Lawrence Community Shelter board member files for open seat on Douglas County Commission

Insurance agent and Lawrence Community Shelter board member John Magnuson filed Wednesday for the 1st District Douglas County Commission seat.

Magnuson, who recently opened his own Farmer’s Insurance agency, was the third candidate to file for the seat since current 1st District County Commissioner Mike Gaughan announced earlier this month he would not run for re-election.

Magnuson filed as a Democrat. Lawrence City Commissioner Leslie Soden and Lawrence public school administrator Patrick Kelly also have filed as Democrats for the seat.

Magnuson said he was driven to enter the race because of the jail and mental health issues the commission will have to deal with soon.

“I think what I’ve witnessed from my time with the homeless shelter has provided me a lot insights into the criminal justice system, mental health and drug abuse,” he said. “I feel like I’m equipped to help make the hard decisions that will be before the County Commission.”

Magnuson said he is the brother of Benet Magnuson, the executive director of Kansas Appleseed. Benet Magnuson and his group were involved in the recent campaign opposing the Proposition 1 ballot question, which would have authorized a half-cent sales tax to pay for jail improvements and mental health programs if it had passed. John Magnuson said he shares many of his brother’s opinions but is not 100 percent in agreement with him on the county’s criminal justice or behavioral health needs.

Like his brother, John Magnuson said he is concerned about the issue of the disproportionate incarceration of people of color in the county jail, and he fears that expanding the jail would discourage the county from looking for the underlying causes of its inmate overcrowding problems.

John Magnuson said he does support the county moving forward with a behavioral health campus and expanded services.

At this time, however, John Magnuson said he does not favor using sales taxes to fund such a project, because it would have a larger impact on less affluent residents. How the project’s financing would be structured would depend on the details of what it would include, he said.

The 1st District includes most Lawrence neighborhoods north of 19th Street and west of Massachusetts Street. It is the only one of the three county commission seats that will be contested this election cycle. Commissioners Nancy Thellman and Michelle Derusseau were elected to four-year terms in 2016.

The deadline to file for the 1st District seat is noon Friday. There will be a primary election on Aug. 7 to choose the Democratic nominee. The general election will be Nov. 6. Thus far, no Republican candidates have filed for the seat.


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