed for re-election; no challengers have filed yet.

State Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, will likely run for state Senate. Democrat Tony Brown has filed to run for the representative position.

State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, whose district includes part of Douglas County, has filed for re-election; no challenger has filed yet.

State Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, is retiring after 16 years in the Legislature. Laura Janas Gasbarre, a member of the Leavenworth City Commission, has filed as a Republican.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, has not announced his campaign intentions yet.

State Rep. Lee Tafanelli, R-Ozawkie, has filed for re-election; no challengers have filed yet.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, will retire after 16 years in the Legislature. Timothy Moran, a Democrat, and Connie O’Brien, a Republican, have filed for the position.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, has filed for re-election; no challengers have filed yet.

State Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, has filed for re-election. Holland has indicated he may run against him.