Kansas needs a loyal opposition to Brownback
The Kansas City Star
Fourteen votes. The Kansas Senate will need that many votes to prevent Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature’s newly empowered conservative majority from moving forward with constitutional amendments which could profoundly damage the state’s character.
The moderate Republican contingent that had acted as a check on misguided and even dangerous ideas was decimated in the August primaries. Conservative groups spent big to purge lawmakers who might stand in the way of Brownback and more extreme members of their own party.
Come January, Kansans can expect to see the governor and his legislative allies quickly roll out measures to control the selection of judges, further curb abortion rights, marginalize immigrants and alter the school financing formula.
Some of those changes would require amending the state constitution. A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is required to refer constitutional amendments to a statewide ballot. That means 14 votes are needed to block measures such as enabling the governor to select Supreme Court judges, and changing the definition of “suitable provisions” needed to finance the state’s public schools.
Ten Senate seats are contested in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. With nearly all moderate Republicans eliminated from the running, the best hope for placing roadblocks in front of the worst aspects of Brownback’s agenda lies with Democrats.
Fortunately, the Democratic field this year includes smart, ambitious candidates who could provide a foundation for a rejuvenated party and a less lopsided state government.
As opposed to the Kansas House races, where we in some cases favor Republican candidates, The Star this year is recommending Democratic candidates for all contested Senate races.
Advance voting by mail begins Wednesday.
District 4: Long-time Senator David Haley is well-liked by colleagues and eloquent about defending the interests of his Wyandotte County constituents. His opponent, Republican Joe Ward, had a successful career as a Kansas City, Kan., police officer, but Haley deserves a fourth term.
District 5: Democratic incumbent Kelly Kultala has been an independent and effective senator for her Wyandotte and Leavenworth county constituents. She worked to help bring the Cerner office project and Sporting Kansas City stadium to Wyandotte County and helped craft the state’s 10-year transportation plan.
Her GOP opponent, Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, loathes much of what government stands for and seeks to deny rights to gay Kansans and immigrants. Views like that would be harmful in the Kansas Senate.
District 6: Long-time Kansas City, Kan., incumbent Chris Steineger has outlived his usefulness. A party switch from Democrat to Republican two years ago did nothing to increase his standing with either party or his effectiveness as a lawmaker.
Fortunately, Democrat Pat Pettey is seeking this seat. As a former Kansas House member and a commissioner for Wyandotte County’s Unified Government, Pettey’s public service credentials are outstanding. Her 36 years as a teacher in the Turner School District would also be useful in a legislature that often is hostile toward public schools.
District 7: Kyle Russell of Roeland Park is a litigation attorney who gave up his job as corporate counsel for H&R Block to campaign for the Senate. He keenly understands what Brownback’s agenda of income tax cuts will mean to the state. He has the potential to be a strong voice for schools and social services as well as a future leader for the party and state.
His opponent, House member Kay Wolf, defeated a more conservative Republican in the primary, and her win was described as a rare victory for the party’s moderate wing. But Brownback is backing Wolf in the general election. Russell makes a good case that he would be a more reliable vote against destructive proposals.
District 8: Lisa Johnston, of Overland Park, is a university administrator who was the choice of Democrats to run against Jerry Moran for U.S. Senate two years ago. She is unhesitant about speaking up and taking on tough causes. That boldness would serve her constituents and the state well. Her opponent, House member Jim Denning, defeated long-time moderate GOP Senator Tim Owens in the primary.
District 9: Democratic challenger Merlin D. Ring, an aerospace engineer from Lenexa, understands that strong schools and infrastructure encourage growth. He is the better choice over Republican incumbent Julia Lynn. After first being embraced by the moderate faction of the Kansas Senate, she proved to be a reliable vote for most of Brownback’s worst initiatives.
District 10: Democrat Mark J. Greene of Shawnee is frequently seen in Topeka working as an advocate for disabled citizens. He would speak up for good schools and a clean environment and is the choice over incumbent Mary Pilcher-Cook, a far-right social conservative.
District 11: As a highly regarded lawyer with Spencer Fane Britt & Browne, Michael F. Delaney has specialized in school finance, litigation and labor and employment law — useful fields of expertise in state government. Delaney, of Overland Park, also has a keen sense for the ill effects of Brownback’s income tax cuts. His opponent, Republican Jeff Melcher, supports those reckless cuts.
District 21: Juanita Roy of Lenexa, who retired recently after a long career in the top ranks of hospital administration, is another stellar Democratic candidate who would provide solid leadership. She is clear about the need for a balanced tax structure and strong schools and highways.
Her Republican opponent, Greg A. Smith, is a different story. As a House member this year, he was one of just four Johnson County legislators to vote against a bill that would have added $50 million to school funding. Smith has been enthusiastic about the Brownback income tax cuts and he believes the state budgets too much for transportation.
District 23: Steve Wright, of Olathe, works in the insurance industry and has a broad background in civic affairs, Democratic party committees and parent-teacher organizations. His positions on school funding and the need for a fair tax structure are much better than those held by his opponent, incumbent Republican Rob Olson.
Coming Monday, The Star’s recommendations in selected contested Kansas House races.