Early start to ‘critical’ 9th district race
With two candidates announced for the Kansas 9th District Senate race 10 months before the candidate-filing deadline and 16 months prior to the general election, it's clear a battle is brewing.
At a gathering of about 70 supporters Monday in Olathe to mark the announcement of Sen. Julia Lynn's bid for re-election to the seat, state Republican Party Chairman Kris Kobach put the coming campaign in perspective.
"This election wasn't on our radar screen six months ago," he said of the traditional GOP seat. "All that's changed now. This district represents a very definitive battle for the two parties."
In the last two weeks, former Olathe school district superintendent Ron Wimmer and incumbent Lynn announced they would run for the seat. Last November at a caucus of Republican district precinct leaders, Lynn easily defeated Wimmer for the right to fill the remaining two years of Kay O'Connor's unexpired term.
Wimmer's 9th District bid represented an expansion of the recent trend of Democrats recruiting well-known Republicans to run against Republicans, Kobach said. It was a tactic that worked for Democrats in statewide races when Republican Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison switched parties to unseat Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline and former Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mark Parkinson ran successfully for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Kobach acknowledged the coming 9th District campaign would be tough and that Wimmer entered the race with strong name recognition, but he said the race offered Republicans a chance to make a statement about defecting candidates.
"This is where we draw a line in the sand," he said. "It's of critical importance to the party we win here, and not only win but win decisively."
In the face of the latest challenge by a party defector, Kobach and other speakers at the event spoke of the need to move forward as Republicans. The state party chairman spoke of Lynn's commitment to principles that gave her the strength to withstand pressures to compromise the party's core values. Wimmer, he said, was seeking the office for the prestige of being called senator.
Reached Tuesday in Topeka, state Democratic Party executive director Mike Gaughan said Wimmer was the kind of candidate the party sought to appeal to a board spectrum of Kansans.
"It's important to us that they maintain the mainstream, commonsense government we are committed to," he said. "I think that Dr. Wimmer decided he wanted to continue his career in public service and he want to run as a Democrat because it's the party focused on the problems facing the state and committed to solving those problems instead of political infighting and partisan games."
As she announced her candidacy Monday, Lynn embraced Kobach use of the word principle. Her campaign, she said. would be based on Republican Party principles.
"Kansas must be a state where every possible education dollar reaches the classroom to actually educate children," she said. "Kansas must be a state where government is limited and our debt does not paralyze our future. Kansas must be a state where taxation is not stifling to families and business. Kansas must be a state, which respects and protects life at all stages, particularly the most innocent. Kansas must be a state that provides free-market solutions to health care problems, Kansas must be a state that remembers local control means not just being another layer of government, but by the people themselves."
There is a tendency in the Legislature to be absorbed in the "bubble of Topeka" and avoid making waves by adopting group thought, she said. She prevents that by remembering what her job is about, she said.
"There was not a vote that crosses my desk that I didn't picture those people who elected me and those I represent," she said. "I will never lose sight of those families who pay taxes to live in this district."
Her campaign will stress the three goals that guided her first eight months in office of listening to constituents, learn the facts and leading the way, Lynn said.
In an effort to listen to the constituents, she has made a commitment to visit people in her hometown of Olathe and in De Soto and Lenexa, Lynn said. Her accessibility sometimes surprises, she said.
"People cannot believe my cell phone number is on my business card," she said. "I receive calls from people who are astounded they can talk to a senator. I say, 'Isn't that my job?'"
De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson, who attended Monday's gathering to show support for Lynn, praised the senator's presence in De Soto and her work for the city, especially with an ongoing economic development initiative.
"I can honestly say she's met just about everyone," he said. "She does so with one thing in mind -- what's best for our community."
Wimmer's decision to run as a Democrat should be seen as an early victory, Lynn told her supports.
"When you think about it, we've already won one primary," she said. "Your support and the money we've raised convinced him not to run against me in a primary."
As he considers what will be ask of him as a politician, Wimmer said he felt at home.
"I think I've been in politics for many years," he said. "Politics is just a matter of trying to work with people to solve problems. I think that's what people want.
"So I'm really not surprised to be getting involved in a political campaign. Life is a journey and this is just another path along that journey."
Wimmer has heard the charges of opportunism, particularly in the wake of his unsuccessful attempt last November to fill the unexpired two years of O'Connor's term. The word "opportunity" comes up when Wimmer explains his decision, but he uses it in terms of voters and the November 2008 election.
Recent history has shown that conservative Republican candidates prevail over moderates in primary contests with voter turnout of 10 to 15 percent, Wimmer said.
"I would call it realistic in that I want to give all the voters a chance to participate in the decision process," he said. "I don't mind accepting the decision of the voters. I just like that to be the majority of people to be served.
"It takes a lot of time and effort to run for public office. I just want to make sure if I make that commitment of time and effort and other people's money I have the best chance of success."
He is entering the campaign with what he calls the "lofty goal" of focusing on what he would bring to the office and not the shortcomings of his opponent, Wimmer said. And what he will pitch is a 40-year career in education spent in the Olathe school district that saw him rise from teacher to superintendent.
Wimmer said he wasn't sure the district could be characterized as conservative. But he said if it was, some could
" be said for the Olathe school district. He was successful there because he was conservative in ways that mattered to district patrons, such as the management of district money, he said.
"That's just not my opinion but has been verified by Standard and Poors," he said. "The Olathe district is widely recognized as one of the best, offering innovative opportunities for students."
Wimmer defined himself as pro-life but admitted his view that abortions when a mother's life was at risk should be a decision made by the family with the advice of a doctor might not satisfy all pro-life advocates.
"I met with Kansans for Life," he said. "They helped educate me on their position, and I'm open to listening to them.
"I'm not an extremist on any issue. I'm opposed to abortion as a means of birth control and oppose late-term abortions. That's not as far as some would want to go, but I think my view reflects the majority of the people."
Although he promises more refined and in-depth positions on issues in the coming months, education would be an obvious focus of his campaign, Wimmer said.
"I think it's a matter of several issues -- a continued focus on accountability and proceeding implementing funding authorized (by the 2006 Legislature), making sure that occurs," he said.
Specifics on economic development would also be developed in the coming months, but Wimmer said he had a reputation as supportive on economic development efforts developed by serving on committees and task forces, including the Olathe Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council and Commerce to Business Advocacy Council and served as the local chairman of the Kansas Research Triangle.
He was well acquainted to De Soto, Wimmer said, with friends in the community and school district. He said he understood O'Connor rarely visited De Soto and had strained relationships with some in the community.