Entries from blogs tagged with “politics”
Former Rep. Paul Davis has been showing up a lot at political events throughout Kansas this summer.
Just in recent weeks, he has spoken at events in Wichita and in southwest Kansas. He was with the Kansas delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month. And he has more events planned in the coming weeks in southeast Kansas.
His name and face also show up frequently in Democratic Party fundraising emails, all of which have led many people to wonder if he isn't lining up another bid for governor in 2018.
In fact, some party insiders have said privately that they have no doubt Davis is at least eying the 2018 race.
Wednesday night, Davis was stumping in Lawrence where a dozen or so people showed up to meet, and write checks for, 2nd District congressional candidate Britani Potter, who is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
During a brief interview there, Davis would only say he's not thinking about the 2018 gubernatorial race, at least not yet.
"We'll think about the future at another point in time," he said. "But I'm still very concerned about the direction the state's going, and I think we have an opportunity to restore some much-needed common sense to the Legislature. That's why I've been as active as I have, trying to help candidates out there. I'm not doing it for my own reasons. I'm doing it because I think it's the best way we can bring about change in this state."
It has been nearly two years since Davis, the former Kansas House Minority Leader, lost the gubernatorial race to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
It was a loss that still stings for many Democrats. With Brownback's disapproval rating hovering above 50 percent at the time, polls showed Davis ahead throughout most of the race, until the final weeks when Brownback's campaign launched a barrage of negative TV ads against Davis.
Some have also suggested that Brownback was helped by a flood of money from national Republican groups who helped save U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts' struggling re-election campaign that same year.
Davis said he’s had a lot of time to think about what happened in 2014.
“You learn a lot when you run an unsuccessful campaign,” he said. “When you are successful in a campaign, you think you did everything right, and you probably did a number of things wrong. When you are not successful, you tend to take some more time to analyze what all happened.”
“We certainly were swimming upstream in a tough political year across the country, in particular in a red state like Kansas,” he said.
But Democrats also lost five more seats in the Kansas House in 2014, leaving them with only 27. And after losing every statewide and congressional race in each of the last three election cycles, they don't have a deep bench from which to find another viable candidate for governor.
Republicans, however, have a wealth of political talent on their bench. So far, most of the speculation has focused on Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both of whom have been elected to statewide offices twice.
And there continues to be talk about U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the 2nd District congresswoman whom Potter would like to beat this year. But it's considered a long-shot race at best. Meanwhile, Jenkins recently set up her own state-based political action committee to help fellow Republicans win state legislative races.
Davis acknowledged that the Kansas Democratic Party has a lot of work to do if it hopes to rebuild its own strength in the Legislature, which is often the place where candidates for higher office are groomed.
Specifically, he said Democrats have good chances in some southeast Kansas districts, an area of the state where Democrats once were quite strong. And he said southwest Kansas, with its rapidly growing Latino population, could become competitive in the near future.
“You have a number of legislative districts there that are majority-minority districts,” he said, referring to districts where a majority of the voting-age population are non-white, and therefore statistically more likely than not to vote Democratic. “People just need to be engaged by people who are running for office and engaged by political parties.”
A Democratic candidate running for a state Senate seat in Johnson County released a poll this week purporting to show her ahead by three points over the Republican incumbent. But the poll can also be read as suggesting there are a lot of voters in Kansas who simply don't eat, breathe and drink politics the way others do.
Vicki Hiatt is challenging Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, in the 10th District of northeast Johnson County. The poll was conducted by a national Democratic firm, North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, and the top-line numbers show Hiatt ahead, 43-40 percent, with 17 percent not sure.
The survey of 500 voters in the district was conducted Aug. 9-21. The material Hiatt released did not report a margin of error, but a poll of that size would typically be accurate within 4.5 percentage points in either direction, which would make the race a statistical dead heat.
There are several lists floating around in political and media circles that identify Senate districts where Democrats stand a fighting chance of taking seats away from Republicans. Most of those stop short of including the 10th District, which Pilcher-Cook won with 58 percent of the vote in 2012, and 55 percent in 2008.
But a look at some of the other numbers Hiatt released to the media paint an interesting picture of the voters in that district, one that is probably not very different from voters in any other district.
For example, only 30 percent of the people surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Pilcher-Cook while 33 percent have an unfavorable opinion, and 37 percent said they weren't sure.
People can say what they will about Pilcher-Cook, but it's hard to imagine anyone who knows her not having an opinion one way or the other. She is a two-term incumbent and, some would say, quite possibly the most polarizing figure in the Kansas Senate.
One of her most notable acts in the Senate came in 2014 when she used her Public Health and Welfare Committee to conduct live ultrasounds of pregnant women on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. She later lost her chairmanship of that committee amid a political fight this year with Senate President Susan Wagle.
Pilcher-Cook was also the only member of the Kansas Senate to vote no on a school funding bill during the special session in June that ultimately prevented the Kansas Supreme Court from closing public schools this year.
But if people in the 10th District don't know much about Pilcher-Cook, they apparently know even less about Vicki Hiatt: 79 percent of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about Hiatt to form an opinion of her.
Possibly the most interesting number from the poll, though, concerned the last presidential race in 2012. These questions fascinate political scientists who use the term "retrospective voting" because it asks people to think back and recall whom they voted for in some past election.
True to form, 11 percent of the people in this poll said they couldn't remember whom they voted for in the last presidential race; only 49 percent of those surveyed said they voted for Republican Mitt Romney, and 40 percent said they voted for President Barack Obama.
Those numbers are particularly odd because Romney carried the 10th District, 57-41 percent over Obama, so either PPP under-sampled Republican voters (which the firm is not known for doing), or a whole lot of people who claim to remember how they voted really don't remember.
"Another reminder that politics doesn't matter that much to some people, even some who vote," said University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller. "Another thing that you tend to see is that people tend to over-report voting for the winner, even in states that the winner lost."
Looking ahead to this year's presidential race, however, the PPP survey showed there is reason to think Republican candidates could under-perform in the 10th District. It shows Republican Donald Trump ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the district, but only by six points, 45-39 percent.
Looking at past presidential races, any given Democrat can win 40 percent of the vote in the 10th District. That's also generally true of Kansas as a whole. But each of the last two Republican candidates won more than 50 percent in the 10th District: 57 percent for Romney; 53 percent for Sen. John McCain in 2008.
In presidential election years, the top of the ballot is what drives voter turnout. So the fact that Trump is polling at just 45 percent in the district, while Clinton is showing up about as expected, could indicate that GOP voters there aren't terribly excited about this election.
If that trend holds through November, it would not be helpful for other Republican candidates like Pilcher-Cook further down the ballot.
