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As Monday’s filing deadline looms, there are questions in virtually every race

By Bill Felber

On the Republican side, three candidates for the 22nd District Senate seat refocused their organizational efforts north, from Geary County to Clay County.

On the Democratic side, party leaders identified one familiar candidate but looked for more to fill an as-yet incomplete slate.

Across the Blue River in Pottawatomie County, meanwhile, representatives of both parties dashed to identify candidates for a legislative seat they didn’t expect to exist.

Oh yes, the filing deadline: It’s still noon Monday.

That’s a summary of the weekend fallout from a three-judge panel’s decision on how to redraw maps for state Senate and House districts released Thursday night.

State Senate

The most tangible development Friday afternoon was the commitment by former 67th District State Rep. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, to run for the redrawn 22nd District State Senate seat. Hawk will face the winner of a three-way Republican primary fight featuring incumbent Republican Roger Reitz as well as Joe Knopp and Bob Reader.

They’ll be competing in a district that changed about 30 percent of its population when the new map was released, shedding most of Geary County and adding Clay County as well as the northern portion of Riley County.

Hawk, who was defeated in a 2010 bid for re-election to his House seat by Republican Susan Mosier, said he decided to run again out of a desire to support adequate funding for education along with an ethic of fiscal responsibility and mutual respect.

“We will be $2 billion in debt in the next four years,” he said, citing the impact of recent tax cuts as measured by the legislative research office. He especially lamented what he viewed as a lack of sufficient legislative support for education. “We had the money,” Hawk said.

While Hawk was busy filing, his potential GOP opponents reoriented their organizational efforts.

“I haven’t been working in Clay Center; I’ve been working in Junction City,” acknowledged Knopp. He said the task between now and the August primary will be to reassure the 3,000 primary voters there and in northern Riley County “that we can represent them well.”

Knopp said those efforts will be buttressed by his background. “I’m a Chapman farm boy; I feel like I know the farm world,” he said.

Like Knopp, Reader confessed to having put no effort to date into organizing Clay County or northern Riley County. But, he said, he had developed “good relationships” with Republicans in those areas, and believed that would help him. He said he’ll cancel an organization meeting he had planned for next week in Junction City. Reader felt fortunate in one respect. “I’ve hit 7,000 homes so far, and they’re all still in my district,” he said.

Reitz sounded most concerned of any of the Republican hopefuls about the deletion of Junction City and addition of Clay County to the district. He said his years of political experience have given him “a lot of connections” in Junction City, but characterized Clay County as “100 miles away” from him politically. Reitz briefly pondered dropping out of the race Friday, citing the retirement of his close friend, Sen. John Vratil. After conferring with supporters, however, he chose to stay in and campaign vigorously both in Clay County and northern Riley County. That area, too, had been previously outside his district.


House races

Beyond Hawk, local Democrats spent Friday still trying to identify somebody willing to run in a Legislature they appeared to view as poisonously at odds with itself. “People say things are so acrimonious that they don’t want to have to put up with the personal attacks,” said Hawk. County party chair Kathryn Focke was equally frustrated by the absence of any reapportionment resolution until Thursday night. “This has been such a mess, trying to get good candidates when you can’t even tell them where the boundaries of their districts are,” she said. Although hopeful, Focke would not promise a 67th House candidate.

State Reps. Tom Phillips and Sydney Carlin, as well as Carlin’s Republican challenger, Lee Modesitt, digested implications of the new House maps, which were not particularly detail-specific. One tangible by product was the move of Modesitt out of Carlin’s district and into Phillips’. “Lee lives on the wrong side of College Avenue,” remarked county Republican Party chair Barb VanSlyke, in reference to the newly created district boundary. She promised that by noon Monday, he would have established a residence within the 66th District.

Modesitt’s home precinct was only one of several that shifted. Carlin’s 66th district gained city areas south of Poyntz Avenue that had previously been in Phillips’ district, but lost one of the city’s largest precincts, the area north of Kimball between Browning and Seth Child, to Phillips. Since the area south of Poyntz is more Democratic and the area north of Kimball more Republican, the swap appeared to assist both incumbents.

Until Thursday, voters in the burgeoning area south and west of the intersection of Kimball and Anderson had been in Phillips’ district. But the judges moved them along with the city of Ogden into a Clay Center-based district represented by Republican Vern Swanson. As of Saturday, Swanson was unopposed either in the Republican primary or in the November general election.

That move was nothing, however, compared to the shift in southeast Riley and southwest Pottawatomie Counties. Voters in Zeandale Township as well as St. George, Wamego and the Pott County unincorporated area east of Manhattan were removed from their previous House districts and placed in a new incumbent-less district also including portions of Wabaunsee, Lyon and Shawnee Counties.

By Saturday afternoon, the Secretary of State’s office was listing two Democrats in the race for that seat, Richard Pikul, of Wamego, and Scott Briggs, of Reading.  Mike Burgess, a Topeka Republican who used to represent much of that district’s area, had been moved into another district, but some legislative insiders expected Burgess to re-file using a residence within the district boundaries before noon Monday.

Meanwhile Richard Carlson, the St. Marys Republican whose district lost the Wamego and St. George areas, was thrown into a potential primary against fellow incumbent Trent LeDoux, of Holton. 

“I’m sure the real estate agents and property managers all over the state are having a field day,” VanSlyke said of the numerous candidates forced to contemplate running in a district other than the one they had originally filed in.


State Board of Education

Also changing was the status of the Sixth District Board of Education race. Republican incumbent Kathy Martin of Clay Center had neither declared for re-election nor taken herself out of the running, and no Democrat had filed to run against her. Two Republicans, one a Manhattanite, did, however, step forward. The two declared candidates Friday were Dee McKee, a Manhattan businesswoman and former educator, and Deena Horst, a former state legislator from Salina. The deadline in that race, like the others, is noon Monday.

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