Kline chosen Johnson County district attorney
An exclamation point was put on the 2006 Kansas election cycle with the selection Monday of Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline as Johnson County district attorney.
With his election at a county Republican Party caucus in Lenexa, Kline will succeed Paul Morrison, the Republican-turned-Democrat who easily defeated him five weeks ago in the race for attorney general.
That Kline's defeat came on the strength of Morrison's 53,000-vote plurality in Johnson County was on the minds many at the caucus at Lenexa's Westside Family Church. They cited his divisive influence within the party and questioned his ability to hold the position for Republicans in two years.
But with 360 of the 653 county precinct positions held by conservatives, Kline had enough support to prevail over Steve Howe, a 16-year veteran with the district attorney's office. Kline won with 316 votes to Howe's 291.
"I am honored by the faith the party has vested in me as its nominee for attorney general in 2002 and 2006 and by the vote today," Kline said in a statement released after the vote. "I will continue to passionately focus on the protection of our children and the vulnerable and to ensure the safety of our neighborhoods and communities.
The vote came down to Kline and Howe after Rick Quinn, another long-time prosecutor in the district attorney's office, and Lenexa attorney Scott Hattrup announced their withdrawals in speeches to the caucus. Quinn did so after citing the importance of continuity in the district attorney's office, effectively making his speech an endorsement of Howe.
Howe and Quinn spoke of the importance of their experience as prosecutors and the relationship the district attorney's office has built with Johnson County law enforcement officers and district court judges.
Kline defended his own record as a prosecutor, citing the two-fold increase in criminal cases and three-old increase in homicide cases his attorney general's office prosecuted in the past four years.
He also cited his investigations as attorney general into Kansas abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri in Overland Park's. There had been public violations of the law in Johnson County, Kline said, and it was the Johnson County district attorney's job to enforce the law.
Howe, too, said he would prosecute any violations by county abortion providers. That stance earned him the support of a number of conservatives. He was nominated by Charlotte O'Hara, a longtime pro-life activist who narrowly lost last month in her bid to unseat Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh.
"I took a lot of heat for this," said O'Hara, who also was the host Sunday of a meet the candidate gathering for Howe. "Steve will be the district attorney who will do a good job of maintaining the continuity of the office."
As the votes were being counted, O'Hara said she would fully support Kline but Republicans would leave the caucus divided if he prevailed.
After the vote, Johnson County Republican Party Chairman Scott Schwab, who served on Kline's re-election campaign, agreed that questions remained of Kline's affect on the county party and his ability to keep the seat.
"Those are legitimate concerns," he said. "He is a very polarizing figure. I think the questions will be answered in how Phill Kline runs the office in the next two years."