On this day in 1920, women in the United States finally received the right to vote nationwide. That was the day that Tennessee, by a narrow vote of its Legislature, became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment that put universal women's suffrage into the U.S. Constitution.
In Kansas, of course, women had been voting for some time already. But that wasn't the case in most other states, including Illinois, where my grandmother, just 19 years old at the time, witnessed this monumental change political culture first-hand during the fall elections of 1920, the first elections in which women had a constitutional right to vote.
Ellen Gillespie grew up in Cantrall, Ill., a small coal mining town just north of Springfield. It was populated then mainly by the families of Irish and Polish immigrants, many of whom had come to central Illinois by way of Pennsylvania. In the years that followed, she would often tell the story of that election, and how the women of Cantrall reacted.
My mother, Ellen's daughter, recounted that story recently in a family email, mainly for the benefit of Ellen's millennial generation great-grandchildren who are too far removed from that time to fully appreciate its significance. With her permission, I'll let Mom tell it from here:
The first time an election occurred when women could vote, my mother was not yet eligible. But she recalled the whole day vividly.
On this first Election day since the adoption of the 19th Amendment, the women of Cantrall — mostly wives and / or daughters of coal-miners — gathered together at one woman's home and spent the afternoon there, drinking tea and supporting one another. They did this because they did not feel comfortable going to vote individually. They wondered if they might get "hassled" or perhaps might run into some complication they wouldn't understand. So they gathered.
Toward the end of the afternoon they proceeded en masse to the polling place. I am not sure where it was located in Cantrall. The grade school? A church? The town jail? (Never used for jailing anyone, ever — but quite handy for miscellaneous gatherings, even wedding receptions!) They all voted with no problem. And thereby accomplished a shared goal. I have to admit my jaw dropped and I said "Whaaaaaatttt???" when Mom told me this part. Using the force of their numbers these Irish Catholic women were able to accomplish this goal: they elect, for the very first time ever in their town, a Catholic man to be a member of the school board.
There isn't much left of Cantrall anymore. The coal mines shut down decades ago, and only about 140 people live there today. It does still have an elementary and middle school, though, and I would like to think it's no longer considered revolutionary if one or two of the school board members happen to be Catholic.
The story does illustrate, however, just how much has changed in America during the span of just a few generations. Ellen Gillespie was born at the dawn of a new century, and she almost lived long enough to see the dawn of the next one. The cultural, political and technological advances that happened during her lifetime are too numerous to count.
She did live long enough to see a Catholic man elected president, but not long enough to see an African-American man do the same. And it's hard to know how she would have reacted to the news of a woman being a major party nominee for president. I suspect she would have been disappointed that it took so long.
It's also hard to imagine how any of those changes would have been possible if this country had continued to deny more than half of its citizens the right to be full participants in its democracy and its workforce. And that's something worth celebrating on this anniversary of universal women's suffrage in America.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has begun putting a field operation together in Kansas, hiring a full-time state coordinator and opening an office in Wichita to coordinate his Kansas campaign.
"Trump Team Kansas" sent out emails Wednesday providing contact information and soliciting volunteers to help with the campaign.
Kansas GOP executive director Clay Barker confirmed Wednesday that Carly Couture has been hired to lead the Kansas campaign. She is the wife of former state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, who resigned this year to take a job as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
Couture did not return phone calls Wednesday, but Barker said she had been hired within the last week and would be setting up operations at a state party office in Wichita. He also said that, in an unusual move, the Trump campaign itself would be supplying the office with yard signs, bumper stickers and other campaign material to distribute.
"Mitt Romney and John McCain didn't do that," Barker said, referring to the 2012 and 2008 GOP presidential candidates. "That was all decided a while ago."
Wednesday's email in Kansas came out the day after Trump overhauled his national campaign staff by demoting campaign manager Paul Manafort while naming Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway to top positions.
But Barker said the effort to hire a Kansas campaign coordinator had been in the works for weeks before those changes.
Although the Trump campaign has been struggling nationally, especially in the wake of a series of campaign gaffes that led up to the staff shakeup, he is still heavily favored to win Kansas, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
"I haven’t quite figured out his support in Kansas, but at the (party headquarters) office we’re getting far more phone calls than we normally get this early from people wanting yard signs and stuff right now," Barker said. "He has some hard-core supporters."
Kansas Democrats, however, are hopeful that Hillary Clinton will at least do well in the 3rd Congressional District of suburban Kansas City. That's a district heavily populated with the kind of upper-income, college-educated voters that Trump has had a particularly difficult time attracting.
The 3rd District is also the last congressional district in Kansas to have elected a Democrat. That was former U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, who served six terms before stepping down in 2010 for health reasons. He was succeeded by Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, who Democrats believe could be vulnerable, either this year or in 2018.
The Clinton campaign has had a state organization in place since late June. Andrea Johnson, a native Kansan who has worked on several Democratic campaigns around the country, is serving as Clinton's state director in Kansas, working out of the Kansas Democratic Party's headquarters in Topeka.
TOPEKA — Conservative Republicans in Kansas legislative races suffered heavy losses in Tuesday’s primaries, and if the trends continue through November, they may be in danger of losing effective control of the House and Senate.
That was the assessment Wednesday morning when the full picture of Tuesday’s election results came into focus.
All told, conservatives lost between six and eight seats in the Kansas Senate, depending on how one scores a candidate as moderate or conservative, and between 10 and 13 seats in the Kansas House.
Going into the primaries, many Democrats and moderate Republicans hoped this year’s elections would be a referendum on Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative allies in the Legislature who have reshaped state government in Kansas for the last six years.
Few people expected that moderates could win enough votes to take over the caucus and elect their own leadership teams. And almost nobody expected them to win enough seats in the Senate to change the balance of power there.
But moderates hoped to win enough seats in the House that, when combined with expected Democratic gains in November, they could put back together the kind of working majorities they had before Brownback’s election.
What happened Tuesday, however, exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations, and may have put conservatives in danger of losing control of both chambers.
“I always thought the numbers were there but I wasn't expecting this kind of sweep,” University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said. “I think that whatever gains the Democrats make will determine the difference between moderates having a "legislative veto" by voting with the Democrats to stop legislation Brownback supports versus moderates actually being able to elect leadership and control the agenda.”
Currently, Republicans hold 32 of the 40 seats in the Senate. And of the 32 Republicans, roughly 28 or 29 of them would be classified as “conservative,” depending on the issue.
The six to eight losses they suffered to moderates on Tuesday drops that number down to between 21 and 23. That means if Democrats can pick up a handful more in November, the conservative block in the Senate would no longer have its own majority.
“Most Democratic gains would come at the expense of Brownback Republicans, so that would change the math in the Republican caucuses on leadership votes,” Miller said.
