Senate race lacks an Incumbent
Olatheans O’Connor, Emrick do battle for 9th district seat
State Rep. Kay O'Connor's upset victory over incumbent Rich Becker in the Republican primary for the 9th District Kansas Senate seat caught more than her GOP opponent and his powerful allies off guard.
"We were certainly as surprised as everybody by O'Connor's win," said Johnson County Democratic Party Chairman Doug Store.
Surprised and perhaps disappointed the party missed a rare opportunity to seriously contest for a state Senate seat in heavily Republican Johnson County.
O'Connor and Becker's race was contested along the GOP's ideological vault lines. The moderate Becker enjoyed the support of Gov. Bill Graves and retiring Kansas Senate President Dick Bond. O'Connor, who gave up her northeastern Olathe Kansas House seat to challenge Becker, more than compensated with the endorsement of Kansans for Life.
A strong Democratic candidate might have appealed to moderate Republican voters leery of O'Connor's constant advocacy of school vouchers during her years in the Kansas House and resentful of a Kansans for Life's pre-primary phone-bank message that said a vote for Becker meant the "continued killing of babies in Kansas."
The lone Democrat to file was Jeffery Emrick an Olathe man whose answering machine identifies him as "the fourth cousin of Harry S. Truman . . . American patriot, diplomat, statesman, political analyst and consultant, civil rights advocate, leader and representative, political watchdog and 28-year-old Kansas 9th District state Senate candidate." It is much same preamble Emrick uses during his frequent public comments before the Olathe City Council and Johnson County Commission.
Stone admitted the race is a lesson for his party.
"I'm not one who advocates putting candidates in every race, but you have to put up good candidates when you have them," Stone said. "The lesson for the party is not to take any district for granted."
But, Stone said the party stands behind Emrick.
"I think Jeffery has something to say," he said. "I think if voters listen to what he is saying and compare it to what O'Connor is saying, they can determine who is the better candidate."
Emrick is drawing a distinction between his and O'Connor's position on education. The Democrat advocates using Kansas Lottery proceeds to fund education. That would allow the Legislature to reduce the statewide 20-mill levy in support of education, he said.
The lottery is currently used to fund economic development initiatives. Emrick said he would replace that revenue with a statewide hotel guest tax and sales taxes at tourist attractions, such as the NASCAR speedway and the proposed Wonderful Would of Oz Theme Park.
Although O'Connor said the $53 million a year the state earns from the lottery wouldn't be enough to fund education, she, too, would like to see a reduction and eventual elimination of the education levy. Philosophically, she would like the state to rely less on property and income taxes and more on sales tax revenue.
"When you think about it, everyone has to pay sales taxes," she said. "Even drug dealers, prostitutes and illegal aliens pay sales taxes every time they buy something."
Confident she will win election to the Senate in the heavily GOP district, O'Connor said she hopes to sit on the Education Committee, as she did in the House. She would like to use that committee as a platform to push her school finance plan.
The three-part plan would first provide a legal definition of basic core curriculum. The state would then determine how much it would cost to deliver the core curriculum in each of the state's 304 school districts. Finally, the Legislature would provide 100 percent of the funding each district needed.
"Anything outside of basic core curriculum would debated by the Legislature like any other expenditure," she said. "I think it is unconscionable that we have swimming pools being built in eastern Kansas and in western Kansas we have a shortage of math teachers."
O'Connor proposed an educational reform bill before the 2000 legislative session. It measures which included school vouchers, alternative certification of teachers and expanded charter schools failed to gain support because they were opposed by lobbyists representing the "educational establishment," she said.
The degree that she would push the elements of her proposed education reforms will depend on the outcome of other Senate races, O'Connor said.
"I'll probably introduce school voucher legislation," she said. "Honestly, I don't know if I have enough support in the Legislature for it to move.
"My hope is after Nov. 7, we'll have sufficient votes to make things happen I'd like to have happen."
Emrick said he is "totally and adamantly" opposed to vouchers, which he said would hurt public education by diverting tax dollars to private schools. He also questioned the motives of some voucher advocates.
"Some of those of the other party affiliation want vouchers so their children don't have to go to public schools with riff raff," he said. "If they thought about it, they would see vouchers would allow the riff raff into private schools."
The two candidates also differ on abortion. Emrick said he supports the woman's right to choose, but does oppose late-term abortions and favors parental consent.
"The government shouldn't interfere with a woman's right to choose," he said. "I find it a contradiction conservatives want the Legislature to interfere in a decision that should be left to the mother and the father, with the advice of a doctor and minister."
O'Connor said she opposes all abortions and would carry legislation that would provide a legal definition for the beginning of human life.
"I believe life begins a fertilization," she said. "That's my personal belief, but we don't have a legal definition of when life is not worth protecting. Is it viability, the first heart beat or the first brain wave.
"If it is viability, we could outlaw every late-term abortion that is out there."