A group of Douglas County Democrats has selected Mike Gaughan, an aide to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, to fill an open seat on the Douglas County Commission.
He defeated Lawrence City Commissioner Boog Highberger during a secret-ballot vote among 20 Democratic precinct committee members Saturday morning. Gaughan will replace Commissioner Charles Jones, who announced his resignation last month to focus more on his expanding job responsibilities at Kansas University.
Gaughan said the commission faces challenges of crafting a budget during tough economic times.
“Finding the balance between the short-term pressure to kick-start the economy with this desperate need for a long-term vision for our community and finding that balance is what really motives me to serve, and I’m excited about getting to work,” he said after the vote at the Lawrence Public Library.
Gaughan, 31, a KU graduate and a Lawrence resident, was the state party’s executive director from 2005 until late last year when he moved into his position as a special assistant to the governor, where he is a legislative liaison.
Highberger and Gaughan both said the other would make a good commissioner.
Highberger, who is not seeking re-election for his City Commission seat, said his six years of serving in local office would be valuable on the county board.
“I think the critical issue before you today is experience,” he said.
The other two commissioners, Nancy Thellman and Jim Flory, took office in January. Jones has served for 10 years on the commission. Thellman, the other Democrat on the commission, said the board will be able to move forward effectively.
“(Gaughan) brings a sense of public service and a strong record of service at the state level, and he’s bringing a fresh perspective that represents his district well,” she said.
State Rep. Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat and House minority leader, said he was not worried about the commission being short on experience.
“I have no doubt all three commissioners are up to the challenges they face, and I think the fact they are all new may be an advantage to some degree,” he said.
Gaughan said that also after Tuesday’s City Commission election the city will also have two or possibly three new faces.
“Basically this is a chance for our community to hit the reset button. We’ve had a lot of angst in this community over the years,” he said. “I think it’s time we kind of take a step back and just try to make sure we’re all on the same page, and we all start working together to move Douglas County forward.”
During his speech before the vote, Gaughan mentioned fiscal responsibility and balancing preserving green and open space with expanding infrastructure.
Highberger brought up his opposition to the 32nd Street alignment to construct completion of the southeastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway. Gaughan said his stance was probably very similar. He mentioned caution on the environmental impact of the Baker Wetlands, and he said he would need to examine the options for building the road.
“I need to look at them all,” Gaughan said.
He grew up in Houston, but his family is originally from Kansas. Gaughan moved to Lawrence to attend KU in 1996 and has lived here since then.
He and his wife, Julia, have a 1-year-old son, Kiernan.
County party officials called it a close vote between the Gaughan and Highberger, but they did not publicly release the tally other than declaring Gaughan the winner.
He will represent the 1st commission district, which is mostly central Lawrence, and it’s the only district contained entirely in the city.
Party chairman Ed Quick said there are several precinct committee vacancies in the district. Up to 40 people could have participated in the vote, but only 23 people ran for the positions last August. Mike and Julia Gaughan are precinct members, so they did get to vote.
Quick said the party would notify the governor’s office Monday so that Gaughan’s appointment could become official soon.
The governor is responsible for making the final appointment, based on the decision of the precinct committee members. Gaughan will serve until the term expires in 2010, when he could run for re-election.