Much of the damage occurred in Johnson County where moderate groups motivated primarily around the issue of public school funding backed candidates who took down two conservative senators, Jeff Melcher and Greg Smith, and four conservative House members: Craig McPherson; Brett Hildabrand; Rob Bruchman and Jerry Lunn.
But the anti-conservative wave extended far beyond Johnson County, even as far as southwest Kansas where Sen. Larry Powell was ousted by a moderate, Rep. John Doll, both of Garden City.
Perhaps the biggest upset was in Reno County where Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Nickerson was ousted from his seat by Edwin E. Berger.
Other conservative victims of Tuesday’s primaries included Sens. Tom Arpke of Salina, and Forrest Knox of Altoona.
Moderates also made gains in open Senate seats that are being vacated by conservatives who are retiring. In southeast Kansas, for example, where Senate Vice President Jeff King of Independence stepped down, Dan Goddard, a retired businessman and former Parsons city commissioner, edged out Rep. Virgil Peck of Tyro.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley called Tuesday’s results “a repudiation of Brownback and his policies.
“This was very evident in the defeat of Republican incumbent Senators, including the Senate Majority Leader, who have rubber-stamped his agenda over the past six years,” Hensley said.
For his part, though, Brownback did not view Tuesday’s primary vote as a referendum on him or his administration. Instead, he saw it as part of a larger national trend.
“Kansas is not immune from the wide-spread anti-incumbency sentiment we have seen across the nation this election season,” his spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said. “Governor Brownback looks forward to working with strong Republican majorities in the legislature to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family and grow a business.”
But Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, took a subtle dig at Brownback, suggesting the public was not satisfied with his performance.
“Too many Kansans still feel that the sun is not rising for them and their families, despite what some leaders tell them,” Wagle said, referencing a slogan used frequently in Brownback’s own 2014 re-election campaign.
She also said she is confident that going into the general elections, “Republicans will unite this fall to keep Kansas conservative.”
9 p.m. update - 92 of 97 precincts:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only; 4 of 4 precincts):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 45 percent; Jim Karleskint, 55 percent
44th House District - Democratic primary, 16 of 16 precincts:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 82 percent; Steven X. Davis, 18 percent
45th House District - Republican primary, 31 of 31 precincts:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 70 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 30 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Democratic primary, 39 of 39 precincts:
Bassem Chahine, 54 percent; Jim Weaver, 46 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Republican primary, 39 of 39 precincts:
Michelle Derusseau, 56 percent; Jim Denney, 44 percent
8:15 p.m. update — 23 of 97 precincts:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 47 percent; Jim Karleskint, 53 percent
44th District - Democratic primary:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 82 percent; Steven X. Davis, 18 percent
45th House District - Republican primary:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 67 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 33 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Democratic primary:
Bassem Chahine, 53 percent; Jim Weaver, 47 percent
Douglas County Commission 3rd District - Republican primary:
Michelle Derusseau, 54 percent; Jim Denney, 46 percent
7:45 p.m. update — Advance ballots only:
42nd House District - Republican primary (Douglas County only):
Rep. Connie O'Brien, 58 percent; Jim Karleskint, 42 percent
44th House District - Democratic primary:
Rep. Barbara Ballard, 79 percent; Steven X. Davis, 21 percent
45th House District - Republican primary:
Rep. Tom Sloan, 67 percent; Jeremy Ryan Pierce, 33 percent
Douglas County Commission, 3rd District - Republican primary:
Michelle Derusseau, 55 percent; Jim Denney, 45 percent
7:30 p.m. update:
Polls in Kansas closed at 7 p.m. as the state now waits to see whether there will be a significant shift in power at the Kansas Statehouse.
Much of the attention will be in the Kansas House where there are 39 Republican primaries, most of them pitting incumbent allies of Gov. Sam Brownback against moderate GOP challengers who hope to wrest control of the House away from conservatives.
Among them is the 42nd House District that includes parts of Leavenworth and Douglas Counties, including the city of Eudora, where Jim Karleskint, a former school superintendent, is challenging incumbent Rep. Connie O’Brien of Tonganoxie.
But a few incumbent moderates are also facing challenges this year, including Rep. Tom Sloan of Lawrence, who is being challenged for the second election in a row by conservative challenger Jeremy Ryan Pierce.
Meanwhile, there are 16 GOP primaries in the Kansas Senate, although it’s believed moderates have much less of a chance of winning control of that chamber.
Much of the attention will be focused on races in Johnson County where two conservatives, Sen. Jeff Melcher of Leawood and Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park, face tough challenges.
The election is being conducted under unique circumstances this year after a Shawnee County judge on Friday issued a temporary injunction blocking the state from strictly enforcing its law requiring documentary proof of citizenship in order for voters to register.
The order means that an estimated 17,500 voters statewide — including about 800 in Douglas County — were allowed to cast ballots in all races, not just in federal races as Secretary of State Kris Kobach had initially planned.
Those are voters who registered at motor vehicle offices when renewing their drivers licenses, or by filling out federal mail-in cards before a federal agency agreed in February to change the cards used in Kansas to require citizenship proof.
But those voters are still required to cast provisional ballots, which are set aside on election night and not counted until county Boards of Canvassers meet next week to certify the elections.
That could delay declaring a winner in very close races where those provisional ballots could determine the winner.
Original post, 1:36 p.m.
There were a few hiccups Tuesday morning when polls opened for state legislative and county primaries, but Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said they had little significance.
The problem was with scanning machines that read the bar codes on the backs of driver's licenses. Those scanners, which recognize the person's name and address, connect to electronic poll books that verify that the person is a registered voter and is voting at the correct polling place.
"It took more than several minutes to manually enter the information to get a signature page to pop up for me to sign and the attendant to initial it," one voter wrote to the Journal-World early Tuesday morning. "This made me a little uncomfortable as it looked like I was trying to use a fake ID! My driver’s license is valid until July 2018, I have been a Kansas resident all my life, have a valid voter registration card, and vote in every election."
Shew confirmed that some scanners were having difficulty reading the bar codes on some licenses but that it should not interfere with anyone's ability to cast a ballot. He said the manual process serves as a backup to the electronic scanners, and going through that process does not mean voters have to cast a provisional ballot.
"We have also found if the birth date on the DL does not match the birth date on the voter registration it will not scan, so we do manual searches," he said. "Scanning the DL is not necessary, just a convenience to move the voter through the process faster."
The Kansas Chamber on Monday issued the closest thing it could to an endorsement of 1st District Congressman Tim Huelskamp.
"While the Kansas Chamber PAC does not endorse or contribute to candidates for federal office, we can certainly thank them for standing up for the Kansas business community and Kansas taxpayers," Chamber CEO Bill Pickert said in a statement released Friday.
