Last night five Democrats from the 40th district handed Rep. Melanie Meier's primary election opponent from 2008 her position in the Kansas House of Representatives. Meier resigned over two weeks ago for deployment in Iraq and the election to replace her took place at the Leavenworth County Court House among the 40th District Democrat precinct committee chairmen of whom there are only six. Five of them, Ben Dawes and Louella Martin of Leavenworth, Lynette Simon of Lansing and P.J. and Ramona Cummings of rural Atchison County voted to allow former Leavenworth County Commissioner Don Navinsky to use this political experience and media exposure to run against Mrs. Meier next year in the Democrat Primary of 2010. Only one, Thomas Koch of Leavenworth, voted for retired Rep. L. Candy Ruff, whom Meier had asked to consider returning to Topeka because she knew Ruff was not interested in taking advantage of her deployment to run against her in the future.
Not the same can be said of Navinsky. Although he was prodded last night into admitting publicly that he would resign once Meier returned from active duty in Iraq, he refused to say that he would not run against her in 2010.
He did claim last night that he felt Meier and Ruff were involved in a situation to circumvent the process of selecting Meier's replacement. Because of a Leavenworth Times news article announcing Meier's resignation, he was led to believe Ruff's selection was a done deal. That belief came from the fact that the article did not fully explain the election process involving precinct committee chairmen. Ms. Martin even asked Ruff why she had contacted her about the Meier replacement election before the article appeared in The Times. Ruff explained that neither she nor Meier had any control over the wording or timing of any news media coverage appearing in local, regional or state newspapers. On the day Meier notified the Leavenworth County Democrat Chairman Tim Moran of her resignation, she emailed Ruff a list of the 40th district precinct committee chairmen. Meier also immediately mailed all the precinct committee chairmen of her resignation, explaining the election process and a letter to the editor Meier wrote explaining the election process appeared a few days later in the Times. Ruff said after Meier resigned she began contacting them, not aware that she needed to await media coverage in the local newspaper before making contact. Although she knew several of the precinct chairmen from her last 16 years running for election in the 40th district, she didn't know who the current chairmen were. Ruff began making calls and asking for support, plus she also visited them at their homes on Sunday leaving a letter explaining the election process.
"One of the saddest phone calls I've ever had to make was to Melanie last night and tell her of the election outcome," Ruff said Tuesday. "She just kept asking me how these five people could do this to her just as she was leaving for Iraq. And she wondered what she had done to them to allow her primary opponent to have this political advantage over her in the next primary election."
Ruff pointed out the precedent set three years ago when Republican Rep. Lee Tafanelli of Jefferson County was deployed to Iraq. In that precinct committee election, Republicans from Jefferson County turned to former Rep. Joann Flowers, who had retired before Tafanelli ran successfully for office. They knew Flowers would not challenge Tafanelli in any upcoming elections and wanted to protect his seat while he was in Iraq. That was not the case for the five Leavenworth and Atchison County Democrats.
"As Melanie prepares to leave for a war zone, she must do so with this sadness hanging over her head. Now I ask you, 'Who deserves this type treatment?' These five people knew full well that Don Navinsky intended to revenge his primary election loss of last year. And they still handed over Melanie's legislative seat to her former opponent. Did they really believe Melanie and I were up to no good because a news article didn't fully explain the replacement election? She wrote them letters explaining the process. I wrote them, too. And yet they believed Navinsky when he claimed we were deceiving people? That is no way to treat this brave Army officer as she puts her life on the line for her country. And of all things, this is occurring in such a strong military community, where these five people have a lot to answer for."