Newly named state senator vows De Soto engagement
One day after being selected to finish the final two years of Kay O'Connor's four-year term in the Kansas Senate, Julia Lynn was already talking about serving the 9th Senate District and De Soto on a more long-term basis.
"I plan on being a very active senator," she said. "I plan on walking the district. I plan on mobilizing our precinct people.
"I've already laid the groundwork for 2008. It's just a matter of mobilization at this point."
Lynn, a 49-year-old Olathe businesswoman, won the seat last Thursday at a caucus of the senate district's precinct committeemen and women. O'Connor resigned in September after an unsuccessful bid to unseat Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburg in the August GOP primary.
Lynn, who had O'Connor's endorsement, won the seat with 46 votes, five more than she needed to secure a majority. Finishing second with 27 votes was Ron Wimmer, former Olathe school superintendent. Also nominated for the open seat was Olathe optometrist Alan Hansen and Peter Freund, chief of staff for House Speaker pro-tem Ray Merrick of Stilwell.
Lynn said she shared O'Connor's pro-life views and fiscal conservatism.
"I believe if you don't have it, you shouldn't spend it," she said. "I believe there is an open checkbook mentality that is pretty pervasive. It's my goal to keep that in check."
Despite her predecessor's comfort with her politics, O'Connor understood the new senator would be her own person, Lynn said.
"She made it very clear to me she in no way expected me to be her clone," Lynn said. "It was great that she recognized you have to be an independent thinker."
O'Connor embraced the political nickname of "Voucher Lady," given her for her strong advocacy of that option for parents. Lynn said fairness required some form of remittance to parents who were forced to seek private education for children with special needs or learning disabilities.
"I'm a strong supporter of public schools," she said. "I'm a product of public schools (Lynn graduated from Shawnee Mission North). I have two children in Olathe Northwest.
"But I also recognize there are also going to be situations where some students just aren't succeeding in the public school environment. In those cases, I think we do need to make some provisions for parental choice. I don't know exactly what that looks like, perhaps a tax credit or refund of some kind."
Describing herself as a "typical member of the sandwich generation," Lynn said she was of the age to have concerns not only of education but also of the state's growing senior population. Having dealt with the stress of helping her parents move from their home to senior housing, she said more must be done to educate and prepare people and families to make that difficult transition.
Proposals from her on how to address the issue legislatively might have to wait a few sessions, Lynn said. As a freshman senator, she won't have the opportunity to introduce legislation, Lynn said. Her goal will be to learn the legislative process and to develop her leadership skills, she said.
That meant being visible throughout the district, in contrast to O'Connor, who rarely visited De Soto.
"I understand that is one of your desires -- to see more of your senator," she said of De Soto. "I understand how important it is to be out in the community. I look forward to having issues forums. I would love to have an invitation or two or three or four."
O'Connor was involved with an open feud with De Soto USD 232 Superintendent Sharon Zoellner, which included the senator writing a letter to The Explorer with her side of a heated phone conversation.
Commenting in September on O'Connor's resignation, De Soto USD 232 school board member Sandy Thierer said she hoped for a better relationship and better communication with her successor.
"I totally embrace that," Lynn said. "I'm anxious to get in front of them. Let's have a discussion. I have a very collaborative management style. I'm not one to think I have all the answers."
After graduating from Kansas University with a degree in political science, Lynn worked in health care marketing, including contracting with KU Medical Center to obtain advertising support for its magazine.
Lynn said she also had a successful career with a well-known direct marketing cosmetics firm, rising to the position of sales director.
Lynn's husband, Jeff, owns the Olathe electronic design, prototype development and manufacturing company ColtTech LLC. Her two children -- Emily, 15, and Robbie, 16 -- attend Olathe Northwest High School.