Huelskamp, a three-term Republican from Fowler, is locked in a tight re-election bid against GOP primary challenger Roger Marshall, a Great Bend physician. Like Huelskamp, Marshall describes himself as a conservative who opposes abortion and many of the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama.
But Huelskamp has angered many of the traditional farm interest groups in western Kansas, first for being removed from the House Agriculture Committee amid a political dispute with then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and then for voting against the Farm Bill.
As a result, Marshall has garnered endorsements from leading agricultural interest groups, including the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Livestock Association and others.
The Kansas Chamber is a state-level political action committee but is not registered with the Federal Election Committee to make contributions in federal races. Nevertheless, it issued what might be called a glowing "statement of support" saying "Thank you Tim Huelskamp for being a stalwart example of a legislator who does not cave, but stands firm against an ever-expanding government, refusing to support special-interest gold-mines that hurt working Americans."
That statement, however, put the Kansas Chamber squarely at odds with the U.S. Chamber, which has been sponsoring independent TV ads in the 1st District criticizing Huelskamp and supporting Marshall.
A poll released July 24 by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University showed Huelskamp and Marshall locked in a statistical dead heat, with 15 percent of the voters surveyed still undecided about the race.
TOPEKA — The 42nd House District, which includes part of eastern Douglas County, may be as good a place as any to watch for signs that a more moderate, pro-public education wing of the Kansas Republican Party will make a resurgence this year.
That’s where Rep. Connie O’Brien, of Tonganoxie, who has been a loyal, conservative ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, is facing a stiff challenge from Jim Karleskint, a former school superintendent.
Karleskint is one of about 50 or so current or former public school teachers, administrators and school board members who are running this year against conservatives who are seen as part of Brownback’s governing coalition.
O’Brien’s campaign finance report wasn’t yet posted on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission website when the Journal-World first reported on those numbers Monday. But it became available early Tuesday, and the report shows Karleskint has raised more ($6,475 to $4,970) and spent more ($4,421 to $2,818) than O’Brien so far in the primary campaign.
Of course, campaign finance numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, many veteran politicians will tell you that the average Kansas House district is small enough that most elections are won and lost on voters’ front doorsteps.
Also important is voter turnout and which side can actually motivate its supporters to show up and vote on Election Day. In recent election cycles, conservative Republicans have been much more effective than moderates at doing that.
But finance reports do give some indication about how broad of a support network a candidate is able to build.
Karleskint’s report, for example, shows a large chunk of his support coming from fellow-educators and the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
O’Brien’s report, by contrast, shows she received about 60 percent of her contributions from a standard list of regular Statehouse lobby groups such as the Kansas Livestock Association, Kansas Realtors Association and the Kansas Chamber.
The 42nd District is a good place to take the temperature of the Brownback coalition because he carried that district by five percentage points over Democrat Paul Davis in 2014, and Mitt Romney took 60 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential race..
Although it reaches into the city of Leavenworth, it’s a mostly rural district that leans conservative. Republicans account for 40 percent of registered voters there, followed by unaffiliated voters at 34 percent, and Democrats at just 24 percent.
Whoever wins the GOP primary will go on to face Democrat Kara Reed, a Tonganoxie city councilwoman.
Recent public opinion polls show Brownback’s approval ratings have plummeted on a statewide level. But a loss for a Brownback ally in the 42nd District could indicate that both he and the governing coalition he has built in the Legislature are in trouble.
Conversely, if O’Brien survives the challenge, that would be another bad omen for moderate Republicans whom Brownback all but purged out of the Kansas Senate in 2012.
There are several other races around the state where pro-public education groups are trying to unseat incumbent conservatives. Among those are two Senate districts in Johnson County: the 11th District, where John Skubal, an Overland Park city councilman, is trying to unseat Sen. Jeff Melcher; and the 21st District, where Dinah Sykes is trying to unseat Sen. Greg Smith.
But a few moderate Republicans in the Legislature are facing some stiff challenges of their own, including Sen. Carolyn McGinn, of Wichita, who is being challenged from the right by Renee Erickson, and Sen. Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka, who faces a tough challenge again this year from former Rep. Joe Patton, whom Schmidt barely defeated in a 2012 primary.
Although the general elections are still more than three months away, some Kansas lawmakers are already lining up to run for leadership positions next session.
The latest was Rep. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, who confirmed Wednesday that he plans to run for speaker of the House in the 2017 session, hoping to succeed current Speaker Ray Merrick, of Stilwell, who is retiring from the Legislature this year.
Leadership elections are typically held in late November or December following the general elections.
Vickrey is currently the House majority leader, which is considered the second most powerful position in the House. He was first elected to the House in 1992 in a stunning upset race when he unseated then-House Speaker Marvin Barkus, the last Democrat to serve in that position.
Talking with reporters Wednesday following a State Finance Council meeting, Vickrey was at first coy on the subject and said he isn't actively campaigning for the job just yet.
"I've told my caucus, now is not the time to be running for leadership because we have members that need to be elected," he said.
But when pressed about it, he relented.
"I do plan to be running for leadership," he said.
"Running for speakership, or just leadership?" one reporter asked. "Leadership is broader than just the speakership."
"Yes," Vickrey said.
"Yes what?" another reporter asked.
"I will be running for speaker," Vickrey said. "But, now is not ... I'm not announcing anything because we have work to do."
Traditionally, Kansas House speakers serve no more than two terms (four years) in that position, then retire from the House. A few, including Democrat John Carlin (1977-78) and Republican Mike Hayden (1983-86), have gone on to become governor.
It's not known who else might run for speaker. Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, the current House speaker pro tem, would be an obvious candidate, but she chose not to run for re-election this year.
Much of it will likely depend on the outcome of the Aug. 2 primaries and to some extent on the Nov. 8 general elections. That will determine, among other things, how strong the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus will be in the 2017 session.
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, has said he will likely challenge Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, for the job of Senate president, according to a July 9 story by the Wichita Eagle.
TOPEKA — Republicans meeting at their national convention in Cleveland this week adopted what some are calling the most conservative platform in Republican Party history.
In fact, one of the people calling it that is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who played a significant role in drafting many of its statements.
"Yes, I absolutely believe that to be the case," Kobach said in a telephone interview from the convention Monday.
Kobach was chosen by Kansas Republicans to be one of the state's 40 delegates to the convention, and one of nine who are pledged to support presumptive nominee Donald Trump for president. And last week, before the full convention began, he spoke to the party's Platform Committee urging adoption of statements on issues ranging from immigration and gun rights to abortion and same-sex marriage.
