Douglas County Commission candidate profile: Dustin Stumblingbear

Dustin Stumblingbear

For Douglas County Commission candidate Dustin Stumblingbear, a keen interest in local government has led to a natural outcome: running for public office.

Stumblingbear, 43, is an Iraq war veteran and serves on the board of Independence Inc. After moving back and forth between Lawrence and Minnesota during his youth, Stumblingbear — a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma — returned to Lawrence in 2009 for stints attending Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas. He stayed in the area after meeting his wife, Rachel, while enrolled at KU.

Stumblingbear, who described himself as a “house husband,” takes care of his and his wife’s home while she works for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health. It’s a dynamic he calls a “privilege.”

“I like being able to take care of my house,” Stumblingbear said. “At the same time, I recognize that this is a privilege that I have as a veteran with disabilities and my wife can work — and being able to weather the pandemic as well as we did because she worked at the health department so her job was more secure.”

This isn’t Stumblingbear’s first time running for elected office; he previously filed for a seat on the Lawrence City Commission in 2017 and again in 2019.

Stumblingbear said his desire to have a seat at the government table was the main reason he decided to challenge incumbent County Commissioner Patrick Kelly in a Democratic primary.

“Local governance interests me,” Stumblingbear told the Journal-World. “Whether it’s the school board, the City Commission or the County Commission, it’s awe-inspiring to see the work that goes on around us every single day that absolutely impacts our lives.”


Part of that desire stems from Stumblingbear’s background as a renter, which he said offers a different perspective on the topic of affordable housing.

“As a renter, who is more than half of the population of Lawrence, there should be a say, especially when we’re talking about affordable housing,” Stumblingbear said.

It’s another opportunity to have diverse voices in the conversation that go beyond issues of race and tribal affiliation, he said.

Stumblingbear said he’d also plan to focus on behavioral health if elected. He voted “yes” for the 2018 ballot measure that would have authorized a countywide half-cent sales tax increase to fund a $44 million expansion of the county jail, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5.1 million in additional behavioral health services. That measure failed, and a quarter-cent sales tax passed overwhelmingly later the same year with just the behavioral health campus and other services included.

“It was somewhat controversial voting ‘yes’ for the jail expansion and the mental health center, but I felt both could be addressed intelligently with that funding, even though I know many people in town disagreed with that position,” Stumblingbear said.

Part of that behavioral health focus, he said, should go hand in hand with criminal justice reform, mainly through working with inmates to help them sustain themselves in the community and not fall into the revolving door of recidivism. County programs related to behavioral health and criminal justice reform are doing well, Stumblingbear said, and they should be expanded.

Potential solar development has been a frequent topic since the County Commission approved regulations for solar farms in the county earlier this year, and Stumblingbear said large-scale development on that front could do a lot of good amid the climate crisis.

Stumblingbear mentioned one particular firm that has expressed interest in developing a large-scale solar farm partially located in the county, Florida-based energy firm NextEra, and noted that Douglas County’s new regulations would limit just how massive such a development could become.

Stumblingbear said there was robust discussion about the county’s newly adopted solar regulations, which allowed people on both sides of the issue to be heard in a productive way. It was also just the first step of the process, he said, and will help county leaders to make informed decisions when a solar development plan is actually on the table.

“I understand the people that don’t want it altogether because they’re concerned it’ll lead to more things, more industrialization of their local neighborhoods, but at the same time no one always wins everything,” Stumblingbear said. “That’s kind of what politics is, that’s kind of what governance is. It’s giving a little, taking a little and looking forward to the future.”

One action that could take place sooner is an expansion of the County Commission from three seats to five, a question on the ballot in this November’s general election. Stumblingbear said he supports expanding the commission.

He said he sees a need to “pare down” the number of people each commissioner represents; expanding to five seats would change each district’s population from roughly 40,000 people to about 24,000. That would be a positive, he said, in helping constituents feel that they are being heard.

Stumblingbear said new districts should be drawn in such a way that people in rural parts of the county feel their interests are represented.

Stumblingbear is one of four candidates who have filed for election to the District 1 seat, along with fellow Democrat Kelly. Republican Justin Spiehs and Libertarian Steve Jacob have also filed.

The Aug. 2 primary will decide which Democratic candidate will face the other two candidates in the general election, set for Nov. 8.


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