That platform endorses Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border; opposes any effort to restrict ownership of any type of guns or ammunition; opposes the use of federal money to fund Planned Parenthood or similar organizations; and expressly condemns the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
"I was involved in drafting language that criticizes the Obergefell decision (legalizing same-sex marriage) and the flimsy reasoning of the Obergefell decision," Kobach said.
According to recent polling data, many of those positions put the party directly at odds with rapidly changing public opinion, particularly on the issue of marriage equality. But Kobach made no apologies about that.
"I would compare it to the life issue, the abortion issue," Kobach said. "The Republican Party, after Roe vs. Wade (in 1973) took a stand and said we think the decision is wrong, and we think that the Supreme Court made a mistake, and we think the laws on this subject are still open to debate. And the party began persuading the public ... and public opinion has shifted. Now, for the first time, since Roe v. Wade, you have the majority of Americans stating that they are pro-life."
But recent polling data on abortion is far from conclusive. A CNN/ORC International poll conducted in March showed 78 percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal at least some of the time. And in a separate poll by Suffolk University and USA Today in December, a sizeable majority, 58 percent, said they opposed defunding Planned Parenthood.
On the issue of marriage equality, a CBS News poll last month found 57 percent of those surveyed saying it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry, although a majority of Republicans in the survey disagreed.
Most recently, a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month showed 57 percent of voters overall oppose building a wall along the Mexican border, although 73 percent of Trump voters support the idea.
The GOP platform, and Kobach's involvement in drafting it, has prompted a predictable level of outrage on the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the platform Monday under the headline, "Kansas Zealot Helps Shape the G.O.P.’s Right-Wing Platform."
It's the kind of criticism Kobach says he's grown accustomed to, and which bothers him not at all.
"Generally, if the New York Times editorial page disagrees with what I'm doing, then I think I'm probably doing the right thing," he said.
TOPEKA — A political ad airing on TV stations in Topeka and other parts of Kansas raises an interesting question: Why do the owners of the Chicago Cubs and World Wrestling Entertainment care about who represents western Kansas in Congress?
You wouldn't immediately know that just from watching the ad, which criticizes U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp for getting thrown off the Agriculture Committee and endorses his Republican primary opponent, Great Bend physician Roger Marshall.
It's only when you get to the end of the ad when, if you listen closely, you hear that something called the ESA Fund is responsible for the ad's content.
The ESA Fund, formerly known as the Ending Spending Action Fund, describes itself as "an independent organization that proudly supports candidates regardless of party affiliation who favor enhancing free enterprise, reducing the size of government, and balancing our nation's budget. We are also proud to strongly oppose those who do not."
That's as much information as you'll find on the group's website, and it's an example of how difficult it can be for the average voter in the post-Citizens United election environment to really know who is behind the campaign messages they hear, and why.
According to the website OpenSecrets.org, the ESA Fund is a conservative super PAC made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.
Specifically, Marlene Ricketts is listed as contributing $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. She is the wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts. In 2009, their son Tom Ricketts led a bid by the family to purchase the Cubs for an estimated $875 million.
Joseph and Marlene Ricketts, who live in Omaha, are also the parents of J. Peter "Pete" Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska.
Another contributor to the ESA Fund is Linda McMahon of Greenwich, Conn., who, along with her husband Vince McMahon, founded a small regional pro wrestling promotion company in 1980 and built it into the WWE, which is now a multibillion dollar entertainment behemoth. She served as CEO of the enterprise until stepping down in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. She was the Republican nominee in 2010 and 2012, losing both times to Democratic candidates.
The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion. Singer is also a major contributor to the American Unity PAC, which supports pro-gay rights candidates.
So far this election cycle, the ESA Fund has spent about $2.6 million in various campaigns, much of it for Republican candidates and against Democratic candidates.
But nearly half of that money, $1.1 million, has been spent opposing U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire. And a small amount, $319,748, has been spent opposing Huelskamp, with $64,717 going to support Marshall, his opponent.
At this point, it's difficult to see why the 1st District race in Kansas would have any particular importance to billionaire investors in Omaha, Chicago, New York or Florida, or why, out of the hundreds of races happening this year for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor's offices, they chose to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in western Kansas.
Perhaps we'll have to wait until after the election to find out.
Kansans are sharply polarized over this year's presidential election, but Republican Donald Trump still leads Democrat Hillary Clinton by a substantial margin, according to a new poll out this week.
Still, there are signs that his numbers may be soft in Kansas, although Clinton's numbers show her doing no better than Democrats have done here over the last four presidential cycles.
The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of KSN News in Wichita, shows Trump leading Clinton 47-36 percent, with 8 percent supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 9 percent still undecided.
Since the 2000 election, Republican presidential candidates have averaged 59 percent of the vote in Kansas while Democrats have averaged 38.3 percent.
The SurveyUSA of 675 registered voters was conducted July 8-11 and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
The results were in sharp contrast to a John Zogby poll released last month that showed Clinton ahead, 43-36 percent.
"It (SurveyUSA) has more face validity than the Zogby poll, but whether that's a function of methodology or real world political change in the last month, we can't really know," Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller said. "But Trump is up in a state that's usually safe for Republicans at the presidential level — no surprise. I think Trump is on course to win Kansas, even if he may win it by a lower margin than the typical Republican."
Among Trump supporters in the new poll, though, more than half (55 percent) said they are backing him because they oppose Clinton, and a similar number (54 percent) say they have some reservation about supporting him. Only 42 percent of Trump supporters said they are doing so because they are for Trump.
Clinton's supporters, on the other hand, were a little more firm in their convictions: 60 percent of her supporters say theirs is a vote for Clinton, while only 39 percent say it's a vote against Trump.
Overall, among "likely" voters in the survey, neither major candidate is very popular in Kansas: 41 percent said they view Trump favorably; and only 32 percent said they have a favorable view of Clinton.
But the split between parties showed a striking polarization among Kansas voters: 77 percent of Republican voters said they have an "extremely unfavorable" view of Clinton, and 77 percent of Democratic voters said they have an "extremely unfavorable" view of Trump.
Brownback and local Republicans
How bad are Gov. Sam Brownback's polling numbers? Here's one way to put it in perspective. Richard Nixon resigned from office with a higher approval rating (24%) than Gov. Brownback has in Kansas today (22%).
Granted, the science of public opinion polling has changed a lot in 42 years. And even if we assume both polls are accurate, the spread between Nixon and Brownback is well within both polls' margins of error.
Still, that could have a big impact on upcoming state legislative races. Because even though Brownback's name is not on the ballot, many observers say the legislative races are very much a referendum on his policies and on the incumbent Republican lawmakers who have supported them.
According to the poll, 72 percent of "likely" voters have an unfavorable view of Brownback, including 50 percent who said it's "extremely unfavorable." Even among Republican voters, 57 percent said they have an unfavorable view of him.
"Brownback is not on the ballot in name," Miller said, "but just like a presidential midterm is often about how voters perceive the president, this 2016 legislative midterm could very well be about how Kansas voters perceive the governor independent of anything going on at the national level."
That could be a particular problem in the Kansas City area, where a large number of conservatives who have been in Brownback's camp are facing primary challenges from more moderate Republicans. According to SurveyUSA, that's also the one area of the state where Clinton is leading Trump, by 5 percentage points.
"This is a potential danger to Republicans in state legislative races if Democrats can effectively make specific races about him," Miller said. "I think we're seeing Republicans aware of this danger. Few are embracing him in their campaign messages, and we see a lot of incumbent Republicans cherry picking particular votes to make it look like there is some distance between themselves and Brownback."
TOPEKA – Suffice it to say there were people in Topeka who were fairly unamused Wednesday after reading the comments that one Lawrence city commissioner made the night before regarding the Topeka arts scene.
Expressing his displeasure with City Manager Tom Markus' budget recommendations, including cuts to the Lawrence Arts Center and the lack of funding for the proposed East Ninth Street project, Commissioner Matthew Herbert made some comparisons between the Lawrence and Topeka arts communities that were not intended to flatter Topeka.
The Journal-World's Nikki Wentling quoted Herbert as saying: “Congratulations, we just became Topeka, Kansas. I live in Lawrence because it's not Topeka, Kansas. I don't want my legacy to be that I helped to make Lawrence Topeka.”
“Grrr,” was the Facebook comment from one of my neighbors down the street here, a neighbor whose wife works at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library.
People here consider that library, and the Sabatini Gallery inside, one of the crown jewels of the capital city and a testament to this city's support for arts and culture. It was financed with a $23 million bond issue that voters in Topeka overwhelmingly approved 20 years ago next month.
But Hi Stockwell, a Topeka-based studio artist, formerly of Lawrence, who owns a gallery in the new and thriving NOTO arts district in North Topeka, had more to say on the subject.
“Comments such as this are insults to both cities,” he said. “It's a bullying process that says little about the issues and a great deal about the person who makes them.”
The NOTO arts district, for those who haven't seen it, is held out here as another example of the vibrancy of the Topeka arts community. It's a place where local artists and investors, largely on their own initiative and without city subsidies, took over vacant buildings in a decaying part of the city that was close to becoming a post-industrial ghost town, and turned it into an arts mecca, full of galleries and trendy restaurants that now draw visitors and shoppers by the thousands.
NOTO, however, is just one example of what some people here would call a cultural revival taking place in Topeka.
Over at Topeka City Hall – a building that includes the refurbished, Art Deco-style Topeka Performing Arts Center – officials were laughing off Herbert's comments.
City spokeswoman Aly Van Dyke called attention to the newly redesigned Kansas Avenue, the city's main downtown strip, a project that is just now wrapping up after two years and more than $6 million of public investment in the streetscape alone.
The area now features broad sidewalks and “pocket parks” that invite musicians and public activities, not to mention statues and other public art celebrating the history and culture of Topeka and the state of Kansas.
The public art, though, was not funded by the city. It all came from private donations, Van Dyke said. In the planning stages of the project, the city set a goal of getting $1.8 million in private funds. It ended up getting $3.8 million.
And that's one of the key differences between the Lawrence and Topeka arts communities. It's true that Topeka does not have the kind of publicly funded arts center that Lawrence has, and it does not invest large amounts of public money in public art the way many in Lawrence would like to see their city do.
Instead, Topeka has had to rely more heavily on drawing significant investment from private sources within the community.
“I consider myself from Lawrence and strongly support the arts, visual and performing, there,” Stockwell said. “Having lived in Topeka the last 15 years, I've found differences, however the struggles remain the same. Those struggles primarily consist of convincing the community of the value of the arts, not only to increase the value of life, but also to the local economy.”
Herbert posted an apology for his comment on Facebook Wednesday evening, in which he said that he was referring to “the legislature which convenes in Topeka,” not “the private citizens and artists of Topeka.”
“In expressing my desire to see Lawrence stick to their culturally vibrant roots I didn’t need to degrade anyone else’s city,” Herbert wrote. “That was a very poor choice and for that I am truly sorry.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began airing TV ads nationwide Monday targeting vulnerable Republicans who have endorsed GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, and among the media markets being targeted is the Kansas City-centered 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, where U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder is running for re-election.
Neither of the two ads mentions any member of Congress by name, but DCCC officials say they are being strategically placed in markets where GOP incumbents have allied themselves with Trump.
"House Republicans, like Kevin Yoder, have allowed a man who freely attacks people and intentionally divides our nation to be their standard-bearer without lifting a finger to stop him,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement last week.
Democrats say they have internal polling that shows Yoder is vulnerable this year. But the ad campaign is also based on a widely held belief — albeit one that Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com disputes — that Trump is most unpopular among upper-income, college educated suburban voters, who make up the bulk of the Johnson County electorate.
Both ads play into that belief. One ad features a series of casually dressed voters, including a middle-age man standing by his suburban-looking home, who asks, "If he's our standard bearer, what the heck happened to our standards?"
The other ad asks viewers how they would feel to learn that their child was a school bully or even the school bully's sidekick. The footage alternates between cleanly dressed white male students harassing another student in school and Trump gesticulating wildly during speeches.
"Johnson County has a lot of just the kind of voter with whom Trump is polling worse than typical Republican nominees usually do: higher income, higher education, suburban, leaning conservative, and female," said Kansas University political science professor Patrick Miller. "So Democrats probably see some rationale in hitting Yoder now, then repolling the race soon to reassess it for future investment."
There are three Democrats vying to challenge Yoder in the general election, but the DCCC is backing Jay Sidie, a former commodities trader for Archer Daniel Midland who now runs an investment firm in Mission Woods.
The other candidates in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary are Reggie Marselus of Lenexa and Nathaniel W. McLaughlin of Kansas City.
DCCC officials said the ads that started Monday will run through the GOP national convention next week.
The political arm of Kansas Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization, is endorsing Great Bend physician Roger Marshall over incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp in the "Big First" congressional district in western Kansas.
The announcement Friday deals a major blow to Huelskamp, a three-term incumbent. KFB is a major presence in rural communities throughout Kansas, and its political action committee, VOTE KFB, wields considerable influence among rural Kansas voters.
In recent years, Huelskamp, a Tea Party favorite, has often been at odds with GOP leaders in the U.S. House, so much so that he was removed from the House Agriculture Committee in 2012. That riled KFB members because it marked the first time in modern memory that no Kansas representative served on that committee. During the 2014 elections, VOTE KFB made no endorsement in the 1st District.
“The county Farm Bureau evaluation committees made thoughtful recommendations in each district," KFB's political action committee said in a statement. "A clear message of strong support was delivered to the VOTE FBF board, and these endorsements are a result of that effort. We are proud of our grass roots process, and look forward to working with all of these individuals in the next Congress.”
The primary campaign in the 1st District heated up early when Marshall got into the race in April. In press releases and social media posts, Huelskamp has attacked Marshall, an obstetrician-gynecologist, for being tied to a medical practice that supports abortion.
Marshall, however, describes himself as "staunchly pro-life" and says he "oppose any efforts to ever use taxpayer funding for abortions."
VOTE KFB endorsed two other incumbent members of congress: Reps. Lynn Jenkins in the 2nd District, which includes Lawrence; and Mike Pompeo in the Wichita-centered 4th District. Earlier this year the group announced its endorsement of 3rd District Rep. Kevin Yoder and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran.
House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs replaced his top aide over the weekend, just two weeks before advance voting begins in the 2016 primary elections.
Burroughs, D-Kansas City, confirmed Tuesday that Abbie Hodgson, who has been his chief of staff since he was elected minority leader after the 2014 elections, has left that position. He said Cory Sheedy, another aide in the office, will serve as interim chief of staff through this year's elections.
Hodgson, of Lawrence, has been active in Democratic politics for several years. She held several positions in the administrations of Govs. Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson. In 2014 she ran unsuccessfully for the House seat being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis, but lost the Democratic primary to Boog Highberger.
In a telephone interview, Hodgson confirmed that she no longer works in Burroughs' office but declined to discuss details about what led to her departure.
Typically, the chief of staff in any legislative leadership offices plays both an administrative role and a political role, especially during election years when leaders are expected to recruit and train candidates and raise money on their behalf through the caucus' campaign fund, Kansans for a Democratic House.
Democrats believe they stand a good chance of making gains this year, given Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's low approval ratings and the fact that Donald Trump, who also has high negative ratings, will be at the top of the GOP ticket in November. Democrats currently hold only 28 seats in the 125-member House.
But there have been rumblings within Democratic ranks that Burroughs' office has not been doing enough to support the party's candidates, particularly in areas outside northeast Kansas and the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka area. There were similar complaints following the 2014 elections after former Rep. Paul Davis lost the governor's race and Democrats lost five seats in the House.
Burroughs denied that there were any such concerns this year, saying that Hodgson was "just moving on" in her career.
"We are taking a new direction in our candidate races," he said. "We’ve got a ground game that we’ll be implementing before long that I believe will be a benefit in the election."
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said that's a perennial concern in the party, especially as its numbers have dwindled, because in a heavily Republican state Democrats have to choose between focusing on the few districts where they have a clear shot of winning or trying to grow the party in areas where Republicans might be vulnerable.
He also noted that more Democratic groups are out raising money this year, including one focused on retaining Supreme Court justices who are being targeted by Republicans because of their rulings on school finance and death penalty cases.
"There's a lot of money being raised, but it's being divided among more pots," he said.
An email sent out Thursday from the Kansas Democratic Party is sparking more speculation about the political future of retired U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom.
The announcement was about an upcoming gala in Overland Park at which Grissom will receive a service award from the party, where former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis will also be special guests.
"Barry Grissom is retiring from his post as Kansas U.S. Attorney, noting that he has higher political aspirations in the future (though not this cycle)," the email stated.
Grissom, 62, was the Obama administration's top federal prosecutor in Kansas from 2010 until April, when he retired and took a private-sector job with the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City.
Polsinelli is an 800-plus attorney firm with 19 offices around the country, including Kansas City, Mo., and Overland Park. It also has a major presence at the Kansas Statehouse with lobbyists representing health insurance companies, the Kansas University Hospital Authority, the Kansas Speedway Corp. and a variety of other interests.
The fact that he's announcing his political ambitions, but not for the current cycle, likely indicates that he's planning to spend two years building an organization and lining up contributors, which is about how long it takes now to mount a solid run for a congressional or statewide office.
Republicans say they've been keeping an eye on him as well, noting that his six years as a federal prosecutor make him a credible figure. And the fact that he's relatively new to state politics — not connected to the Kathleen Sebelius-John Carlin old guard — would help put a fresh face on a party that desperately needs to reverse its fortunes.
Democrats in Kansas haven't won a single statewide or congressional race since 2008, the last year Dennis Moore was elected to the 3rd District in Congress.
One high-ranking Republican said the immediate speculation has been on the 2018 governor's race, which will be an open race, or possibly the 3rd District congressional seat, where national Democrats think incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder may be vulnerable.
But Grissom's credentials from the U.S. attorney's office also make him an obvious contender for attorney general, and there continues to be much speculation that incumbent Republican Derek Schmidt, along with Secretary of State Kris Kobach, have their eyes on the governor's office.
The most likely scenario right now, Republicans think, is that Grissom is waiting to see how all of the 2018 races develop over the next several months before deciding which one offers the best opportunity for Democrats.
The event is Saturday, July 16, at the Overland Park Convention Center. Ticket prices range from $50 for Young Democrats who may be seated in the back, to $5,000 for those who want to sit at the front table.
Also being honored at the "First Annual Awards Gala" will be Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, of Kansas City.
The state's largest teachers union issued its list of primary election endorsements Tuesday, backing 108 House candidates and 40 Senate candidates.
Included in the list are all six Douglas County legislators: Democratic Reps. John Wilson, Boog Highberger and Barbara Ballard; Republican Rep. Tom Sloan; and Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco and Tom Holland.
KNEA said its screening process includes interviews with a team of educators who live in each candidate's district, "to determine which candidates show the greatest support for Kansas public schools."
Incumbent lawmakers are also judged according to their voting record on education issues, KNEA said. The list includes 97 Democrats and 51 Republicans.
KNEA also endorsed Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, whose district includes rural western Douglas County.
But in the 42nd House District, which includes Eudora and parts of eastern Douglas County, KNEA endorsed Jim Karleskint over incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien in the GOP primary, and it backed Democrat Kara Reed, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
O'Brien currently serves on the House Education Budget Committee. All three of the candidates are from Tonganoxie.
Primary elections will be Aug. 2. Voters can begin casting advance ballots starting July 18.
The Kansas Chamber's Political Action Committee released its list of endorsements, all Republicans, for the upcoming Aug. 2 primary in 26 Senate races and 58 House races.
The overwhelming majority of primary races involve contests between Republicans. But included in the list are districts in which there will be no primary, and the only candidates on the ballot are a single Democrat and a single Republican.
Among those are the three Senate districts that cover parts of Douglas County. The Chamber PAC endorsed Republican Meredith Richey of Perry over incumbent Democrat Marci Francisco of Lawrence in the 2nd District; Republican Echo Van Meteren of Linwood over incumbent Democrat Tom Holland in the 3rd District; and Republican Zack Haney of Topeka over incumbent Democrat Anthony Hensley, also of Topeka, in the 19th District, which includes part of rural western Douglas County.
It also endorsed a number of conservative Republicans who are trying to unseat incumbent moderates, including Joe Patton, who is trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Vicki Schmidt in the 20th Senate District in west Topeka.
"The Chamber PAC is committed to supporting hardworking candidates who will fight to make Kansas the best state in the nation in which to live and do business," said Chamber PAC Chairman Amanda Adkins.
But Sen. Holland took a different view.
"I find it rather ironic that the chamber once again is endorsing candidates this cycle who are directly responsible for supporting Gov. (Sam) Brownback’s devastating tax policies that have led the state to the brink of financial ruin," Holland said.
The Chamber PAC made only one endorsement in a Douglas County House district, the 42nd District that covers much of eastern part of the county, including Eudora. There, the chamber endorsed incumbent Rep. Connie O'Brien of Tonganoxie over her GOP rival, Jim Karleskint, also of Tonganoxie.
It made no endorsement in the GOP primary in the 45th District in Lawrence where incumbent Rep. Tom Sloan is being challenged by Jeremy Ryan Pierce.
And it made no endorsements in any Democratic primaries, including the one in the 44th District of Lawrence between incumbent Rep. Barbara Ballard and challenger Steven X. Davis.
TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse at 8 a.m. Thursday for the start of a special legislative session, the 23rd such session in state history and the second one in 11 years focusing on school funding and the Kansas Constitution.
At stake is one simple question: Will public schools be allowed to open and operate as usual this fall, or will the Kansas Supreme Court effectively close public schools unless or until the Legislature comes up with a constitutional way of funding them?
Passions are running high as the court’s June 30 deadline draws closer. But the issues that got the Legislature to this point, and the policy options confronting them are sometimes so complex, it often seems as though lawmakers — not to mention the journalists covering them — are speaking in an entirely different dialect.
But when the techno-jargon is peeled away, what remains is a situation that ought to be of deep concern for every Kansas taxpayer, parent, educator or patron of a school district.
Here, then, is your spectator’s guide to what’s going on in the special session.
First, the issue
Contrary to what many might assume, this is not about whether schools are getting enough money. That will come later. The immediate issue here is property tax fairness: Whether one homeowner or business should pay substantially higher, or lower, property taxes than someone else simply by virtue of their ZIP codes.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court said the current funding formula creates disparities that are so wide that they make the entire funding formula unconstitutional.
This has to do with local option budgets, or LOBs, the additional money school districts can raise on their own in order to supplement the base funding they receive from the state. In Lawrence, the LOB equals roughly 33 percent of base state aid, the maximum amount allowed by law.
People often point to extreme examples to illustrate this point. In the Galena school district in southeast Kansas, one of the poorest districts in the state, 1 mill of property tax raises about $17,000. But in Olathe, one of the wealthier districts, that same mill of tax raises about $1.8 million.
Therefore, in order to have the money needed to pay for one additional teacher — let’s say $60,000 for salary plus benefits — folks in Galena have to pay 3.5 mills, or $40.25 in tax on a $100,000 house (and there aren’t many $100,000 houses in Galena), while a similar person in Olathe would pay only 0.03 mills, or 34.5 cents. To even out those kinds of disparities, the state uses a pot of money officially called “supplemental general state aid,” but which most people call “equalization aid.”
For the upcoming school year, the Legislature has budgeted roughly $450 million in equalization aid. It gets divvied up based on a formula that almost nobody fully understands and which has changed a couple of times in the two years as lawmakers have tried to respond to various court decisions.
What the court said on May 27 was that the formula being used for this upcoming year still leaves disparities that are too wide. Not only does it result in tax disparities, it said, but those tax disparities result in educational disparities for students.
The court has given the Legislature until June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year, to fix the problem.
Options for the Legislature
One option that seems to have traction, at least among some lawmakers, and one that the court has suggested, is to reinstate and fully fund the old formula that had previously been held constitutional, but which lawmakers repealed in 2015.
In essence, that would mean reallocating all the money in that $450 million pot of equalization aid, plus about $38 million more, so that some districts would get more and some would get less.
But one political problem with that: Johnson County is home to many of the schools that would get less, because they primarily benefited from the formula change made a couple of years ago. The three largest districts there — Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission — collectively would lose nearly $5 million.
Johnson County is home to roughly 20 percent of the state’s population and therefore has roughly 20 percent of all the legislators. That makes it hard to pass anything out of the Legislature without support from Johnson County.
In addition, all of those lawmakers are up for re-election this year. And they don't want to go home after the special session to explain to their constituents why their schools just lost $5 million.
Another option, which many in Johnson County are pushing, would be to include a “hold harmless” provision to make sure no district ends up losing money in the reallocation.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, that would cost roughly another $11 million, bringing the total price tag close to $50 million.
But there’s another problem. When lawmakers changed the formula, they included a kind of hold-harmless provision, and the Supreme Court said that made the inequities even worse. So there’s no guarantee the court would look favorably on it again.
In addition to the two groups just described, there is another group of lawmakers, including a few from Johnson County, who think the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds by striking down the formula and by threatening to close schools if the Legislature doesn’t do what the court wants.
Some of them are dead-set against doing anything and have openly suggested that the Legislature call the court’s bluff.
Others aren’t too sure that’s a good idea. They would rather pass a constitutional amendment limiting the court’s power to order certain remedies in school finance cases, and they may make passage of such an amendment a condition for their voting yes on any formula change.
Constitutional amendments require passage by two-thirds of the members of both chambers, which is a steep hill to climb in the sharply divided Legislature. After that, it would have to be approved by a simple majority of voters in a statewide election, most likely the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.
Options for the court
If lawmakers choose to do nothing, or if what they do in the next week fails, in the court's opinion, to cure the tax inequities, the court has at least a couple of options at its disposal.
The one that most people fear is that it could issue an order blocking the expenditure of any funds under an unconstitutional formula, effectively shutting down the Kansas public school system on July 1.
In its May 27 opinion, the court said, “without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate.”
But it also suggested another option. In the concluding paragraph, the court said it was continuing to stay the “broad remedial orders” of the three-judge trial court panel.
That would involve striking out all of the changes to the formula lawmakers have made in the last two years, effectively putting the old formula back in place, and then ordering the state treasurer and other officials to disburse those funds accordingly, a move that many lawmakers might take as an even more egregious usurping of legislative authority.